I am a big fan of setting expectations and controlling my worldview. Though I cannot control others, what they think, what they do or what happens in the world, how I see the world and interpret what is going on is wholly up to me. Basically, I can’t control events but I can control how I react to them. This is simple but not easy and it doesn’t work well when I’m reactionary and haven’t considered what may happen ahead of time. Therefore, I work hard to control my paradigm and expectations to the point that I can handle just about anything that comes up. How do I do this? I am constantly running possible future scenarios based on the information I have available and changing them when new information arises. Again this is simple but not easy and the vast majority of events I imagine never happen, but the exercise itself is valuable and more often than not I’ll come up with a close approximation of future events among the hundreds of missed guesses. This gives me a huge advantage when these events do come to pass and this exercise is basically no different than trying to guess what questions will be on an exam in dental school, once you get the hang of it.

Additionally, though I’m not a negative person, I tend to think about what the worst possible outcome of any plan or set of circumstances could be and ask myself if I can live with this disastrous outcome. By setting my expectations properly in this way, I’ve set myself up to win and to be happy because as long as I stay north of this worst case scenario everything is fine! (and even if it’s worse than I thought it could be, I’m still better prepared)

“So what happens when things turn out worse than you expected?” I can hear you asking because; after all, it’s our nature.

It certainly does happen every so often that something or someone I didn’t recognize for whom or what they were catches me totally off guard. I will readily admit it’s a miserable experience and we always remember our bad beats more than our wins. However, this is by far the exception not the rule and I see these rare occurrences as opportunities to improve my understanding of the world, the people in it and myself.

Also when I miss it’s usually a matter of degree not a total failure. For example, when I decided to bring hygienists into my orthodontic offices I knew there would be backlash from dentists who wanted to protect their turf and keep prices for basic dental care artificially high. I anticipated the total loss of referrals and I was ok with that but I didn’t anticipate the dentists and their teams actively telling potential patients that I was a bad guy and trying to convince them to go elsewhere or trying to talk my existing, happy patients into leaving or filing complaints with the state dental board. But that is what happened and I suffered initially for my incompetence. However, I saw this as a matter of degree, adjusted my worldview and moved on.

I tend to utilize these failure situations as tuning forks to adjust my worldview properly. After all it’s me, not the world that is at fault! Also, after enduring several of these misreads, I’ve able to recognize a pattern and see the weakness in me that allows for consistent failures in similar situations. I know, for instance, that I’m not good at discovering when someone is not telling me the truth about themselves or their products if they lie early, often and big enough. I just don’t have it in me to see this behavior for what it is and I’ll admit that I’m not sure I want to become jaded or suspicious enough to do so. But knowing my weaknesses and myself is awesome and it allows me to compensate for them. These days, I work hard not to get myself in situations where I have to evaluate the motives of others and, instead, rely on those in my life who are adroit at these things to protect my flank. I still fail in this area and probably always will because I hate the idea of thinking the worst of people, but I’m hoping it happens a lot less now that I’ve recognized my weakness and taken steps to avoid future failures.

I find it ironic that I’m able to better maintain my happiness and optimistic outlook by thinking in terms of worst case scenarios but that’s the system I’ve developed over time to do so and it works for me (well it works most of the time). How you become self aware and control your reactions to your environment is not important but it’s vital that you learn to do so for your sake and the sake of your business, your employees and especially your family.

6 thoughts on “Worst Case Scenario Thinking & Self Awareness

  1. Great read. Just like anticipating is better than reacting, failing to plan is planning to fail. Always good to anticipate any hurdles as you make the plan.

  2. That worst case scenario talk has a lot of simple stoicism concepts that I like to use and you’re right, it definitely makes you happier as contradictory as it sounds!

  3. It’s funny how it works but you’re exactly right!

  4. The deleterious effects of negativism and unrealistic perfectionism are exacerbated by the teaching milieu in DDS and ortho courses.Take a class A type and make them more neurotic—great plan for a happy life —NOT.Andrew Thompson .

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