31 Aug

I'm no weather man, but from a lay-person's point of view the weather forecast is based on data collected from relevant past experiences; the weather at this time last year, current weather patterns, todays weather, temperature changes, unusual environmental changes etc. So, when we see tomorrows forecast as "Mostly sunny, a low of 14 degrees and a high of 25 degrees, with low wind"  we know that this is an educated guesstimation, not a guarantee. 

It is not about certainty

If we don't know that the forecast will be 100% correct, then what's the point in providing it? What if it's wrong? 

The point is that it gives us the chance to see around corners, allowing us to make the best decision we can based on the information we have at the time. If the forecast suggests that it is going to be cold, rainy, and windy tomorrow, then you would benefit from reconsidering your plans to go to the beach and make plans for an indoor activity. 

You wake up the next day and one of two things will happen: 

  1. The forecast will be correct - the weather is terrible and you breathe a sigh of relief that the plans were changed.
  2. The forecast will be incorrect - the weather is lovely, clear skies, slightly cool but still beach-worthy, and you feel frustrated that the plans were changed "for nothing"

Why is this important? It highlights a few things:

  1. When new information comes to light, a decision needs to be made - the beach plans were made when there was a belief that the weather is beachy-worthy (sunny, warm, low wind), and now that we have new information it's important to re-assess the situation. Do you risk it and keep the plans to go to the beach, or do you err on the side of caution and change the plans? There's no right or wrong answer, you weigh up the risk versus reward and make the best decision you can with the information you have at the time.
  2. The plans were not changed "for nothing" - the reason we think that way in these circumstances is because we have now turned the corner, if you will, and have all of the information available to us. We are no longer trying to see around the corner, we know what's there; the weather is either good or bad. Statements like "I shouldn't have changed the plans... I should have known..." start to pop up at this time. Ask yourself, without being able to see into the future, how could you have known?

Let's move away from the weather

If a weather forecast helps us to prepare for (you guessed it) the weather, we use Situational Forecasting to make informed decisions about daily life. This is a helpful skill to develop for a number of reasons:

  1. It allows you to prepare for conflicted interactions with a reasonable amount of confidence
  2. It reduces uncertainties that come from working with people who are unpredictable
  3. It provides a sense of control in an otherwise uncomfortable interaction
  4. Increases the ability to remain calm in difficult situations

The ability to forecast scenarios offers a neutral bridge to combat the fortune teller error that is often present for people experiencing anxiety. 

Fortune teller error: a cognitive distortion that involves 'predicting the future' in such a way that focuses primarily on the negative outcomes.

A fear of the unknown, or that the worst case scenario is the most likely outcome, often leads anxious people to ruminate (overthink) over a situation in an effort to prepare and keep themselves safe. 

This cognitive distortion is often complicated by rapid thinking. Combine a hyperactive sensitivity to negative outcomes with a rapid-fire capacity to cycle through all of the possible scenarios, and it leaves you with more questions and uncertainty than you had prior to your search for the answers. This can leave you feeling paralysed and unable to make a decision for fear of "getting it wrong". 

The use of a situational forecast controls for this anxiety and provides a reminder of the fact that you can't 'know' the outcome for certain. In all my years of clinical practice, I have yet to meet a person who will intentionally choose a bad option. This means that any choice that you make that results in an unfortunate outcome is not because you made a bad choice, it means that there were unknown factors that were situated around the corner. If you had access to that information at the time you were required to make the choice, you wouldn't have made that choice because you'd have known that it was a bad one. 

Managing anxiety

A word to the wise - Don't ask another question until you've offered yourself a potential solution. 

* The email will not be published on the website.