Imagining worst-case scenarios is your jam, I get it. If you think of and prepare for every single disturbing outcome conceivable, you will never be taken by surprise.
Yeah. The thing is, is doesn’t work that way. Life and the people in it are so incredibly unpredictable; you will never be able to think of every possible situation. #facts
What DOES happen when you’re always worrying about the worst-case scenario, is best explained by clinical psychologist Julie Smith.
In her book ‘’Why has nobody told me this before?’’ she writes:
‘’When those anxious thoughts arise and you put the spotlight on them and start to ruminate over that feared event in the future, doing so causes your body to respond. Not only that, each time that you play out the worst-case scenario in your mind, of something awful happening and you not coping with it, you are constructing an experience that your brain uses to help build your concepts or templates for the world. The more you repeat that, the easier it becomes for your brain to re-create it. Where you direct the spotlight of your attention helps to construct your experience.’’
Your nervous system can’t differentiate between what happens in your mind and in real life, so in a way, you are already experiencing all these horrible storylines, just by imagining them.
So, it’s time to redirect the spotlight of your attention. How, you ask? Well, this is a real easy one, but please, be courageous enough to truly try it.
The easiest exercise ever when you’re worrying about the worst-case scenario:
Picture the best-case scenario, too, and make it equally as extreme and dramatic as the worst. Yes, this will be hard. Yes, you will feel ridiculous. But may I remind you, dear human, that your worst-case is just as ridiculous? They are both highly unlikely.
This, right now, isn’t about being realistic, it’s about introducing another pathway for your neural network to get acquainted with.
After this, it’s quite nice to reconnect with (and reclaim) your logical brain by also devising the most realistic scenario. You’ve covered both extremes, now it’s time to redirect the spotlight again and figure out what’s actually likely to happen, the scenario that’s living somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.
Let me give you an example.
Let’s say you’ve been having pretty bad headaches lately. Your general practitioner sent you to a specialist to get it checked out, and this appointment is coming up. You may or may not have Googled a thing or two and now your worst-case scenario, which you are playing over and over in your mind, is that you come in, the doctor looks at you misty-eyed, and tells you that it’s a brain tumor, stage 4, and the rest of your very short life you will be extremely ill and lose all your hair to top it off.
Your best case would have to be just as outrageous. For example, you walk into the doctor’s office, they right away know what’s up, have a super accessible cure for it with no side-effects whatsoever just laying around, and you leave the hospital never to be having another headache ever again.
Yes, it’s ridiculous. But also, statistically, about as likely as your worst case.
Like this style & longing for some tips + tools geared toward the more ‘’advanced’’ overthinker?
Be sure to check out my toolkit Soothing the Stormy Brain to help yourself get out of your head and into a life you love.
The most realistic scenario would probably go something like this: The doctor starts asking all these questions about if you’re stressed, if you’re getting enough sleeping, etcetera; they tell you it’s probably nothing and schedule an MRI just to be sure.
Not as glamorous, definitely not worthy of the big screen, but that’s the thing with the most realistic case scenario. It’s the one in the grey area, you know, where life happens. And it’s also the only one you will most likely at least have an inkling of how to cope with. It might still be hard or sucky (it might also be completely fine), but in all probability you’ll be okay.
2 important notes about this thought exercise:
- First, the worst-case scenarios always feel more likely than the best AND the most realistic ones, because those are the ones the media bombards us with. Please keep in mind that just because we see more of it, doesn’t mean it actually happens more often.
- Second, the goal of this thought exercise is not to make you feel better or to make you believe it will all be just fine. The goal is to counterbalance the worst-case scenarios you’ve already thought up, and to end up with just a slightly calmer nervous system, a slightly clearer mind, and a slightly stronger connection to reality.
Hi, it’s me, Shirley!
A few years ago I decided to stop making my life any harder than it already was. And since then my life has been perfect.
Okay, that’s a lie.
But thanks to my self-compassion practice I now know how I can, time and time again, find my way back to my authentic self. And that’s what makes my life so much more easeful & joyful these days.
Let’s cultivate more self-compassion together!
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