Worst Case Scenarios are Sometimes Not That Bad

Ben Franklin edited a newspaper once. He was approached to publish something that he found “scurrilous and defamatory” which would have made him a nice sum of money. He decided to sleep on it in a very interesting way.

On his way home, he bought a cheap loaf of bread. That evening, his dinner was about half of it along with some water. He then slept on the floor. In the morning he had the other half of the loaf with some more water for breakfast.

Why did he do this to himself? To play out a worst case scenario: that he would make very little money on this newspaper by not publishing articles that were defamatory. Since he was able to survive the night and morning in such a low state, he decided “never to prostitute my press to the purposes of corruption and abuse of this kind for the sake of gaining a more comfortable subsistence.”

We fail to make specific choices in life that would ultimately be great because we think that going forward with it may

  • cost us our job
  • muddle a relationship
  • result in failure

So what? Perhaps specific choices will end in these things (but more likely not). Is that what you really feared? It is harder to see that by making the choice, in the long run

  • you will land in a better job
  • you will spark newer and more positive relationships while enhancing the positive ones you already have
  • the reward is much greater in absolute terms than the consequences of the short term failure

Experimenting through self-deprivation will help you gain the confidence necessary to make some difficult life choices. I encourage you to try one of these self experiments (or come up with one on your own):

  • Intermittent fasting, or fasting for an entire day or longer (please read about it first).
  • Giving the Whole30, Primal Blueprint, Paleo, or another type of diet a try for 30 days.
  • Plan and prepare every meal (no eating out) for 21 days.
  • Give up driving for a week. Walk, ride your bike, ride the bus, catch a cab or Uber.
  • Unplug the TV for a week.
  • Go camping for a week (perhaps while biking across a state)

During your state of abstinence, be sure to continuously ask yourself what Seneca suggests: “Is this the condition that I feared?”

The worst case isn’t that bad after all, and you will be a toughened and more hardened individual on the other side.

2 thoughts on “Worst Case Scenarios are Sometimes Not That Bad

  1. Stoicism has so much to recommend it. I didn’t know Ben Franklin was a fan! Thanks for sharing this story and for the reminder to subject yourself to some voluntary hardship once in a while.


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