Why Do We Always Expect the Worst? (And How To Stop Doing That!)


“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of Hell, a hell of Heaven.”
—John Milton

Have you ever noticed that people tend to expect things to go badly? Often, without any conscious prompting, our minds automatically jump to — and fixate — on the worst possible scenarios. Consider the following examples and see if either of them sound familiar:

It’s 2 p.m., and your boss still hasn’t responded to the report you sent him this morning. As you check your email obsessively, you conclude that you haven’t received any feedback because the report is terrible and your boss can’t use it. (What really happened: That noon call your boss had ended up running unexpectedly long, and he hasn’t had a chance to finish reading your report — but he’s pleased so far!)

Your spouse has seemed distant the past few days, is being secretive, and is evading your questions. You’re consumed by the thought that he is involved with someone else and is thinking of leaving you. (What really happened: Your fifteenth anniversary is only a month away, and your spouse is trying to plan a surprise getaway without alerting you.)

expect the worst

We put ourselves through so much stress, anxiety, and mental anguish because we dwell on negative possibilities that aren’t actually happening! It’s a case of an overactive imagination being used for ill, not good. We would save ourselves a lot of suffering if we could stop our minds from dwelling on the most horrible “what ifs” we can come up with.

In my book, “Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and Finally Let the Sunshine In,” I admit that I used to be a master of dwelling on what could go wrong, how I might screw up, and how circumstances would conspire against me. So, I paid a high price: a complete lack of mental peace, an inability to enjoy the present moment, high levels of stress and anxiety, difficulty experiencing quality rest, and more. Constantly expecting the worst can also take a toll on your relationships, your ability to trust and collaborate with others, and even your physical health.

Positive thinking is definitely the better, happier, and healthier path. Here, I share twelve strategies to help you conquer the suspicion, fear, and worries that may be driving you to expect the worst:

Acknowledge How Busy People Are

When you don’t see results or receive a response from someone else in (what you think should be) a timely manner, it’s easy to get upset and jump to the worst possible conclusion: “He doesn’t want to work with me. She isn’t interested in going out on another date. I didn’t get the job.” And so on and so forth. But wait a second. Maybe the current radio silence doesn’t mean “no” — it might simply mean that the other person is busy.

The next time you’re waiting on a response and find yourself worrying, think through your own schedule and remind yourself how busy you often are. In recent times, nearly everybody is overscheduled and overstressed. Maybe the other person hasn’t had time to decide, your suggestion dropped off their immediate radar, or they haven’t read your email yet. No news doesn’t necessarily mean bad news — it just may mean the other person has a lot to do!

Stay Busy Yourself

You can’t always control how long you have to wait on an outcome, or even what that outcome is. But you can control how you wait. You can torture yourself by dwelling on negative possibilities … or you can distract yourself by staying focused on and engaged in other things.

Take A Dose Of Muscle Medicine … Or Meditate!

You likely have heard about the “runner’s high” — this is a real feeling — and it can help you to stop expecting the worst. That’s because exercise releases endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins also decrease the amount of stress hormones — like cortisol — in your body. In fact, various studies have shown that exercise can be just as effective as taking prescription antidepressant medications … without the potential side effects. In other words, pumping iron or going on a run can literally melt away some of your apprehension.

I also recommend meditating when you’re fixated on a negative possibility. You might be surprised to learn that meditation can actually spark positive changes in your brain’s biochemistry. I can tell you from recent personal experience that meditation can help you deal more effectively with stress, lower your blood pressure, help you to feel content, and make you more mindful in the present moment … all of which are helpful tools when it comes to not worrying so much about the future.

Take Steps Toward A Solution

When you find yourself expecting a particular negative event — however likely or unlikely it might be — ask yourself if there is anything you can do to prepare for or even prevent it. In many cases, you’ll be able to take concrete steps toward a solution. Not only will you be keeping yourself busy, you’ll also be moving from helplessness to empowerment.

Phone A Friend

This “lifeline” can really help! The next time you catch yourself ruminating on just how bad things are going to get, pick up the phone and call someone you trust: your spouse or a friend, for example. Specifically, ask this person to help you think of several alternative outcomes, which, by definition, can’t be as bad as the worst-case scenario you were envisioning. A more neutral third party will have more perspective and will probably find it much easier to come up with not-as-bad, and even good, alternatives to help you stop thinking in extremes.

Tags: 2021 Possibilities

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