What I often see happen (and it happens to me too) is we set a goal, and rationally we are completely committed to it. We then plan a deadline and the actions we need to take to achieve that goal.
Then, as we go to take action, we stop ourselves, despite our best intentions and commitment to our goal. We stop because that action takes us out of our comfort zone. What’s happened is we’ve hit a WTF moment – WTF am I doing, WTF was I thinking?
Rationally and intellectually we are committed to our goal and want to take action but all of a sudden ‘things’ pop into our mind trying to convince us not to. ‘What are you thinking?’ ‘Are you crazy?’ ‘It won’t work.’ ‘No one will like it.’ ‘What if you fail?’, etc. etc.
This is our fear speaking. This fear comes from the more primitive parts of our brain. The parts of our brain that don’t like change and don’t like stepping out of our comfort zone. This is because the primitive brain thinks change is hard and scary and could mean death. This kept our ancestors alive when they were hunting and gathering but all it does now is hold us back and stop us from taking action towards what we want.
When we are in the ‘WTF moment’ and fear has taken over, our brain is focused on the worst-case scenario. Unfortunately, at this stage, our primitive brain does all the talking and has a very loud voice. In most cases this results in people stopping and giving up on taking action and achieving their dreams.
So, what we need is a way to overcome the WTF moment so that we don’t give in and don’t stop.
And the easiest way to do this is ask:
“What’s the best that can happen?”
We’ve been so conditioned to ask ourselves, and others, ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ as a way to motivate us and help us realise that we can handle the worst-case scenario.
But this question is actually back the front. This question forces us to focus on the negative. And that’s not very motivating for our primitive brain at all.
As a species we have evolved based on the motivations to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Pleasure meant survival (food, shelter, etc), pain could mean death.
When we ask ourselves what’s the worst that can happen, we come up with answer that feels like ‘pain’ to our primitive brain. And, as a result we will do everything to avoid this pain and give up on our goals.
If, instead, we ask the question ‘what’s the best that can happen?’, we are shifting our focus to the rewards. The pleasure. Our brain is motivated to seek pleasure so we will be more motivated to take action when we are focused on the rewards.
Here’s how it works:
You’ve been given an opportunity to present your work to the leadership team. A well intentioned friend says, ‘go on, what’s the worst that can happen?’ and your brain automatically comes up with ‘I’ll look like an idiot’, ‘I’ll forget my words’, ‘they’ll see I’m not up to it’, ‘I won’t be able to answer their questions’, etc. You are now focused on worst-case scenario which is ‘pain’ to your brain, so you decline the offer to present.
If instead, you ask ‘what’s the best that can happen?’, your brain will come up with and focus on ‘The leadership team will know who I am’, ‘it’s an opportunity to get sponsorship behind this idea and budget approved’, ‘they’ll get to see the great work I’m doing’, ‘it could put me in line for a raise/promotion’. You are now focused on the ‘reward’ (pleasure) rather than the ‘pain’ and will be more motivated to take action.
How about asking someone on a date, making a sales call, starting a business, starting a new relationship, ending a relationship, asking for a raise, speaking up in a meeting, taking a job, leaving a job. Just notice the different answers your brain will come up with when you compare ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ to ‘what’s the best that can happen?’.
So, next time you find you are stuck in a ‘WTF moment’ and you’ve convinced yourself that taking action is a bad thing, ask yourself, ‘what’s the best thing that could happen if I did this?’ and notice the impact it has on your desire to do that thing.