“I have a job interview,” she tells me.
“That’s good,” I say.
“I’m scared shitless.”
She’s never had a job interview that didn’t make her sick beforehand. The interviews themselves go fine. But the days and hours leading up to them are torture.
“I imagine everything that could go wrong, every mistake I could make, every question I can’t answer. I imagine the person will think I’m stupid or unattractive or unqualified. I play it over and over and over in my head. I usually can’t sleep the night before, and I go in there looking like death on a cracker.”
“But the interview usually goes okay?”
“It does,” she sighs.
“Okay,” I say. “I think I can help. When’s the interview?
“Good. Today’s Monday. Go buy yourself a small notebook and carry it with you. I want you to listen to yourself, catch yourself projecting, and write each projection down.”
“What’s projecting again?” she frowns.
“Inventing scary stories,” I say. “There are two types. One produces stories about the future — I’m going to screw up the interview, I’m going to get fired, My blind date will be a disaster, and so on. I call that fortunetelling.”
“That’s what I’m doing now.”
“Correct. The other type involves stories about the contents of other people’s heads — She’s mad at me, He thinks I’m fat, They’re laughing at me behind my back, Nobody will think I’m qualified for this job — that sort of thing. I call that mindreading.”
“I do that all the time too,” she muses.
“I know you do,” I say. “And there are two things to remember about projections.
“First, they feel absolutely real, the way a nightmare does. You just know bad things are happening or going to happen, right?”
“Second, they rarely come true. That’s because projections grow out of anxiety — our very worst fears — not any accurate reading of reality. For example, despite how you feel before interviewing, you usually end up getting the job, don’t you?”
“Yes. The thing is, when our worst fears don’t come true, we don’t learn our lesson. We don’t stop and think Wow, I just scared myself unnecessarily. We just roll on to the next projection.
“That’s where the notebook comes in. Between now and Friday you’ll list every negative projection, every moment of fortunetelling or mindreading, however small or silly. And at the end of each day you’ll look at your list and see how many of your awful projections came true.”
“I think I know what I’ll find,” she smiles sheepishly.
“Me too. Do it anyway.”
I got an email from her today.
Hey Steve. I bought the notebook and did what you said. The first two days I filled eight pages. I had no idea what I was doing to myself. But on the third day I began to calm down (half a page only), and by Friday I was almost relaxed. (Almost.) Anyway, I got the job. Thanks. 🙂 See you Monday.