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Related Questions

What does Attribution Style: Best-Case vs Worst-Case Scenario Thinking mean?

This Meta Program was identified by L. Michael Hall and Bob Bodenhamer.

Similar to "Toward vs Away-From", this Meta Program is distinguished by its specific reference to the future, the formation of expectations, predictability, control, and beliefs about possibility.

While sorting for positive possibilities sounds better than sorting for negative possibilities, both have their usefulness in specific contexts.

It's important to note that a great many people suffer on a daily basis in ordinary circumstances from the consistent overuse of worst case thinking applied in their lives transcontextually, as almost a philosophy of life which they generalize to their thinking about their relationships, their jobs, their health, etc. -- even to simple, everyday tasks such as fixing breakfast, e.g., "What if I don't have enough to eat someday?"

Best Case Scenario

The best case scenario does offer the possibility for a client being more willing to step in to change, and create positive futures.

It does have its problems. Those who overuse it, without balancing it with its opposite, could be described as looking at the world through rose colored glasses. By not considering risk and problems, it may allow the client to make some giant mistakes. It prevents a client to create a solid structure of life, where any potential problems are less likely to occur.

Worst Case Scenario

Like away from thinking, worst-case thinking can be an important capability if specific worst cases are realistically assessed and can be adequately planned for. In some cases, worst case thinking is like a sort of reverse-optimism.  Frequently, people who sort for the worst case believe they are simply being more realistic than others who sort for the best case.

Some specific problems with the overuse of worst case thinking include:

  • When negative events do occur, a person may come to view them as evidence to support further negative expectations. As they increasingly sort for worst-case futures, they may become unable to envision positive outcomes at all, so they may see no point in taking positive actions which could further their self-development, health, career, relationships, and so on. The result is a self-fulfilling negative prophesy which works to undermine a person's progress and happiness.

  • When "Worst-Case Scenario" Meta Programs form the content of Meta Framing (thinking thoughts about thoughts about thoughts), the effect can be a self-reinforcing closed loop which escalates to panic.

    For example, I might notice a slight pain in my finger and think (in worst case style),

"What if it's cancer?" > "What if it's incurable?" > "Then I'd have to go through hell." > "I'll have to spend all my money on treatments." > "And I could die." > "I wonder how long I might  have." > "What if it's a very short time?" > "I better do something!" > "I better do something NOW!" > "But I don't know what to do!" > "HELLLP!!!" ...etc., all the way to a full blown panic.

People who get themselves into similar patterns often realize that their thinking doesn't make much logical sense, but they don't know how to stop it. Their "Worst-Case" Meta Program and Meta Framing are running the show.

  • Limiting Belief change work in NLP, particularly regarding possibility and capability may be difficult or impossible while a default, over-generalized "Worst-Case Scenario" Meta Program is in operation because a person may not consider more affirming beliefs to be realistic and thus, may not want to change the limiting beliefs. It makes perfect sense that, if all I perceive and consider is negative, I will have little evidence on which to base a more positive belief.

    At the same time, limiting beliefs about capability may self-heal when a person de-generalizes worst case thinking and installs the ability to use best case thinking in a balanced and appropriate way. This effect is due to the fact that the person can now perceive differently and thus become aware of evidence in support of positive possibilities. When they realize they can do that, their beliefs about capability may change.


It bears repeating that choice is better than no choice in regard to Meta Programs. A person's health, happiness and effectiveness are greatly enhanced by the ability to have full access to either Meta Program according to what a person considers appropriate and useful in a given context.

Be careful to assess in best and worst case scenario thinking, if the thinking is realistic annd to make sure that regardless of how the client sorts, adequate steps are taken towards positive action, the type of action that does allow us to move forward into change, and create well formed outcomes. But doing so in a way that we are prepared for whatever the future may bring, building stronger foundations. In that sense, a well trained NLP Practitioner or NLP Master Practitioner can help the client put a program like this together. By shifting the client into a place of what is possible and solutions that increase the chances of success.

Many successful and generally happy people find that a good model for balance between these two Meta Programs.

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