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Are you expecting a burglar?

The story is told of a couple sleeping soundly one night when suddenly they were awakened by some strange sounds from the downstairs. The wife insisted that her husband go downstairs to check things out. The husband arose and went downstairs reluctantly, armed with a putter, grumbling all the way. To his surprise he found a burglar in the dining room busy emptying the drawer with all the silverware. “Stay right where you are,” he said to the burglar. “I want to run upstairs to get my wife. She’s been expecting you for the last thirty years!”

If we are honest many of us are just like the wife in this story, we are expecting buglers in our professional and personal lives all the time. Psychologist Albert Ellis coined the term “awfulizing” to express the reality that at times we can get caught up in exaggerating a feared outcome or seeing minor setbacks as catastrophes. He notes that a possible outcome is the creation of a chain of negative thoughts, feelings and actions.

How often has something happened to us and we have created our own story around it which raises our stress and anxiety level but which is simply not based in reality. Perhaps we are giving a presentation at work and one of the attendees is yawning and fidgeting. We interpret it personally as reflecting that we are boring and not connecting with our colleagues. That’s only the beginning. From there we begin to make judgments about our ability to competently give a presentation and if we cannot do that what hope is there for a promotion. Before long we have ‘awfulized” a situation without even considering the possibility that our colleague was up all night with a sick child and they are just exhausted and need some sleep.

When we are on edge expecting the burglar we are not living in the present. Our energy is poured into a future event of our own creation or is dwelling on a past event we cannot change. It is in the present that we find our most creative and productive selves. The next time we find ourselves expecting a burglar just BREATHE. Acknowledge that we are dreaming up a scenario that is robbing us of being our best and return to the present.

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