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One thing that makes it possible to be an optimist is if you have a contingency plan for when all hell breaks loose. – Randy Pausch

You spot a mistake you did in your workplace, and you panic. You ponder that if you tell your boss, they’ll think you’re a failure, and you’ll be fired. Maybe you just started, maybe you’ve made mistakes in the past and you’re afraid of making more. Thus you run the scenario in your head, you tell your boss, you get into trouble and you’ll get fired. You’re not afraid of being fired though, you’re afraid of the impact that will have. You won’t be able to survive it, you’ll never find another job, you’ll end up on the street. If you have a family, they’ll suffer and it’ll be all your fault. Quite the world to carry on your shoulder’s isn’t it?

The Stoic philosophers ran through these scenarios on purpose, and often even forced themselves to take part in them because it allowed a sort of planning for the unknown. It may sound a little crazy, especially when the self-help community is all about smiles and rainbows. Where does a ‘worst-case scenario’ fit into all of it?

There’s two parts to the original scenario, the first is, is the expectation of being fired realistic? Second, if it is realistic, is the scenario that would result from it realistic? What are the actual chances you’ll end up on the street a failure because of losing one job? Heck – what’s the likelihood you’ll be fired for making a mistake, in any place worth working in?

So try this exercise, take anything you’re afraid of, and escalate it as much as possible, until it becomes hilarious, and then go even farther.

You’re in a terrible relationship, and you’re afraid to break up. But let’s say you do break up, let’s imagine the worst-case scenario does happen. It turns out your partner was ‘the one’, and you’ve fucked it up. You continue through life struggling with relationships that are much worse, and you only wish you would have stayed in that previously, less-terrible relationship. Eventually you decide you’re just unable to have relationships and stopped believing in love all together. You move into a one bedroom apartment and get a couple cats and a dog. There is your love, they won’t betray you. As you go through your 60s and 70s alone, with your animals, you wonder what could have been, if only you stayed in that first terrible relationship. How much better would life have been?

Perhaps you’re more creative then I am, and you can come up with even worse scenarios, great! What’s the actual likelihood of all of that happening though? What’s the likelihood that the relationship that requires one too many sacrifices is the ‘best you’re gonna get?’. Only you can really answer that for yourself.

Next time you’re terrified of something, search inside yourself for your worst-case scenario and find what you’re actually afraid of. Perhaps in the meantime you’ll find how ridiculous it all sounds.

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