Looking ahead to 2018 may not fill you with much optimism if your startup hasn't been doing as well as you hoped. If you fear the worst scenario is yet to come, you'll enter the new year feeling anxious about the uncertain future

Uncertainty and negativity bias feed into each other. The less comfortable you feel with uncertainty, the more likely you are to be biased toward the negative outcomes in an uncertain situation. Equally, the more negativity bias you carry, the less uncertainty you will be able to tolerate.

Your brain on uncertainty.

Your brain is no stranger to uncertainty. It is immersed in a chronic sphere of uncertainty which it continually seeks to overcome through statistical inference. This lets it create a model of reality that shapes your cognitive narrative. 

Through this process, your brain constantly writes a narrative of your life. As your story progresses, it simulates all the possible scenarios your plot is about to lead you through, before your future becomes your present.

Why are you so afraid of the future?

Mark Twain once wrote, "I am an old man and have known a great many troubles but most of them never happened."

When you are afraid of an event in the future, part of the reason is you don't appreciate the alternative scenarios that might play out instead.

If you carry a negativity bias, you ignore your brain's simulations of alternative positive outcomes of the event. Correcting this bias opens your eyes to the possibility that the event can have many different outcomes and will not necessarily go in the direction you expect. 

In a recent study, 26 healthy Harvard undergraduates were asked to think of some negative events that could conceivably happen in the next several years. The events felt less negative and seemed less likely to happen after the students thought up ways in which the events could be replaced by alternative positive scenarios and positive outcomes. 

The researchers concluded that playing out a future negative event in your head and coming up with as many alternative positive outcome plot twists as possible makes you less afraid of the negative event because its chances of happening seem to shrink as the number of alternative scenarios grows. 

Taking action.

  • Rather than writing New Year resolutions, make a list of your anxieties about 2018 and for every point, come up with a minimum of five alternative positive plot twists. 

For instance, if your startup is isn't generating an income at the moment, visualize five ways in which it could be doing so next year. If you dread having to fire part of your team in 2018, think of five scenarios where you're rescued from having to do this.

  • Turn this into a New Year's resolution and aim to do this every night before you head to bed.

List alternative positive outcomes of negative events you anticipate in the days or week ahead. Instead of journaling about your day, invent plot twists about your future. Write all about what happened today -- but write it yesterday. 

Published on: Dec 22, 2017