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Worst Case Planning Got You Down?

Does my ass look fat?
Creative Commons License photo credit: jeroen_bennink

I think many of us, especially me, live our lives acting as though Murphy’s Law and its corollaries predict our future:

Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.
Nothing is as easy as it looks.
Everything takes longer than you think…

And that, I’m guessing, is what leads us to build “Worst Case Scenarios”.  I myself think it’s a good thing to do. And so does Julie Norem, who gives a name to the process in her book, The Positive Power of Negative Thinking: Using Defensive Pessimism to Harness Anxiety and Perform at Your Peak.  She calls it “‘defensive pessimism’ … a process that allows anxious people to do good planning.”

According to Norem, using mental rehearsal to consider all possible negative eventualities delivers a double whammy: it reduces the likelihood of negative consequences because you dream up fix-it strategies and it reduces anxiety because you feel confident that your alternative strategies will overcome difficulties as they arise.  Nice payoff.

So defensive pessimism – anticipating, planning and strategizing over a worst case scenario – is a good thing.  It makes a person healthy, wealthy and wise.  I wish.  But a person who uses defensive pessimism to prepare for the what-ifs in their life is more likely to feel confident in dealing with whatever life throws them.  And that gives them the opportunity to actually engage in living.

Where’s the Optimism?

So what about all our hype on the benefits of optimism?  Well, it seems that if you are a person who uses defensive pessimism effectively, then all those people who lead with optimism probably drive you up a tree.  YOUR optimism comes later – after you’ve mentally dealt with the worst case scenario.  You need that process of defensive pessimism to ready yourself to face your challenges optimistically.

Another Worst Case Technique

Skilled negotiators use a different but similar technique called BATNA or Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement.  BATNA = the best you can do if you can’t reach agreement. It gives the negotiator a touchstone from which to judge each proposal of a negotiation by asking, “Is this better or worse than my BATNA?”  Obviously, it’s not a good idea to accept a solution that is worse than walking away.  I wonder if defensive pessimists could use BATNA as a safety net for deciding whether or not to use particular strategies they’ve dreamt up?  BATNA was developed by negotiation researchers Roger Fisher and William Ury Roger Fisher in their book Getting to Yes.

Lastly, I hope all you, even the defensive pessimists will consider the advice of Slade Roberson who advises his readers that “a miracle is always an option”… and with that thought in mind, he recommends building a best case scenario to see what it tells you about possible outcomes.

Are you a defensive pessimist or an optimist? Post and be counted!

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Cup o’ Inspiration

cup with steam swirl

Take a short break and consider the following:

“Both optimists and pessimists contribute to our society. The optimist invents the airplane and the pessimist the parachute.”

Gil Stern

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