August 15, 2023

Face your Worst-Case Scenario

Thinking through the worst-case scenario often makes a decision clearer. Here's how to do it.

I've written before about thinking through the barriers to our achieving goals and dreams, and how identifying, planning and creating a strategy to deal with them is an important tool for our success. The smart scientists who study goal-setting call this coping planning, and along with action planning, they’ve shown that it provides you with a proven strategy to achieve your goals. As a quick recap, action planning and coping planning can be defined as:

Action Planning and Coping Planning

Action Planning -  This is about planning the goal itself - what you will do, when and where you will do it:

“I will meditate for 10 minutes after my gym session in the stretching area before I head to the showers.”

Coping Planning - You’ll inevitably encounter resistance to the change you want to make, so planning for it and thinking through solutions can be really helpful. For example:

“If I want to go to the gym but feel tired, I will not let myself sit down, but will pick up my gear bag and go straight to the gym. I will have my gym bag ready to go by the door”.

Your Internal Barriers

Some of the barriers you’ll identify are quite straightforward - if you want to learn to play the piano and you don’t have access to a piano or keyboard, that’s a pretty clear barrier.

However, some barriers are a little less clear and require some introspection. They may not be based on physical or financial limitations, but on your own internal mindsets or thinking. How do we work through these types of barriers or fears, often where we may not even be consciously aware that we have them?

I’ll give a personal example of a barrier like this - when I was thinking about starting a business, I had a fears of not succeeding and of not having enough of a commercial mind to be able to succeed in starting something from scratch. I hadn’t actually tested these fears, they were internal mindsets that I wasn’t totally aware of but were actually holding me back from trying in the first place.

Facing your Fears Diminishes Them

Tim Ferris has a quarterly routine called ‘fear-setting’ to work through his fears. In his own words,

“Why don’t I decide exactly what my nightmare would be—the worst thing that could possibly happen as a result of [goal here]?”

By defining the worst case scenario, it allowed him to think through what he could do if his worst fears came through - and define his own coping plan for something that was very unlikely to happen. In his own personal case, he discovered that even in the absolute worst case scenario - where his business collapsed and he lost all his money - he realised he could still work and find a job relatively quickly and get back on track:

“I realized it wouldn’t be that hard to get back to where I was, let alone survive. None of these things would be fatal — not even close”.

By defining the fear, he overcame the fear. Additionally, he then thought about what the cost of NOT trying to achieve his goals would be - the cost of inaction.

To refer back to my own internal barriers that I mentioned earlier, I used both these techniques in my own life. I defined my own worst-case scenarios and realised that, no matter what, I’d be ok. I had a safety-net built in through savings and I’d always be able to find work if things didn’t work out.

Furthermore, I knew that in 5-10 years, I’d regret not trying to start a business, to see if I could actually do it. I was in a unique position at the time with few responsibilities beyond myself, and so I started the business. And while it’s definitely been an up-and-down journey, I’m not sure I’d want to do anything else.

So take a moment and think through your barriers and fears, or if it’s a big goal, the worst case scenario. Often, you’ll find that scenario is nowhere near as fatal or scary as you think it is!