You can’t move in a positive direction in taming the mind holistically without disarming the negative.
Yes, I said “disarming” – meaning, we are going to take away the weapons that your own fear yields against you by plumbing the depths of your worst case scenario.
While this sounds like a potentially frightening, unhelpfully negative exercise, the truth is that if you keep the focus on yourself, you’ll find that your fears are not as ominous or all-powerful as you thought.
For example, did you know that, for many patients with a diagnosis of a life-threatening illness, the most psychologically stressful period is around the time of the diagnosis (or the time waiting for the results of the tests, even for those whose results come back clean)?
Once the diagnosis has been made either way, most people adapt to their new prognosis relatively quickly, and their intensity of psychological stress and fear decreases almost right away.
The “worst-case scenario” exercise may seem negative, but the net effect is actually positive, because it gives us the tools to disarm our worst fears so that we do not have to live in perpetual horror of them coming true. Most of the time, when it comes to general life stress, what we realize is that the worst is not really that bad.
The worst-case scenario “game” (because it can actually be somewhat fun when you get into it) can be applied to any life circumstance – work, relationships, health, and more. The reason that it’s helpful is that it taps into your inner resources. It helps you realize that you are strong enough to confront any uncomfortable, annoying, long-term, painful, or even traumatizing experience that could come your way.
Now, that’s powerful.
The truth is that you can handle anything in your path. You are strong, not helpless! Redefine your circumstances by bringing on your worst fears!
The reality of life is that there are times when you are going to be uncomfortable, in pain (physically or emotionally), stressed, or grieving – you are human being, and you are going to experience the full range of these emotions.
But our experience of our circumstances is based on our thoughts and our feelings about our life events, not what is actually happening. Your worst-case scenario may come true – this isn’t about convincing yourself that you’re immune to life’s big and small disasters. Instead, this is about helping you tap into your inner resources and strength to deal with whatever comes your way.
Worst-Case Scenario Example: Weight
Occasionally I have a “yuck moment,” as I’ve heard them so descriptively and wonderfully called, when I look in the mirror and see something I don’t like – an angle, a bulge, a characteristic – that instantly and powerfully takes me back to when I was out of control of my eating, and how helpless I felt.
It’s an overwhelming, toxic feeling. Most of the time, I can deal with it with a positive replacement thought.
But sometimes, it gets to me to the degree that I have to confront the fear head-on and play the worst-case-scenario game. I have to say, “Okay, what is really the worst case scenario here? What’s the worst thing that could happen?”
Here is what my mental process look like, and you can see how I keep the emphasis on myself and my power in the situation, not on the external circumstances:
Me: “What is the worst-case scenario?”
Fear: “You will gain all the weight and be fat again.”
Me: “So what? I’ve lost weight before. If I think I might be gaining weight, it’s very possible I am. It’s also possible I’m not. I should take a look at my eating habits again to check on my portion sizes. I’m certainly not out of control and binging, but I may be eating more than I think. Thanks for the reminder!”
Fear: “But what if you are out of control and don’t realize it? What if it’s your genetic destiny to be overweight?” (See how my fear tries to play on my sense of helplessness and lack of agency.)
Me: “I’m not sure that’s possible. My lifestyle wouldn’t permit it – I may be eating more than I think, but I work out several times a week and eat healthy food 90% of the time. I may have gained a little weight from portion size, but I’m not eating the amounts or types of foods to continue gaining weight.”
Fear: “But what if it does happen? What if you get huge?”
Me: “Then I would be able to figure it out then, too. I would have to see a doctor and figure out the lifestyle factors that I needed to change, and get the help and social support to change them. I don’t think that’s going to happen, but if I did gain a lot of weight, I would still be a human being deserving of love, and most of all deserving of my own love to make healthy choices.”
The worst-case scenario helps me clue in to possible lifestyle indicators that I want to change, instead of simply feeling bad about myself. It helps me acknowledge reality, which is that I’m a very fit and healthy person, while still taking responsibility for things that I might want to change (my portion sizes, for example).
To review, the worst-case scenario exercise is helpful, because it:
- Reveals what your true worst fear is.
- Helps you realize that you could handle your worst fear even if it happened.
- Teaches you to tap into your inner resources to overcome external situations.
- Doesn’t deny your fears and suppress them.
- Helps you identify actions that you want to take in the present to modify your approach to life.
Your goal is to access that deep, unshakable strength that sustains you through difficult experiences and times of change, the unquenchable light that is in you all the time even when the outside is dark.
Ask yourself right now: what is your personal worst-case scenario with your weight, fitness, or health? Let your psyche answer.
Then, ask yourself (in all seriousness): “So what?”
Talk back to your inner voice, and let yourself know that you are fully capable of taking care of yourself, and anything that comes your way.