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The Anxiety NONO

In our last post, we explored the first avoidance-fueling factor: negative reinforcement.  I call the second factor the Anxiety NONO, which stands for the “non-occurrence of negative outcomes.”


The Anxiety NONO has its roots in a happy situation.  Because we overestimate the likelihood of bad things happening, our worst-case scenarios usually do not come true.  Our loved one walks through the door completely safe and sound.  That cold is just a cold and our health remains intact.  The scary things we think will happen usually don’t actually happen.


This is excellent news.  But what happens when we engage in certain behaviors to reduce the chances of bad things happening?  And what happens when we connect these behaviors — in the back of our mind — with the fact that nothing happened?  The math looks like this:


 I thought something bad might happen.

+      So I did X, Y, or Z.

+      Nothing bad happened.        _

=      Maybe nothing bad happened because I did X, Y, Z . . . better keep doing X, Y, or Z!


Consider the example of compulsive checking.  Some people verify that locks are locked over and over at night: check-check, check-check, check-check.  The vast majority of the time, they wake up the following day and everything is fine.  As a result, a superstitious assumption builds in the back of their minds:


 I thought an intruder might enter my home.

+      So I checked the locks over and over again.

+      No intruder entered my home.        _

=      Maybe no intruder entered my home because I checked the locks over and over again . . . better keep on checking!



Dylan M. Kollman, PhD