Rule 8: Ask “What’s The BEST That Can Happen?”

In the last rule, I proposed that the question “what’s the worst that could happen?” can be a useful “reality check” when fear grabs and limits you.  This rule goes from the opposite end.

My wife brought this question to my attention, and even if I tease her (when my son said he was nervous about a basketball game, my wife asked this question, “what’s the best that could happen?”, I suggested that my 12 year old son could be spotted by an NBA scout and called up!), she is right.

Too often, we get caught in the fear and dread.  And while asking “what’s the worst that can happen?” helps us stay in reality, it can also keep us on the down side of a situation.

What about the upside, the opportunity?  The question “what’s the best that can happen?” brings the upside into perspective.  It provides an openness to possibility.bungy-jump

For example, you are thinking of that bungee jump.  Your fear grips you, and you find yourself unable to step up to the edge and take a leap.  So, you ask, “what’s the worst that could happen?”  The outfitters have only stellar reviews, the cord is in good shape, the harness is secure.  Given the safety record, it is safe to say the worst would be a little soreness tomorrow from the swing.

Still, you find yourself rooted in place, unable to command your feet to move.  Now ask “what’s the best that could happen?”  And you find you might just prove to yourself that you can tackle your fear of heights.  You can get a huge adrenaline rush.  You get a t-shirt.  You get to jump off a bridge with no injury!  Now, we are into possibilities.

In the previous rule, we talked about speaking in public, given how high this fear ranks.  So, let’s take a look at that one.  You have already established the worst that could happen, and you know you will not die giving the talk.

Now, what is the best that could happen?  Perhaps you could make a difference for the organization?  Maybe someone will see you give the talk, be impressed by your willingness, and give you even more opportunities.  Or at a minimum, the best would be you face your fear, do the talk, and walk away more confident.

So use this question to balance the fear.  It helps us to both test our reality (risk assessment in Rule 7), and think about opportunity.

Rule 7: Ask “What’s The Worst That Can Happen?”

Today, the question that can help you challenge your fears when thinking about doing something.  You see, fear pretends to befriend and protect us.  So it whispers into our ear all kinds of thoughts about not doing something because “something could go wrong.”  But in actuality, there isn’t much fact behind the images of utter destruction.grand-canyon-jump

So, the question is “what’s the worst that can happen?”  Then think through the answers.  Are they really that bad?  If they are, and it isn’t your exageration from fear, then perhaps you shouldn’t do it.  Say you are standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon and you want to jump to a rock outcropping 6 feet out from you.  You are scared, but still thinking about it.  You ask the question:  “what’s the worst that can happen?”  And you answer “Oh, I don’t know, a 5000 foot drop.”  Then, your fear was well-intended!

But let’s face it, that is not the typical situation.  No, our fears are normally about non-lethal situations.  In fact, our fears often only serve to constrict our lives, keeping us from growning and developing.  That is when the question is magic!

How about this one:  someone asks you to give a short speech during a business gathering!  Fear whispers in your ear “I’ll mess that one up. . . that’s scary!”  Quickly, you find a conflict on your schedule, a reason why that is not going to work out.

But what if you asked the question “what’s the worst that could happen?” and you were realistic?  The worst may be that your words don’t come out as clearly as you would like.  Or people won’t agree with you.  Or you will die of embarrassment (there has never been a verified case of this!).

OK, so maybe your words don’t come out as clearly as you would like.  Maybe your tongue gets tied, but haven’t you seen others do the same in a speaking situation?  Even presidents get tongue-tied and say the wrong things.  But they are still presidents.  In other words, there is likely far less risk than you think.

You answer the question, you face your worst fears, realize that they aren’t so bad, and you decide to take a risk.  That is the nature of life, growth, and learning.  That is how we develop into better humans.  So ask the question, question the answers, and see that fear isn’t the friend it pretends to be.

Rule 6: You Get To Choose Your Response To Fear — Unhealthy Responses

We have established that fear is a given.  We cannot get rid of it.  We can only decide whether or not fear will run our lives.  And we can decide how we will respond.

But what if you find yourself constantly in the grips of fear?

There are two basic approachs to life that are steeped in fear: Controlling and Passive. These approaches, on the surface, appear to be opposite. But in reality, just below the surface, they are identical. They are steeped in founded in fear.

In fact, there is a core terror involved in both approaches.The Passive person chooses to let life make the decisions for him or her. Wherever the waves toss, there is where the person lands. Being active feels either futile or terrifying. For some, the terror is based on feeling as if others will be watching and judging. And perhaps even more frightening, life might just hold that person accountable.

Passivity comes in many flavors. For some, it is just a matter of inaction –staying in the same job and miserable year after year, staying in a miserable marriage but doing nothing to make it better, or a myriad of other things. We stay and do nothing.

Then there is the inactivity of avoidance. This is when we pretend not to notice, put those blinders on, and keep moving. Miserable job? It hasn’t even registered. Relationship falling apart? What relationship?

Some master passivity as a way of expressing anger. Instead of expressing our anger, we use passive behavior to sabotage the other. Someone asks us to do something. We agree to do it, then don’t. They confront us, and respond with “I forgot.” Abdication of responsibility on a silver platter!Some maintain passivity as a philosophy better known as futility. It is much easier to pretend that nothing matters, that actions account for nothing. In believing this, we are relieved of any responsibility. At least we pretend this to be the case.

When I was a boy, my father returned from a trip with a gift, a small piece of granite with these words painted on it: “Not to decide is to decide.” To a small boy of eight or so, those words don’t mean a lot. But they have become more and more pronounced as I have grown older. In actuality, there is no such thing as passivity.

Every moment of every day, we are making decision after decision. Often, we make those decisions by not deciding. We pretend we have relieved ourselves responsibility by not deciding. Yet a decision has still been made.

The Controlling person is just as fear-based as the passive person. But the control is based in the clear illusion that anyone has any level of control over life. Okay, that might sound paradoxical or even contradictory to what I just said about being passive. I moved the conversation to the importance of being active. Yet now I state that there is no control.

Here is the key: people who act in controlling ways fool themselves into pretending they have some ultimate control over their life. People who are pro-active in their lives assume that nothing is guaranteed and everything is at risk. But moment-to-moment, pro-active people move in ways that allow them to meet life, to approach life with hope, an antidote to fear.

Rule 5: We All Have Some Basic Fears

We share fear with every living creature. The difference is that we are able to add emotion and thought to the feelings. Sure, some animals are capable of emotions –anger in particular. But as far as we know, no other animal reflects on their fears.

Because we are thinking creatures, we take a fear and weave it into a story about ourselves. And this leads us to some basic fears. These fears rotate around the following:
1) Not having enough.
2) Not being good enough.
3) Not being loved enough.

Not Having Enough

One of our most basic fears is that of not having enough. Unfortunately, this is a fear that afflicts almost everyone, regardless of how much he or she actually has. In fact, some of those suffering the strongest pull of this fear are those with plenty. In fact, this fear is very creative. We often believe it is only about money. It is not. It is having enough of anything: friends, time, toys, health, you name it!

This fear drives in us a need to find more and more. For some, this is the root cause of tendencies to hoard. We look at people in the news whose homes are stacked from floor to ceiling with junk, trash, magazines, whatever. But we fail to notice our own ways of hoarding –hiding money in accounts or under beds, having friends that we never contact and don’t really have anything in common with, gadgets that don’t meet our needs yet lure us to buy them. We hoard rolls of tissue paper, as if there will never be more, or at least more on sale! We move to bigger and bigger homes to hold more and more of our stuff.

We are predisposed to want to hold onto things. In fact, just look at the design of our bodies. The vast majority find it very easy to gain weight, to have our fat cells accumulate the extra calories. But we find our bodies very resistant to letting the weight go. Even at a cellular level, we end up hoarding!

Our bodies have lived through times of feast and times of famine. Those able to efficiently hold onto those extra calories got to pass on their genes. Bodies quickly burning through the available supply perished.

But it is our fear of not having enough that leaves us scrambling through daily life, so close to our work that we miss the destruction of this drive. Few people arrive at the end of their lives with regret for time they took in leisure. But many bemoan the lost time spent in work propelled by fear.

Many would argue that perhaps it is this very fear that has led us to great successes. And in many ways, they would be correct. It is another bit of irony that humans are much better at running away from something than running toward something. In other words, we are often more motivated by fear than by a goal.

It is also unfortunate, then, that this fear extracts a heavy toll on the individual. In some sense, it is society that profits from the motivation of fear, but at the expense of the individual. Look at it in a corporate sense. The bottom line of a corporation is often directly related to the degree of effort exerted by the individuals in that corporation. If fear is nipping at the heels of these individuals, more effort is exerted. This effort pays off for the company, but rarely for the individual. The reward for extra effort and extra time spent at work? Often, it is more responsibility, more stress, and more time required.

The individual is not benefitting in the same way the corporation does. In fact, the cost can be rather heavy. Our bodies are designed to live with stress for short periods of time –not for entire careers! In the short term, stress creates a readiness in the body for that flight/fight response. But in the long term, our bodies begin to break down when exposed to a constant level of stress. High blood pressure, diabetes, even cancer all have been attributed as outcomes to stress.

As is often the case, sometimes a fear has a basis in reality. Perhaps there really is a shortage, that there really isn’t enough. But sometimes a fear is irrational. It is not a reflection of reality. We come to believe there is not enough, but that exists only within the paradigm we weave within our mind.

Not Being Good Enough

Our second basic fear is not being good enough.

This fear is one of comparison, competition. We tend to judge ourselves against another standard. This standard is often a comparison between what we “know” about ourselves and what we “believe” about the other. In other words, we end up comparing all the negative stuff we think true about ourselves to the positive image others portray to us (and we portray to them). We end up seeing “the yuck” of our own lives, but fail to see it in the other.

When this is the case, there is no way for us to measure up. I know my internal world, but not that of the person I use for comparison. So all my faults end up being placed against only the strengths of the other.

Our fear of not being good enough, in evolutionary terms, is the reality of the survival of the fittest. If I am not good enough, I will not get the resources I need (or mate I need) to continue my (and my genes’) survival.

Here’s the problem: all living organisms are in this struggle. But day to day, moment to moment, only humans seem capable of making themselves miserable over this. It is merely a long-term question for other organisms. We humans, on the other hand, constantly underestimate our individual selves (while overestimating ourselves as a species).

Not Being Loved Enough

We humans really are “pack animals.”  We need connection.  We seek community.  Studies show that when people do not experience enough affection and love as infants and children, their long-term development is negatively impacted.  In other words, when we don’t get enough love, we suffer.  That need never goes away.

In fact, one of the highest ranking determinants of life satisfaction is having loving relationships.  That may not be a spouse or partner, but we all have the need to feel a sense of belonging.  Friends and family may fulfill that role, or it may be a spouse or partner.  Notice how we build communities with clubs, churches, social organizations, informal gatherings, even lunch groups at work.

So this fear of not being loved enough strikes deeply within us.  It is a fear that this basic need to be a part of a group, to feel accepted and loved, will not happen.  This is the fear that has us worried about our relationships, our love life, what people think of us, and influences how we interact with people.  The stronger this fear, the harder we work to not be rejected.  Sometimes this ends up being a very needy approach to relationships.  Sometimes this ends up being an act of not needing anyone.  If you know people who reject others before they are rejected, that person is as much caught up in this fear as someone who will do anything to maintain a relationship.

The Basic Fears Just Are

In other words, we all have those basic fears.  Most of us have one of these fears that is more potent than the others. If you take these three categories, begin to look at those thoughts that break you into a cold sweat or wake you up in the middle of the night.  Which category does that fear fall into?

Just being able to name the category is not going to end the fear.  It really is like anything else, though.  Once we expose it to daylight, it often loses its power.  Once we realize what is filling our sails, we may not be able to stop the wind, but we can learn to steer with it.  The fear may always be your basic fear, but knowing that allows you to avoid being run by it.