Worst-Case Scenario: a Trick for Overcoming Fear

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I’ve done a lot of things in my life that could be considered scary.

Long before I ever moved into an RV, I moved my family hundreds of miles away from our home and our support system. Many of our friends said that sounded scary (and it was). Then there was the time I decided to go ahead and have and raise that baby when I was 19, despite my lack of a college education or a husband. People do it all the time, my own mother had done it twenty years earlier, but it was still scary as hell. Between those two big leaps there have been countless smaller ones; we all make scary decisions in life.

How do we do it? How do we face our fears and find the courage to take the big leaps?

I spend time thinking about the worst-case scenario.

When faced with a risky decision, I think about all of the ways things could go wrong. My husband says this is an insane exercise that does nothing to ease his anxiety, but I find it’s easier to face potential challenges in my head long before I have the chance to encounter them in real life. It gives me an opportunity to:

  1. Come up with a plan of attack.
  2. Decide if I could live with the outcome.

For example, before we decided to travel for a year, I considered a few worst case scenarios. We end up broke 6 months into the trip? Because we own our travel trailer, we have a place to live. Jared can find work anywhere and so can I, so we should be able to feed ourselves and our children. His parents have a really big house with a finished basement that we could probably move into if we really had to. We’re two able-bodied adults with family and friends all over the country, and we’ve already proven to ourselves that we can start our lives over if necessary. Turns out, our worst-case scenario isn’t that bad.

It’s so much easier to analyze, plan and accept potential consequences hypothetically than it is when you’re in the middle of a crisis. It also gives me a sense of calm because it reminds me just how much I could handle if I had to.

Of course, life has a way of surprising us with problems we don’t anticipate. There’s no way to have a contingency plan for every possible obstacle we might encounter, but the exercise itself makes me feel like I could handle the surprises. And besides, those unexpected encounters aren’t usually the ones that stop us from taking risks anyway. It’s the stuff we vaguely imagine in the dark, cloudy corners of our mind, the almost indescribable fear of something bad that could happen if we venture beyond our comfort zones.

I think one of the reasons playing mental footsie with the worst-case scenarios is so powerful for me is because it forces me to name my fears.

It’s easier to fight an enemy you can see.

I don’t want to be defeated by invisible demons. I want to see what’s holding me back so I can decide for myself what next step I’ll take. For me, that means dancing with a few worst-case scenarios from time to time.

What’s your best trick for overcoming fear?

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