5 “Frightful” Foes

Scary mask. Any given day can usher in unexpected challenges, difficult responsibilities and disappointing developments.

Life can be challenging. In spite of hard work and conscientious preparation, any given day can usher in unexpected challenges, difficult responsibilities and disappointing developments. For example:

  • a child wakes up with a fever on a day you had something important to accomplish
  • a critical meeting attendee cancels at the last minute and can’t easily reschedule
  • a school project is assigned that you don’t know how to approach or that requires working with others with whom you do not get along
  • a friend or coworker is critical, perhaps behind your back
  • an event or project gets derailed by interference from a third party
  • an injury or illness thwarts your plans
  • your identity is stolen
  • you are involved in a car accident
  • weather interferes with a planned activity or causes damage to your home or vehicle
  • you make a mistake at work or in school
  • you say something you regret, damaging a relationship
  • technical glitches interrupt your productivity
  • you forget an important appointment
  • traffic, a canceled flight, a late train, etc. puts you behind schedule
  • a major appliance (washing machine, air conditioner, dishwasher, hot water tank…) breaks

When tough times strike, it is easy to respond in ways that make the situation worse. While providing a short-term emotional payoff, these behavioral tendencies ultimately hinder our inclination to constructively respond and cope. Over time, they can morph into crippling habits that undermine our productivity and perpetuate a negative mindset.

Here is my list of 5 Frightful Foes that might be sabotaging your success…


Something goes wrong, and suddenly you see your whole world falling apart. You can’t think beyond the moment, and project gloom and doom ahead. The problem with catastrophizing (or seeing everything as a “catastrophe”) is that it is paralyzing. We make the problem so large that we feel incapable of addressing it.

If you do this… practice using fact-based self talk to get the issue in perspective. Yes, having your computer stolen might be extremely inconvenient and expensive, but it doesn’t mean your life has fallen apart. Break the problem down into the nuts and bolts of the situation, and then make a plan to deal with each one. For example, immediately file a police report, call your insurance carrier, identify intermediate computing options until you can get a new computer, and research replacement options. You may also need to contact customers or professors to come up with a plan for recreating anything that was lost. Finally, you need to see if there are any new practices you need to undertake (e.g. backing up data, locking your computer…) to minimize chance of this event recurring.


Everyone is familiar with this one, but many of us still let it rage in our lives. Postponing tasks – particularly difficult/unpleasant ones – only makes the situation worse.

If you do this… proactively stifle this tendency with a plan. Write down 1 or 2 steps you can take toward completing the task (no matter how small they may seem), and move these steps to the very top of your to do list. Even one step will release a lot of pressure and you will feel empowered to continue on further. Do not allow delaying tactics to get a foothold. Procrastination is a fixable habit.


When stuck in a bad situation, complaining is a common way to vent. In the moment, it makes us feel better, especially if we get some others to join in. However, in the long run, complaining focuses on everything that is wrong while subtly feeding a narrative of helplessness. It keeps us stuck in  negative thinking. In addition, complainers are rarely popular as no one wants to repeatedly listen to someone else’s gripes.

 If you do this… delineate between opportunities for change and undesirable situations which simply need to be accepted. If a situation is bad enough to make you miserable, consider what options you have to rectify it. There will always be parts of our jobs and lives that are not perfect, and that’s ok. We learn and grow through adversity. Most coworkers, employees and friends will respond positively to a person who respectfully works toward change.


When things go awry, it is instinctual to try and place the blame on someone else. We may be embarrassed or don’t want to admit to a failure which could jeopardize our position. However, people who consistently lay blame on others are perceived as self-centered and hence rarely entrusted with anything of consequence.

If you do this… take a hard look in the mirror. Admitting fault or failure actually connotes strength. Most people are willing to forgive missteps, especially to those who choose humility. Confessing a downfall or weakness, particularly in conjunction with a plan to behave differently in the future, builds trust and respect.


We’ve all been there. We lose steam and want to give up. We tell ourselves it isn’t worth the energy and walk away from a difficult situation, often leaving someone else to pick up the pieces. Quitting mid-stream connotes a lack of dependability, and robs us of the growth we might have experienced had we chosen to persevere.

If you do this… remember that most success in life results from simply consistently showing up. Even if you don’t have the answers, have made mistakes, or are weary, the commitment you display by continuing to try will impress both yourself and others. Furthermore, there are likely to be some natural “endpoints” (e.g. the end of a season, a job transition, a move) where you may be able to exit a situation without putting undue stress on anyone else.

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Have you overcome any of the “Frightful Five”? What tips do you have for conquering these pernicious tendencies?

24 thoughts on “5 “Frightful” Foes”

  1. I have reacted to situations in the past with all of the above at different times, but thankfully like you also said have then thought better and manned up to doing what needed to be done for the most part. But still, the above mostly are just normal gut reactions if nothing else, but do appreciate the reminder that I don’t have to acquiesce to them when the going does get tough in the future, as well.
    Janine Huldie recently posted…Ghostbuster Stay Puft Marshmallow Men Snack Recipe Plus #CatchMoreData with Walmart Family MobileMy Profile

    1. They are very human gut reactions, as you say. I think we all go here periodically. I think the key is to keep them from becoming our “preferred” reaction, because they really don’t serve us well in the long run!

  2. In reading your list of “unexpected challenges,” I related to just about all of them. These are the big curve balls that life throws. We all experience them, but it’s how we react to them that determines the outcome and our general well-being. Perhaps one of the first things is simply accepting that “stuff” happens to all of us. No one is exempt. The strategies you articulated are wonderful for handling the unexpected. For me, stepping back, doing some deep breathing, and assessing the situation (even if it’s a quick breath and assessment) can really help to diffuse the frustration, level the emotions, identify the silver lining, find the humor and move forward.
    Linda Samuels recently posted…5 Guaranteed Strategies to Help You Make DecisionsMy Profile

    1. I am always amazed at the power of a deep breath! I think you are so right, that simply acknowledging that things will periodically go wrong, and it doesn’t mean we’ve made a mistake or done a bad job. One of the best tools to help us avoid these negative behaviors is allowing some time in our schedules so that we can deal with the unexpected. Not always easy to do, but always helpful:)

  3. Recognizing the 5 foes is important in dealing with life’s unexpected changes. If we can’t recognize them we can’t learn how to control them. I suffer from complaining and read an article about how it can be helpful, when something is bothering you, to tell one person, only say it once and then move on to dealing with the problem. I have done that a couple of times to a trusted person, made the complaining comment, explained that I don’t want advise and then I can let it go.

    1. I think that is great advice, Julie. I think for many of us, “venting” is very helpful, and enables us to move forward. We are blessed if we have a few friends who will listen without judgment. You’ve got me seeing that the real trouble begins when we dwell in complaint, sharing the same issue over and over again to a variety of audiences. If we feel that strongly, better to work toward change.

    1. Very healthy approach, Sabrina! Sometimes we can learn a step or two that makes us more productive! Other times, maybe the lesson is to avoid a situation or tactic. And sometimes, maybe it is just learning to laugh at a situation.

  4. I like the work Catastrophizing, i tend to do that. It happened to me on the weekend actually. I let myself stew for a little bit, then came up with a plan to calm my anxiety. This is something new for me, and is working very well. Coming up with a plan to cope and not see everything falling apart because of one incident is a big step forward.

    Very thought provoking post, well done.
    Jill Robson recently posted…Downsizing – A clients personal journey of discovery and triumphMy Profile

    1. I think it is a valuable life skill, as it is easy for emotion to take over. I find this can be especially challenging for people who are planners and feel more at peace when things are under control (I put myself in this category!) I’ve been learning techniques as well, and focusing on the value of walking down alternative paths when surprises pop up!

  5. #1 and #2 are definitely foes of mine and have been for as long as I can remember. The best advice for catastrophizing that I’ve read was to consider the worst possible outcome, but then instead of stewing about it, come up with a solution so you’re prepared if it comes to pass (it usually doesn’t).
    Janet Barclay recently posted…Ways to Avoid Blogger BurnoutMy Profile

    1. That is good advice. If the worst happens, what would I do? If I feel competent to deal with the worst, I will be more at peace. And as you said, usually the worst doesn’t happen – fortunately:)

    1. That used to happen to me a lot, especially with my eldest, who caught everything that blew through the school. I used to cross my fingers on days when I had something to do that I couldn’t reschedule (like speak at a meeting!) I think being a parent is very helpful for getting over #5… it just isn’t an option anymore!

  6. These are really frightful foes! I can absolutely relate to all of them. I learned several years ago that complaining can lead to (did lead me to) making the problem bigger than it was. I now allow myself to complain only once or twice to trusted friends. Then I’m done. I definitely don’t need to make any problems bigger than they really are.

    1. I think you are right, Diana, that complaining often seems to make the whole problem bigger. Maybe it is the mental attention we give to it, plus the negative energy that complaining often contributes to. I’m with you – a few close people for healthy venting, and then just keep moving forward!

  7. What a great recap of how we can make the worst of any situation. All these ways we make things more frightful are easy to fall into. It takes a proactive stance with good rest and self care to be sure to keep calm and carry on. Thanks for sharing how to keep away from frightful situations as best we can.

    1. Rest and self care really are so critical. Another thing that makes us vulnerable to these foes is being in a hurry. When we have no margin, small things always seem worse!

    1. I find the desire to “check items off the list” to be a great motivator for me. It holds me accountable. Oddly, the busier I am, the more productive. If I know I only have this afternoon to write my next post, I will do it. If I think I have all weekend, I’m more likely to put it off. I guess having a full schedule isn’t all bad:)

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