Worst case scenario thinking: A story of how losing my wallet nearly ruined my day

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Stories often have some kind of message or moral. We learn this from a young age, as most kid’s books usually have a very strong and clear message about values and morals. Think of Dr Seuss (whose stories even have lessons for adults) or Hans Christian Anderson. But, how often do we think about how the stories we tell ourselves impact our lives? Worst case scenario thinking is when you immediately leap to the worst possibility. Otherwise known as catastrophising, you overestimate the likelihood or consequence of your worst fears coming true and tell this (worst-case) story to yourself.

One little story can make or break your day

This article shares how a single story about a single event can make or break your day. Everything you say to yourself either out loud or in your head, has a direct effect on your feelings, and on your behaviour

Oh that sinking feeling (my worst-case scenario thinking)

Have you ever had that sinking feeling when you realise that something important is missing? The more you search and the longer it takes, the more anxiety begins to develop. Where your mood gets darker and your thoughts about humanity become increasingly negative? 

It happened to me recently. I woke up in a really good mood, looking forward to my day as I stood on the balcony and enjoyed the sunrise. But as I got dressed, I noticed a worrisome absence on my nightstand, which is where I always put my wallet before I go to sleep. 

I last had my wallet at dinner the night before, and I clearly remembered putting it into my pocket after paying at the restaurant. A fast-creeping feeling that it must have fallen out and been picked up by someone nefarious (this is a typical example of worst case scenario thinking) began festering in my mind.

The great search commenced

It was absolutely nowhere in the house.  I rushed out to the car but it was not in, on, or under the car. 

During this search I berated myself continuously for wearing a pair of pants that were too tight with pockets that were too shallow.

The impact of the story

I felt embarrassed and almost ashamed – my wallet had all my cards including my drivers license in it and some cash as well. 

Dejectedly, I sat down to breakfast with my wife under a cloud of worry and concern, thinking all kinds of “if only” thoughts. I couldn’t appreciate the amazing view, my beautiful wife or my perfectly poached eggs. This would have been the perfect opportunity to apply a grounding therapy technique that I had learned in the past – but my mind, unlike my eggs, was scrambled by anxiety.

As the story changes, so does the impact

The only thing that helped was the voice of reason from my wife sitting across the table, assuring me that even if lost, it was as simple as making a phone call to cancel the cards, slightly less simple but still possible to get a replacement drivers license, and saying goodbye to the cash. Instead of catastrophising and thinking of the worst-case scenario, we actually played it out. And guess what?

Facing the worst-case scenario felt better

At that moment my internal narrative took a turn for the better. I felt calmer and was even able to hope that someone deserving found it and used the cash to buy themselves some breakfast. Perhaps even dinner. At last, those poached eggs got the attention they deserved.

With a bit more clarity than I had before, I began retracing every step from the night before. Even looked in a couple of trash cans. But finally, I admitted defeat and a feeling of acceptance settled in. 

I told myself it’s not the end of the world and began to focus on the practical steps I needed to take to resolve the matter. 

I still felt a little bit apprehensive that there might be some kind of problem or that the card had already been used to make a deposit on a yacht or something equally impossible for us to pay. 

But, I got on the phone and 5 minutes later my cards were cancelled and I could breathe a sigh of relief that whatever worldly wealth was held in my bank account was safe. 

The butterflies in my stomach departed and I could look around and begin to appreciate the here and now, and start to enjoy my day. 

Lesson learned (again)

On reflection it was so obvious to me that I could’ve easily held on to the negative story that had begun to rapidly unfold in my head: The dishonesty of people, my carelessness, and the notion that this was a booby of epic proportions. My worst case scenario thinking had spun out of control. The moment I shifted to a more positive narrative and faced the worst case scenario by playing it out, my mood changed and I was able to think constructively about the solution rather than the problem.

This is a lesson that you don’t learn once and for all, it’s more like a practice that you have to do every time you notice a negative story unfolding in your head.

Blue-Footed Booby Success Formula: How to change worst case scenario thinking into something positive

  1. Take a beat. Stop, slow everything down and give yourself a chance to notice what you’re thinking.
  2. Confront the worst-case scenario! Ask yourself what’s the worst that can happen. This might seem counterintuitive, but it’s actually more reassuring to face the worst than hope for the best. (After you’ve faced the worst, you can absolutely hope for the best, however)
  3. Focus your energy on finding practical steps towards the solution of the problem (s).
  4. Make a start on those practical steps


Q: What if it’s a more serious problem than just losing the wallet?

This technique works for all problems, whether big or small, so give it a go.

Q: What if I’m too hysterical to calm myself?

A: Practice a grounding therapy technique 

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Anna

    Helpful and positive

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