Knocking On Wood: What’s The Worst That Can Happen?

When you do a cost-benefits analysis, it doesn’t take that much more effort to think up worst-case scenarios, right? You’re planning for success, you might as well plan for failure — in the sense that you try your best to keep it from happening, that is. “Failing to plan is planning to fail,” after all.

It’s A Mind Game
When you think of the worst that can happen, you also have to remember that the worst-case scenarios are all in your head. It’s your knowledge and your imagination that comes up with all these awful, oh-hell-no mini-commercials playing in your mental movie-theater-for-one.

  • Your experience – This is the stuff that: you know, you have done, you have learned and you have absorbed.
  • Your inexperience – This is the stuff you know you don’t know, etc.
  • Your ignorance – This is the stuff you don’t know you don’t know but you can find out. Whether you find it out the hard way or the easy way, it depends on you.

A quick solution is to exploit the first, address the second and counter the third with your ability and willingness to ask for help.


Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto , and John Wayne’s solitary heroism is the stuff of movie reality, which isn’t real life at all. To go even deeper,the hidden fear of failure or fear of success acts as fuel for even darker imaginings, which can then paralyze you into inaction. What follows are a few ways to deal with that.

How can you think yourself out of a corner?

  • Remove yourself from the equation and describe the situation in the 3rd person POV. Doing this is like a literal shift of your mental gears, and helps you think differently, and move easier. Try it. Instead of saying, “I have a problem with this particular issue, ” say “[Your Name] is having a problem with this particular issue…” and go on to describe the whole situation like that. When you shift to 3rd person point-of-view, you are not having the problem (that other person with your name is) and you-you slips out from under the pressure of 1st person POV.
  • Think of it from the POV of someone you know is out to get you. Even if it’s an imaginary someone. Better yet, if you ever had a teacher, professor, supposed ‘friend’, co-worker or manager who nitpicked the hell out of your work/your issues/your life/your problem areas, give this person a voice in your head, and let him talk. Note down the vital points, then kick him out. Take your notes and work on those vital points, addressing the most probable breaking points and the weak areas in the chain or process. Sometimes it’s the people who aren’t on our side that can teach us the hard lessons we need to get out of our own way.
  • When you paint yourself into a corner, it helps to let the paint dry first before making any sudden moves. The pressure you feel is, still and literally, all in your head. Externally, the cues are there, and you reacted to them as you habitually do. If you feel pressured, realize that it’s you putting that pressure on yourself and letting it influence you. Step back and breathe, and give yourself room to move.

What are the impediments to thinking clearly when it comes to planning for bad things?

  • Believing that the bad things will already happen – If you believe something is inevitable, that belief saps your energy and confidence in yourself, affecting your ability to act and impeding your momentum.
  • Unsubstantiated fears – When you don’t know what exactly is it that you’re afraid of, any old thing can set you off , especially if you aren’t aware of the roots of your own triggers. Generalized anxiety or specific fears fall under this category.
  • Inertia – Essentially, this is falling asleep on the job. Things stay the same because you’re not motivated to change anything. You don’t move.

Planning for worst-case scenarios doesn’t mean that they will happen, it just means that if they do, you’ll be prepared. Looking at a possible threat through a magnifying glass inflates the image. It depends on how you look at things. You can make the details clearer, or blow things out of proportion.


Ever had to watch a kid prepare for the very first day of school?
“What if they don’t like me?”
“What if I hate it here?”
“What if the teacher is mean?”
You’ve been that kid, don’t forget. When you don’t have that much experience in facing the world, almost everything can seem scary. With some parental assurance and gentle coercion, you settled in and somehow learned to make it work.

As an adult, you have to make it work for yourself now. Parental assurance is replaced by self-confidence, gentle (self) coercion bolstered with discipline. The scary “what-if’s” are gently disconnected from “Oh, no!” and then connected to “If-then”, which is preparation: if this is what I want to happen, then these are the things I have to do to make it happen.” Prepare like a pessimist, act like an optimist, and go see what happens.

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