Why Worst-Case Scenario Thinking Can Actually Help You Work Through Anxiety

by Dan Cumberland

Have you ever done something really scary? I mean, shaking-in-your-boots, not-sure-if-you'll-make-it scary?

Maybe you risked telling the truth to someone who didn't necessarily want to hear it. Maybe you pitched an idea you cared about, but others might not. Maybe you quit your job to work full-time with your dream project.

Whatever the cause, we all have felt fear at some point. Fear is an uncomfortable experience. It's a feeling most people choose to ignore or resolve as quickly as possible. Our experiences often tell us fear is more than we can bear, and that we must alleviate the tension.

So, we choose not to see it for what it is. Instead, we run away from it.

There's a trick that filmmakers use to increase suspense: They don't show you what the character on the screen is afraid of or running from.

Alfred Hitchcock was a master at this. He knew as soon as the viewer saw the man with the gun (or whatever the source of fear might be), fear loses its power over the audience. It's better to keep the scary thing off the screen because the mystery of it keeps us afraid.

We do exactly this with our own fears. When we're afraid of taking a risk, we don't explore why.

Psychologist Albert Ellis is known for his work in imagining the outcome of events. In his book, "A Guide To Rational Living," he writes,

The assumed catastrophic quality of most potentially unpleasant events is almost invariably highly exaggerated ... the worst thing about almost any 'disaster' is usually your exaggerated belief in its horror, rather than anything intrinsically terrible about it.

How often does our exaggerated belief in the horror of our fear keep us from entering into scary places, risking more deeply and authentically and living the courageous life we dream of? It likely happens more often than we'd care to admit. But, it doesn't have to be that way.

Fear Hacking

In order to diminish the power your fear has over you, you need to start exploring your worst-case scenario. We typically don't sit down with our fear to have a conversation. We just move away from or through it as quickly as possible.

But what if we could parse out what exactly we're afraid of? Putting language to our fear and worst-case scenarios is a psychological process called decatastrophizing. By asking a series of "what if" questions, we typically find that the worst-case scenario feels much more catastrophic than it would be if it actually came true.

By exploring what it would be like to be in the worst-case scenario and survive it, we're learning to interact with our fear, and learning the things we fear aren't as major as we imagine them to be. For example, I often feel fear when I'm writing for my blog. It was much worse in the early days than it is today, but I still feel it.

So, what am I afraid of? I'm afraid people won't like what I'm writing and will unsubscribe and write me off as not being worth their time.

What if that happened? Well, if everyone decided to unsubscribe all at once, I'd be sad and a bit hurt. (Realistically, not everyone would unsubscribe at once, but maybe I'd lose a bunch.)

And then what? After I got over the shock, I'd start over in building up my followers. I'd probably call some friends and ask for feedback on why what I wrote was so horrible. I'd learn from my mistakes and keep going. Maybe I'd delete the particular post that caused such negative feelings.

And then what? After a little time, I'd be right back where I am, and I'd be a little wiser for it. It would be hard to start over, but I have a lot of links and social proof out in the world that will help me rebuild my following much quicker than before.

And honestly, if one blog post could chase away all my readers, then maybe they're not the kind of readers I want to have anyway. If they left, it might help me find the people who really want to read my work.

So, it's not really so bad when I explore my fear. It's not a fun scenario, but it's not as painful as it felt before. By exploring my fear, my fear is much more manageable.

It's hard work to dig into your fear, look it in the eye and actually flesh out what it's about at its core. But when you avoid doing so, it remains exaggerated. By exploring it, decatastrophizing it and putting words to it, you take back some of its power and reclaim your own.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of Elite Daily.

This article was originally published on The Meaning Movement.