Taking Yourself On: Worst-Case Scenario Thinking


“Ugh! This is the WORST!” We’ve all said it. We’ve all thought it. But if you’re consistently thinking about how things can go wrong and expecting the worst, you might be stuck in a worst-case-scenario thought pattern. The good news: You can break this pattern and start a new one. Here’s how.

A drawing of a man holding a magnifying glass up to a large head that contains a rain cloud for a brain.

Worst-case-scenario thinking is actually a thought pattern that we perpetuate. As a result, we tend to go with the worst-case outcomes as our default setting, and then we base our decisions or influences on it. The worst-case scenario tends to be one that is unlikely but still a possible outcome—the worst possible outcome.

See the Pattern . . .

First, we must understand that worst-case-scenario thoughts are not actually independent thoughts but a pattern of thinking that has become established in our minds. That understanding can help us to recognize this thinking pattern as one we want to stop perpetuating. Worst-case-scenario thinking is something we likely picked up by following modeled behavior in childhood; we are operating with it and perpetuating it somewhat unintentionally.

. . . Break the Pattern

It is important to train ourselves out of worst-case-scenario thinking because it actually skews our thinking with negative bias. The worst-case scenario may tilt our decisions away from what actually serves us. And it is a biased perspective, not an objective perspective. Making any change takes commitment, determination, and time. Change isn’t easy, but it is possible. And any change in thinking cannot be snapped into or made on the first try. Making permanent, lasting change requires ingraining the new thinking process via repetition and consistency, which takes time and persistence. I speak to a formula to change ways in our thinking or behaviors through the process of ingraining or reprogramming the desired new thinking or behaviors. So, when we identify worst-case-scenario thinking through our thought processes and create the new thinking that serves us better, we can start using it until it becomes automatic. And then the new default setting is no longer the worst-case-scenario thinking.

Imagine Other Possibilities

Just because we have an individual thought does not mean it is the only thought possible. For example, if I typically say, “That was terrible” or “I feel miserable,” I am displaying two examples of worst-case scenario thinking. What’s another way to express my thought without worst-case scenario thinking? The idea is to not make things seem worse than they are or even as bad as things are.

And what I found is that it is better for my mental energy to maintain positivity—even when things are not as great as they could be. It is true that positive thinking, positive energy, does make us feel better. The goal is to perpetuate thinking and ways of being that maintain and sustain us. Worst-case-scenario thinking does not.

Reframe Your Thoughts

Once you’ve recognized that you have fallen into a pattern of worst-case-scenario thinking, your next step is to figure out new ways to express yourself, coming from a neutral or positive bias. Take it up a notch so that your thinking pattern is never worst-case scenario thinking. Our experiences are never as bad as they could possibly be, and there tends to be some internal exaggeration for dramatic effect or emphasis that we don’t need.

For me, I made a conscious effort to reframe worst-case-scenario thinking: Things are never terrible; they’re manageable. I don’t feel miserable; I could be better.

Start reframing your thoughts whenever you find yourself using worst-case scenario thinking. When you have removed worst-case scenario thinking, you’ll find you actually feel better about yourself, which helps to build confidence and self-esteem.

Words to Watch Out For

What I also consider worst-case-scenario thinking is evidenced by certain words; a prime example of this is the word fail, a word I never, ever use. Just because I didn’t succeed doesn’t mean I failed. In my opinion, just using the word fail is a blow to your self-esteem and a harsh self-assessment. It’s helpful to pay attention to words like fail, exhausted, miserable, horrible, etc. Be mindful of when these words come up in your thoughts; you don’t want to exaggerate your circumstances in any way. It is helpful to maintain thoughts of better, not worst, and this positively affects our mood and spirit, too.

In taking on your worst-case scenario thinking, the goal is to completely remove it from your thought processes, so it no longer shows up in your thoughts or words. Any change worth having is worth making, and this change is definitely both.

About the author
Debbie Jacobs is an advocate, writer and healing specialist living in Alexandria, Virginia. She lived most of her adult life with a diagnosis of depression, anxiety and bipolar and speaks out on how self-improvement is life improvement and believes we all can live happy lives just by making positive change to ourselves. Her influences are Louise Hay, Napoleon Hill, Les Brown and Tony Robbins. She does positivity life coaching and is in the process of writing her first book on her healing process of accomplishing positive thinking, positive effective coping skills and healthy self-esteem, what she calls “freedom and happiness.” She shares her work to motivate, inspire and help others make positive change to themselves for their freedom and happiness too.

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