Way back in the day, humans had to take an unknown rustle of the leaves as either a tiger or the wind. Was it worth it to forage for some more food on the outskirts of the tribe or should we go back to safety? Naturally, those who always assumed it was the tiger lived longer than those who always assumed it was the wind.
Doubt kept us alive.
Fast-forward thousands of years to a first-world city today—we have left the savannah and threats of mauling to instead wrestle with career choices, relocations, and relationships. These are all circumstances where the worst-case scenario is never a tiger but typically an agitated house cat, to continue the analogy.
But our evolutionary software still has the worst-case scenario meter stuck on tiger.
The very mechanism that kept us alive long ago is the same one that holds us back today.
Preparing for the worst and hoping for the best works well when there are limbs at stake, but when it comes to making a stressful decision in the twenty-first century, we’ve substituted a tiger with a different, equally debilitating, albeit imaginary, worst: being ostracized from society, becoming homeless, dying an awful death in the sewers.
If we’re always preparing for the imaginary worst, we can never feel comfortable or worthy of expecting the best. How can I focus on the upside of this decision when my dead body might be laying face first next to the subway tracks if this doesn’t work out?
By putting up a horrific worst-case scenario, we don’t allow ourselves to accept that a positive outcome is even possible. When we put all of our energies and efforts on supplying and fortifying the extreme left end of the bell curve of possibilities, our brain has no resources or energy remaining to push to the right-hand side of it. So, on the far left end of what might happen is where our brain lives; that’s where the status quo resides; that’s where our expectations sit.
All we have energy left to do is “hope” that something good will happen.
We can do better.
It should be: Understand the worst; fight for the best.
To understand the worst means to write out our real-world worst-case scenario. Not the death, fire, and brimstone stuff we like to make up but that actual worst-case scenario: money lost, opportunities passed up, family we may disappoint. Write it down. Bathe yourself in it. Understand it. Acknowledge it.
Now, write down how you would bounce back from that worst-case scenario. Who would you contact? What skills could you put on display? Where would you have to live? How long could you live off savings? How could you earn money?
Got it? Good. You’ve understood the worst-case scenario, and now you can use the rest of your energies (and there should be a lot of it left) to fight for the best.
It takes energy and focus to be willing to sign on the dotted line of a commitment.
We have to give ourselves permission to succeed. We have to feel worthy enough to experience the things on the right-hand side of the bell curve of possibility.
Unless you feel good enough, smart enough, capable enough, or worthy enough, you’ll always think that the rustle is a tiger.
Sign on the dotted line and bring some Band Aids and Neosporin just in case it doesn’t work out the way you had hoped, because to he who bets that the rustle is but a breeze, many opportunities await, even if a scar is to be had.
Are you allowing yourself a chance to succeed? You deserve greatness, but you have to give yourself permission to do so.
What are the tigers in your life that are holding you back?
Bassam Tarazi is the creator of a motivational framework, Colipera, which utilizes the notion: collective inspiration + personal accountability—together, be better. Bassam is also the author of The Accountability Effect, and has just launched an online course called: Ready. Set. Finish. Bassam conducts goal setting classes, corporate and group Colipera sessions, and one-on-one coaching for those with 9-to-5’s through his “Maximize Your 5-to-9” program. Bassam can also be followed on Twitter.
*Photo by country_boy_shane.