Why you’re NOT going to end up sleeping in shop doorways…

Do you ever find yourself in the middle of  “the consequences conversation”? It can happen with a group of friends (I bet lots of people who have been waiting for exam results recently have done it) or it can take place in your own head. I encountered it a little while ago with a group of students who had just finished their finals. The conversation started off with them worrying that they hadn’t got the grades they wanted and the “obvious” cobnsequence for them was thaty their lives were ruined and they would end up sleeping in the doorways of shops.

It’s really easy to get into this way of thinking and we can all do it. You start off with one thought and then allow yourself to focus SOLELY on the worst case scenario at every stage of the process, like this:

I messed up on that paper, so I’m not going to get any higher than a 2.2

No-one ever gets a decent job unless they get at least a 2.1

If I don’t get at least a 2.1 I’ll never get the job I want

If I can’t get the job I want, I’ll have to go and do something crappy somewhere else

I won’t be able to get something crappy somewhere else because of the economic situation so I’ll be unemployed

If I’m unemployed, that means I’ll have wasted the whole of the last 3 or 4 years and let everybody down

Once I’ve been unemployed I’ll never be able to get a job and I’ll end up on the streets, sleeping in shop doorways

You may recognise at least some elements of this vicious spiral, regardless of the situation – how much of it do you put yourself through? Do you always expect the worst outcome for abny given situation? And once you’ve assumed that that’s what will happen, do you then go on spiralling downwards from their, telling yourself at each stage that the worst option is the inevitable option? It all seems so logical and truthful, doesn’t it?

The thing is, all of the things we tell ourselves contain a false premise which at first sight appears plausible. Let’s look at the first of the students’ statements as an example:

I messed up on that paper so I’m not going to get higher than a 2.2

Really? I mean, REALLY? A more helpful thing to say to yourself would surely be

I don’t think I did as well as I could on that paper, but it’s only one of a number of things that will go to make up my final grade

or

I missed out a couple of facts in the first piece but the 2nd piece was the best I could have done – so maybe the two cancel each other out?

And the second statement:

No-one ever gets a decent job unless they get at least a 2.1

The world is full of people with fantastic jobs who didn’t even go to University, let alone get a 2.1. It’s very easy to get sucked into believing that there’s only one route to success, but don’t be fooled – if you want examples, I give you Richard Branson and Alan Sugar. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have goals, but you do need to be realistic about what could happen if you don’t quite achieve them.

SO here’s an exercise – write down the stages of your own “consequences conversation” and then write down all of the possible outcomes for each stage of your own thoughts.

You’ll soon see that, whatever happens in life, there are ALWAYS loads of potential consequences, and often you can directly affect the outcome by making a choice about which direction to go in. You might end up choosing to go down a path you wouldn’t originally have thought of, but who’s to say that it won’t lead you to somewhere wonderful?

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