Worrying is Mental Rehearsal for Failure - Dealing with stress and anxiety Aurora - It Can Be Different with Karen Spencer

Worrying is Mental Rehearsal for Failure

Worrying about an upcoming event, appointment, job interview, presentation, exam or really just about anything is normal and we all do it.  And the more important the event, the more worried we become.

We imagine we will forget things, get lost, mess up our words, look silly, get embarrassed, perform poorly, not get the results we are hoping for…….

As the days to the event gets closer and closer, the worrying becomes more and more intense and vivid. It begins to impede on our daily activities and on our ability to rest and relax.

What we are actually doing is mentally rehearsing failure over and over again.  We are unintentionally programming ourselves for the one thing we don’t want which is to fail.

So What is Mental Rehearsal?

Mental rehearsal is a powerful technique that has been used by sports psychologists and trainers for over 50 years.  It is the process by which you imagine yourself in the future performing or being in a situation.

High performers in sports, performing arts, and business use this technique to up their game and to prepare themselves to ace whatever they are doing.  They mentally rehearse over and over again, refining and perfecting their performance each time.  They are teaching their mind and body what to do when the real-life situation is in front of them.

Worriers use the same technique of mental rehearsal except for the opposite result.  Worriers imagine their performance as not being the best ever, but the worst ever.  Not as getting them closer to their goals and dreams, but to pull themselves down the slope of failure and disaster.

Over and over again they rehearse the event with the results being more and more disastrous.  And each time they do this their body gets into the negative emotions that are related to the imagined poor outcome – sadness, disappointment, anger, embarrassment.

The body does not know that the event is imagined or real, so it is responding with all of the stress hormones that are associated with the negative emotions pulling the body into an unhealthy state.

So, How Can We Turn Things Around?

Basically, all you have to do is replace worrying with positive mental rehearsal.  Here are some steps to build this new, healthy habit:

1. Awareness

Every behaviour or habit change starts with awareness.  Become aware of when you are worrying about an upcoming event.  If it is something out of your control, then realize that by worrying you are predicting and imagining the worst possible scenario and instead you could choose to imagine a positive outcome.  Why waste your time on creating a mental image of something that is negative when you could just as easily create a mental image of a positive scenario?

If the event is something you do have control over, like a presentation, ask yourself if your worry is a signal that you have not properly prepared.  If it is, then take the necessary steps to prepare for your presentation to enable the best possible outcome.

2. Create an Ideal Scenario

The ideal performance is where you are handling the situation with ease and with skill and it is what you want as the outcome as opposed to the disaster movies of what you do not want.  Every time you think of it, define and refine this ideal performance.  Some people like to see themselves as if they are watching a movie whereas some people like to be right in the situation.  Either way is fine and either way can work beautifully.

3. Act Instantly

Every time you catch yourself slipping into the negative mental rehearsal pattern, replace it with the desired movie.  Do it instantly, as soon as you catch yourself.  There is no value lingering in the disaster movie.  Be diligent with yourself, you are changing an old habit and so you need to be on top of it.

Can I Really Do This?

Yes you can!  You are already mentally rehearsing, so why not create the outcome that you want.

You are deluding yourself when you are thinking about something in the future because it hasn’t happened yet.  So what you think will happen is only a guess.

Mental rehearsal wires the neurons in our brain so that we build the skills to handle the situation once it arrives.  Positive and negative mental rehearsal works.  So, why not get ready to handle it the way you want it to turn out?

We have all been doing mental rehearsal all our lives – we have just been doing it wrong.

Select the movie of our life that you want.  You are in control.  You are the director of your life.  And after a while you may start to enjoy the benefits of calmness, less anxiety and more control. Trust that it can be different!

I invite you to share your experience with worrying in the comments. You can also join in the conversation on Facebook and Instagram for inspiration.

To our health and wellbeing,


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