Why Best-Case Scenarios Suck

Relying on best-case scenarios can be dangerous.

Best-case scenarios can be dangerous. We go through life assuming — usually without even realizing it — that things will go as planned. We’ll graduate from college and find a good job, buy a house and sell it for a profit when we feel like moving, stay in good health despite our diet of fast food, etc.

In other words, we live in a state of pretty much constant denial, assuming that the best-case scenarios are the only scenarios likely to happen.

Part of that is probably a survival mechanism. After all, we’d drive ourselves crazy — or never leave the house — if we lived our lives as if the worst-case scenarios were going to happen. But part of it is also dangerous. And that’s why best-case scenarios suck.

They’re too tantalizing and believable.

Because we want them to happen, we often avoid considering other possible outcomes. Assuming that the best-case scenarios will come to pass leaves us unprepared for the non-so-good scenarios, and especially for the worst-case scenarios.

The thing is, if you at least acknowledge that it’s possible that things other than the best outcome could happen, you’ll be in good shape if they don’t, and — because you’ll spend more time considering the situation and preparing — you’ll be more likely to actually achieve the result you want.

Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

You don’t have to do an in-depth analysis of every possible outcome to do this either. Instead, all it takes is spending a few minutes look at what you’re trying to achieve, and then answering the question of “What happens if things don’t go as planned?”. For some situations, the answer might be “not much”, but in others it might mean disaster.

Take something as simple as getting to work on time. If you have to be to work at 8, and it takes you 15 minutes to get there on a good day, you have two basic choices as to what time to leave the house. You could leave at 7:45 and assume that there won’t be any delays, or you could leave earlier to allow extra time for the not so good days. If your workplace is the kind where people wander in at all sorts of different times, if you’re late it probably won’t make any difference, and so you’re probably fine with leaving at 7:45. But if you’re going to get fired if you arrive late to work, you’d probably better leave a whole lot of extra time. Maybe you need to leave at 7:30 or even 7:15 in that case, depending on how critical it is for you to stay employed.

Avoid superstition.

As people, we’re OK with examining a simple situation like that. We can see that it makes sense. But take something larger, and we often get all superstitious about it. We act as though — just by acknowledging that other possibilities might exist — we are going to cause them to come to pass. And the more important something is to us, the more likely we are to refuse to acknowledge any other possibilities.

A good example of that is marriage. People know about the divorce rate, but they blindly believe that they will be the exception. Very few people get married with the expectation of divorcing later. (I know I sure didn’t, yet my first marriage ended in divorce.) Because they believe they will be the exception, they avoid doing things that could actually help them to stay married.( Things like waiting until they are older to marry, taking a longer time to get to know the person they’re about to marry, going to premarital counseling, making sure both parties are on the same page financially, etc.) They act as if signing a prenuptial agreement or talking about important things will cause them to get divorced.

It makes no sense on a logical level, but there it is. People are not logical, for the most part. And that can be ok, depending on the situation. Given a conflict between how I feel and what I think, I’ll go with how I feel every time. But I will also consider the potential impact of other possibilities, and think about how I could prevent them or handle them if they did occur. And I won’t do things with huge potential downsides if I’m not willing to take the risk.

When you have more information, you can avoid being blinded by the tantalizing possibilities of the best-case scenarios, and instead do everything you can to have the life you want.

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6 comments

  • I always try to look at best case and worst case, and figure that things will end up somewhere in between. That usually works out pretty well, as you’ll end up with some elements coming in at best case levels while others might come in at worst case. As long as you have an overall strategy in your life that can account for that, and can adapt to the little changes, you should be fine.

  • I learned a good lesson when I was younger too – when something doesn’t happen that you always assumed would, even though you may not understand it at the time, there is always a reason why things happen the way they do. I have learned many good lessons because something didn’t happen that I was expecting to.

  • Love this! I saw a saying on Pinterest that was along these lines: When things don’t go according to script, just yell “Plot Twist!” There are plenty of plot twists in most lives and we have to respond as best we can. Looking for the opportunities hidden in challenges can make a big difference!

  • Great article. It’s so tempting to say, “if only everything works as it should, I’ll…” Unfortunately, there’s a little something called chaos theory. That’s why diversifying your investing strategy is so important. Expect the unexpected.