From work to relationships to current world events, it’s easy to feel stressed and overwhelmed. You might have a big presentation or a difficult conversation with a colleague coming up that you’re dreading. Or thinking about holiday plans and everything that could go awry might be keeping you up at night. Stressful situations, especially ones with elements beyond your control, cause emotional chaos in your mind, paralyzing and preventing you from properly preparing and taking any kind of action.

In a recent The Upside article, positive psychology coach Homaira Kabir explores how our minds can race out of control while imagining worst case scenarios, and she offers practical ways to reframe the situation so you can move toward success. ​​

If you find yourself avoiding situations or assignments because you worry you might fail,  procrastinating on tasks that need to get done, or outright giving up and calling it quits, Kabir suggests asking yourself two questions:

Question #1: What Do I Fear?

It's amazing how writing down your fears can make them magically vanish right before your eyes. When you believe you’re in very real and probable danger, your mind and body instinctively go into “fight, flight, or freeze” mode. But as you write down your fear, you begin to realize that your brain has been deceiving you. The very worst case you imagined is often unlikely to occur and almost certainly not deadly. In the minimal likelihood that it’s both certain and dangerous, you definitely need to change course. But to have that as your default mode is an exhausting and limiting way to live, diminishing opportunities to joyfully experience things around you. 

As Kabir says, "When the threat is more imaginary than real—a heightened fear of failure and its devastating aftermath—we need to question our perceptions and interpretations. Otherwise, we’ll continue to run away from the very experiences that lead to our growth and resilience."

Question #2: What Do I Need to Do to Succeed?

As Henry Ford famously said, “If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.” Don't underestimate the power of the verb "can." This is because “can” is a measure of competence, and when you doubt your abilities, “What can I do to succeed?” will bring up nothing but frustration and hopelessness.

So instead of asking what you are capable of doing, figure out what you need in order to be successful. This mindset assumes you have what it takes and primes you to be creative in coming up with options while empowering you with the autonomy to choose between them. It also puts you in a position to ask for help from others if you need it (remember, there's no reason to always solve everything all by yourself!).

Another tip is to try to remind yourself of times in the past when you overcame challenges, and reflect on the strengths and strategies that helped you do so. 

Kabir also recommends implementing the “as if” test. For example, rather than focusing on how poorly you think your project or presentation is going, act “as if” it’s going brilliantly. This way, you’re preemptively hushing that inner critic who’s only too eager to point out your flaws and past failures. 

The expression “fake it till you make it” actually has scientific basis because it bypasses the emotional brain. When you fake it, you convince your emotional brain that all is well, even if the potential, imagined danger is still present. 

Read the full article here.