The Story Eats Up Your Time

‘Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.’ – Dr. Seuss

The story in your head confuses the situation

Have you heard the old “Jack Story” stage routine by Danny Thomas?

A man driving down a country road gets a flat tire in a car with no jack. While he walks toward a service station about a mile away, he talks to himself, saying, “How much would they charge me for renting a jack? Maybe two dollars. But it’s the middle of the night, so there could be an after-hours fee. Probably another five dollars. If he’s anything like my brother-in-law, oh, gosh.” Finally, he is greeted cheerfully at the service station by the owner, “What can I do for you, sir?” After getting worked up in his mind, the man screams, “Just forget it! Keep your stinkin’ jack!” Then, he turns around and walks back to his car…with no jack.

It’s an old comedy routine, and I’m sure you’ve seen variations on it elsewhere. It sure is ridiculous; however, we often let our own “Jack Story” build up into an absurd narrative that complicates a simple situation. This results in wasted time we couldn’t afford, and the original problem is still at hand, and THAT wouldn’t be a pretty picture.

The situation could change quickly once you start taking action

Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatte say in The Resilience Factor that “For many people, their anxiety takes over and they catastrophize – they dwell on a current adversity and within a few minutes have imagined a chain of disastrous events stretching into the future.” The authors outline an effective five-step method for countering catastrophic thinking.

  1. Think of the terrible things you believe could happen because of the adversity.
  2. Think of possible best-case scenarios that are so unrealistic that they make you smile or laugh. (Your mind is already worked up, so this is a good exercise to break the anxiety)
  3. Evaluate the probability that each good and bad event will happen.
  4. Focus on the most likely adverse outcomes.
  5. Tackle the problem.

We understand that we must see problems for what they are, not for what they could be, but this is difficult when we are anxious. This 5-step method pushes you to explore both sides; it assists you in maintaining balance. That allows you to take a necessary step and remember that when we start taking action, everything changes quickly.