Why Do You Assume the Worst-Case Scenario?
"I'm afraid of losing all my money and becoming a bag lady."
"I think they are going to criticize and rebuke me."
"They will pigeonhole me for what I've done, not what I can do."
Does your brain assume the worst-case scenario when it comes to your career and interactions with other people?
If so, what's the impact of assuming the worst? What's the upside and what's the downside?
In this episode, I share:
- my personal experience of assuming the worst and living in survival mode
- two of the "worst-case scenarios" that actually happened in my life
- some biases I'm choosing on PURPOSE so that I can thrive, not just survive.
If you enjoy this podcast, you'd enjoy joining me at my upcoming webinar. Come register at www.jamieleecoach.com
Or write me for suggestions, thoughts, and more: firstname.lastname@example.org
Full Episode Transcript
Hello! Welcome to Episode 54 of Born to Thrive with Jamie Lee. I’m your host and coach, Jamie Lee.
How are you?
Happy February 1st!
How was your month of January?
My month rocked. It was awesome.
I meditated 31 consecutive days. As I mentioned in Episode 52, I read How to Break the Habit of Being Yourself by Dr. Joe DiSpenza and I did the meditation that he recommends in that book. It’s amazing. So powerful.
And I also did 14 days of Aikido training, which is pretty much every other day. I am committed to becoming a masterful Aikido athlete. Aikido, if you don’t know, is a Japanese martial art focused on peace, flow of energy, and protecting both the attacker and defender, even though there are throws, grabs, twists, turns, flips.
It’s a lot of fun and I love how the martial art of Aikido is like a physical connection of the concepts that I’m learning in the book and also the concepts that I’m teaching here in the podcast about how mind overcomes matter, how we can integrate our mind, body, and spirit and thrive, no matter what other people say, do or think.
In other words, no matter what the circumstances are, no matter if somebody’s trying to grab you, throw you, you can maintain your ground, you can maintain your power, you can maintain your peace. And that is possible.
So I love how all the things that I’m working on in my personal life and my professional life, there is so much synchronicity.
And I did my Mastermind Group in the month of January as well. We met four times this month, every Tuesday, and we had some really great conversations on self-confidence, on setting goals, on emotional mastery as opposed to emotional dependence, which creates powerlessness and resentment. And finally, we talked about how to process discomfort so that we can become courageous and become unstoppable as negotiators and leaders.
So, I’m really excited for the second iteration of Mastermind. So, if you’re interested, email me: email@example.com and better yet, come join my webinar next Wednesday on February 6th at 12:30 pm EST/ 9:30 am PT.
I’m going to reprise the webinar I gave this past Wednesday on how to generate self-confidence in five simple steps without faking anything.
Now, I want to say all the concepts that I teach and apply, I apply them to myself first and I know that they work because I have done them, I have applied and worked through them, I have coached myself and I know that self-confidence is something that you can create in yourself, regardless of your circumstance, regardless of how much money you have, what you look like, how much student loan debt you have.
It doesn’t matter. You can create self-confidence and with self-confidence you can do what you want in your life and in your career.
So, join me. It’s gonna be a really fun discussion. I have some phenomenal content ready for you. Join me. Challenge me with your difficult questions. You can also join the webinar on demand, so even if you cannot join it this Wednesday, you can watch it later. So, if you want to register, come to my site, jamieleecoach.com.
So today, I want to talk to you about why we assume the worst-case scenario.
I had some phenomenal coaching sessions with amazing women and the common thread among all of the coaching sessions this week was that these amazing women are all assuming the worst-case scenario in one way or another.
And I have done the same.
So take, for example, somebody who is going for a new job, a career transition. She’s worried, she’s assuming the worst-case scenario that people will pigeon-hole her for what she has done in the past, not what she can do in the future. She feels that her resume will be a liability and people won’t give her a chance to prove her future potential.
I had another conversation with somebody who assumes the worst when people reach out to her, send her an email, or call her at work and she immediately goes to the worst-case scenario that she’s going to be rebuked or people are going to find fault with her.
And why? It’s because there’s been experiences like that in her childhood. With our parents, when we have experienced parents who rebuked us or when we recall the childhood memory of being afraid, it’s like our mind is just playing a repeat of a past experience.
And there’s another with whom I’ve spoken and she is afraid of the worst-case scenario that a lot of people are afraid of, which is losing all her money and ending up as a bag lady, a homeless bag lady.
So, why do we assume the worst-case scenario?
I think our brain will reason that it’s because if we prepare for the worst-case scenario, then at worst, if that worst-case scenario happens, then we will be prepared for it and then we will be able to survive that worst-case scenario.
And notice how our focus on surviving the worst-case scenario keeps us in survival mode, in fight mode, in stress mode, not in thriving mode, not in creative mode, not in value creation mode.
So, I think there are just, in general, three explanations for why we always assume the worst, which is a symptom of our negative bias, right? Our brains are wired for negative bias.
Number one is that we have experienced it in the past. We experienced our parents getting mad at us, rebuking us for something that we did wrong and so then we start thinking that we’re going to get rebuked and get yelled at in the workplace.
So we think that the past repeats itself, right? That’s number one.
Number two, we have, as a society, as a culture, we have a bias for scarcity. Money is running out. The planet’s resources are running out. Time is running out. There’s so much marketing messaging around how you better do it now, you better buy now before the sale ends, before stock runs out, right?
There is so much focus on scarcity in our culture and society, so we are trained to believe that things are not going to last. Time, money, energy, particularly.
And number three, there are a lot of naysayers, you know? The more successful you become, sure, you experience feedback and sometimes there are haters, right? Haters are gonna hate. And there are naysayers. Naysayers are gonna say nay!
And those people who are wired to just criticize and find fault with you, that’s their bias, right? It doesn’t necessarily mean that they are right because, just as much as there are haters, there are people who are kind of like me. Who are sort of biased for positivity and will always find reasons for why things are going well.
So, our brains are wired, our brains are hardwired for us to believe that the past repeats itself, to believe that time, money, energy will run out, to have a scarcity bias, and number three, to have a negative bias. And when we hear naysayers outside of us saying those things, our brains will be tempted to believe them.
I will be tempted to believe that my gender, my skin tone, that the shape of my body will determine what’s possible for me because there are so many people and a lot of marketing messages that are about hey, there’s something wrong with you. You gotta fix it. Spend money to fix it, right?
So, I want to explore a little bit at a deeper level, what is the impact of this worst-case scenario bias?
When we assume the worst-case scenario, how do we think, how do we feel, how do we act, and what are the results that we create from assuming the worst-case scenario?
And I did some work on myself because, I mean, I used to assume the worst-case scenario just constantly, incessantly, I was very miserable for a very long time in my career.
And the common thread among all of the times I assumed the worst-case scenario - that people don’t like me, that money is going to run out, people don’t get me, that my external circumstance, that my body defines my future, what is available, what is possible for me - when I assumed those things, I always got defensive.
Take, for example, when I assume that people don’t like me, I experience the fear of social rejection and then I try to manage that fear by preemptively getting defensive with people, putting up walls, or worse yet, belittling myself.
And I see a lot of people, I’ve seen women do this. I’ve seen myself do it. You get kind of nervous and kind of weird and you say [laughs nervously], “Sorry! Sorry! Sorry I said that! Sorry I exist! Sorry I’m taking up space!” And you belittle yourself preemptively in an effort to save yourself from a perceived attack.
Now, the thing that is really interesting is that when we assume the worst-case scenario, when we think that other people don’t like us, they’re gonna reject us, criticize us, etc., our brain will see that image, that imagined future, and it won’t know the difference between that imagined perception of a dangerous future, of a worst-case scenario, from what it actually perceives, from sensory perception.
The brain doesn’t know the difference between a sensory perception and imagined perception.
Now, you have all experienced this.
You know, take, for example, you are thinking about somebody who said something really nasty to you and when you start thinking about that person and you re-imagine, you remember that situation where anger was boiling up, and you can start feeling, physically feeling the discomfort and the tightness in your stomach or in your neck and you can feel the blood pressure rise up. You can feel yourself getting hot and angry and defensive.
Or if you think about somebody you are infatuated with and you imagine a sexual fantasy, your body will automatically go into that mode where you’re feeling aroused and excited, right?
So, even if those people, the person that you’re angry at or the person that you’re infatuated with are not in front of you, just by imagining those people, imagining the situation, or remembering the situation, you have a physical reaction.
And that shows you that your brain doesn’t know the difference between an imagined perception and a sensory perception.
So, when you assume the worst-case scenario, what happens is that you put yourself in that worst-case scenario. You create the situation in your body at a brain level, at a chemical level, at a hormonal level.
You go into that fight or flight mode. You go into that survival mode. You go into that stress mode simply by imagining that worst-case scenario.
The worst thing that can actually happen when you imagine the worst-case scenario is an emotion.
Emotion, Dr. Joe DiSpenza says in his book, is the chemical residue of a past experience, so when you experience that worst-case scenario from having remembered something that happened to you that triggers all this negative emotion, you feel the experience.
You feel the emotion of shame, fear, guilt.
That’s it. That’s the worst thing.
And when you imagine the worst thing, you create that emotion in your body.
And so, for me, my reaction to that emotion of either shame, fear, guilt, anxiety, failure is that I would get defensive. I would want to put up a fight. I would get tight and tense.
Just thinking about it, just remembering how I used to be right now as I’m recording this podcast is recreating...I’m remembering right now in my body what that defensiveness felt like.
I always felt like I was under attack even though I was never actually under attack because I was always imagining the worst-case scenario.
And I would get defensive. I would get weird. I would get creepy. I would belittle myself. Or if I felt that the worst-case scenario would happen and that I would run out of money, I would feel panicky. I would feel like I was going to die.
The primitive brain, when it’s not managed, is like a toddler with a knife and even though there is no actual toddler with a knife, it can feel as if your existence or your ego is under attack by this toddler with a knife.
And so when I examine my own experience of always going to the worst-case scenario, I notice that I got defensive, I get creepy, I get needy, I feel desperate, I feel panicky, I feel stressed out, and as a result, I would not be able to show up and be genuine with people.
I would not like those people but be so desperate for their approval. I would always feel so afraid of spending any money. I would be so afraid that I would not be able to access my creativity and imagination to generate value for other people, which is how you actually create money, so I was not in that creation mode.
And I would get angry. Preemptively angry.
So, I was thinking about this and then I wondered what were the actual worst-case scenarios that had happened?
And I can think of two things. Things that happened that at one point I was actually very upset about.
One was that - this happened about twelve years ago - I was married to a man who overstayed his student visa. So we were actually in a loving relationship, actually living together, and he asked me to marry him so that he can get a green card and stay in the United States. And I was very young, naive, I did not have a lot of money, neither did he. And so we got married at the city hall. We just had a nice lunch with a friend, and that was it. We didn’t have a wedding.
Long story short, we go to the green card interview and he couldn’t answer a single question. His mind went completely blank.
It’s funny now but I was livid back then when he failed the green card interview.
He couldn’t remember where I lived, where I worked, he couldn’t remember what bank account I had. He couldn’t remember a single detail about my family even though he had spent...and he had cooked holiday dinners for them!
We were in a real relationship but, at the green card interview, we looked like we were completely fake because he couldn’t answer a single question.
I was so angry.
I was so angry.
I had never been so angry.
And I thought that was the worst-case scenario and it had happened! I was shocked, I was upset. But over time, I have learned to really appreciate what happened because it allowed me to leave him.
And this was the best thing that had happened because over time I realized that he was not the person I thought he was. I think if I had stayed in that relationship, I would not be where I am today. And if he had not failed that interview, I may still be with him.
And after I left that relationship, I found a wonderful man whom I’m still with. We’ve been together for 11 years and he’s very different from the first husband I had.
And so the worst thing that had happened turned out actually to be the best possible thing.
Also, I talk about how I bungled my salary negotiation ten years ago. I had no experience in the finance industry, I didn’t research the going market rates, I didn’t tap my network, I didn’t really prepare a statement of value, I didn’t know how to frame for value and ask for the high end of the going market range. So I didn’t do any of that and then found out I was making $50,000 in a job that is valued to be $100,000 at most other hedge funds.
And so at first I was very angry but over time I have become really appreciative of that too because it taught me a really valuable lesson of all the things that I could have done and now I teach those lessons. I teach those lessons and I get paid to teach those lessons. I get paid thousands of dollars to go to women’s leadership conferences, to go to corporations, to universities.
I was just at NYU law school and I spoke on the panel about fair pay and I shared that experience verbatim. I said, “Hey, I once found out I was making $50,000 but I’m really appreciative that it happened because it taught me all the things that I now teach others, that I am now teaching you.”
Long story short, I want to challenge your thinking around worst-case scenarios. And that’s the work I do with all my clients. I always challenge why are you always assuming the worst-case scenario. What is the impact of going into the worst-case scenario in your mind, right? Because it creates, it recreates those negative emotions and you react from that negative emotion and you go into survival mode, stress mode, fight mode.
One of the things that experts all agree on is that humans are biased. We are all biased. And our default mode is for negative bias. Our default mode is for scarcity bias. Our default mode is to buy into what everyone else tells us to be true.
But what if we purposely chose biases that served us, biases that helped us thrive?
So here are some biases that I am choosing for myself:
To hell with circumstances, I create my own future.
The future will be more amazing than my brain can imagine now.
I want to have a future focus and I want to believe that the future is even better than what I have experienced in the past, than what I can imagine now.
And I also want to have a bias that there is always more than I need.
There is always more time, there is always more money, there is always more energy.
I’m going to let my mind evolve into creation mode as opposed to survival mode. And I know that is how I will thrive.
And I’m going to let all the naysayers be wrong about me. Let the people who have their thoughts about me be wrong about me. Why not? Everyone’s going to say, do, and think what they say, do, and think anyways and why not let them be wrong?
My gender, my skin tone, the shape of who I am, where I come from can never create limitations but only opportunities. And when I choose to see it this way, it generates a lot of appreciation, gratitude, and excitement.
I choose to celebrate what is possible for me.
I choose to celebrate the best possible scenarios and not always go to the worst-case scenarios. And this is how I believe we can make the gender wage gap irrelevant in that awesome, amazing future, which will not be the worst-case scenario but the best possible scenario.
So, what about you?
What bias will you drop?
What bias do you want to choose on purpose so that you can set yourself up for success and create the best possible scenario?
Thank you and I will talk to you next week.