As soon as I cut through the vague unease and ambiguous anxiety by defining my nightmare, the worse-case scenario, I wasn’t as worried about taking a trip. Suddenly, I started thinking of simple steps I could take to salvage my remaining resources and get back on track if all hell struck at once. I could always take a temporary bartending job to pay the rent if I had to. I could sell some furniture and cut back on eating out. I could steal lunch money from the kindergartners who passed by my apartment every morning. The options were many … None of these things would be fatal, not even close.”
Timothy Ferriss, The 4-Hour Workweek
Are you putting off a big decision or a big life change because you are afraid of what could happen? There is incredible power in defining and getting clear about the worst case scenario, the nightmare that you’re too afraid to look square in the eyes.
I love this idea from Roman philosopher Seneca,
Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: ‘Is this the condition that I feared?’”
The point is this: we often avoid taking action because of our fear of an unknown, terrifying set of events or circumstances. Define this nightmare scenario, live it in your mind, or even test it in real life. You may find that you could probably figure out a way to survive, if not thrive, even in this worst case scenario.
I often joke with my wife and say, “Well, you like camping, don’t you? Worst case if this whole real estate investing were to completely implode, at least we’ve got our tent.” That of course wouldn’t be pleasant, but it brings lightness and freedom to my current endeavors by imagining us surviving even with a total outward failure.
Many people, maybe some of you, stay in jobs, circumstances, or even relationships that are stifling, miserable, or boring. Why do they stay? Security? Comfort? Health insurance?
Are you giving up a potentially amazing future by staying on a path that is reasonable, socially acceptable, and the normal way of doing things?
I’m not saying it’s right to stay or to go, but you owe it to yourself to explore and imagine what life would really be like if you took that leap. Instead of saying, “If only …” or “I would, but I can’t because …” try imagining how you could succeed if you did try.
Optimism doesn’t require foolishly believing everything will turn out OK. Optimism is looking the difficult reality squarely in the face, and then using your fortitude and imagination to find a way to shape reality to your liking.
When I’ve done this imagination exercise in my own life, I’ve come to the incredible conclusion that inaction, staying in my current, safe, comfortable path is riskier than taking the leap.
The nightmare scenario might be painful, uncomfortable, and embarrassing, but I could survive. The UPSIDE of taking action, however, was so amazing, life changing, and liberating that the risk of staying in a stifling present was not even an option.
So what about you? Are you willing to do the difficult self-analysis of examining your current situation compared with your possible futures? Define the nightmare, and then make a choice with open eyes.
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