When facing a big decision, it’s easy to get stuck. When you’re trying to gather your courage to take a big risk, it can seem counterintuitive to start thinking about everything that might go wrong, but I often encourage my clients to do exactly that. Considering the worst possible outcome of a decision can be surprisingly freeing. Fears can be like monsters under the bed—the more we hide from them, the scarier they become.
Say, for instance, that you wanted to leave your job for a better opportunity in a new city. Maybe the potential upside is very clear to you, but it’s scary too because you’d have to leave the comfort of the life you know. So what’s the worst possible outcome of this decision? That you move for a new job and it doesn’t work out? That you hate your new city and don’t make any friends and have to move back and start over? How bad is that, really? Okay, it would be tough, but you’d survive. More important, how likely is it that things would go that badly? Probably not that likely. And you can’t go through life living in fear of unlikely outcomes.
Many of the things we fear are even less tangible than the situation I describe above. It’s not death or ruin that we fear, but embarrassment and rejection. The shame attached to these fears can hold us back from living our best lives, if we let it. Say you wanted to introduce yourself to an attractive person at a party: What’s the worst possible outcome? That they laugh in your face for having the temerity to approach them? How likely is that? Not very. And even if it did happen, you would only have avoided talking to a not very nice person. Say you wanted to pitch a big idea to your boss. Again, worst-case scenario: she rejects it. In that case, she’ll still see that you’ve shown initiative, and you likely will have learned something valuable from her feedback.
Like most things in life, practice helps with being brave. In an earlier post, I talked about the “mistake drill” that I do with kids at my dojo where I have them purposely do the wrong thing in front of the class. Once they’ve seen that it’s not so bad to do the wrong thing in front of everyone, it frees them up to push themselves and take chances. The more people you talk to, the more ideas you pitch, the more chances you take, the more you will see how unlikely the worst-case scenario really is.
Consider this: this week take action on something that you’ve been avoiding. Thinking about the worst-case scenario can ground your decision in reality and help you live a more courageous life.