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What’s your worst-case scenario for this year’s election? Donald Trump becomes president and all hell breaks loose, or Hillary Clinton becomes president and the country goes to hell in a hand basket?

Mind Over Muscle

Introducing the Worst-Case Scenario Workout—Treva Brandon Scharf

The same worst-case scenario way of thinking in politics can apply to fitness too.

What’s your worst-case scenario when it comes to exercise? You go to the gym, but you hate it; you avoid it altogether and hate yourself; or you go to the gym and get nothing out of it because you’ve doomed yourself to fail?

It’s all pain and suffering and fear and loathing, in the gym and in the voting booth.

You’d think bleak thoughts and fearing the worst would be counterproductive when it comes to health and wellness, but as studies show, negative thinking can work in your favor.

But it doesn’t have to be.

You’d think bleak thoughts and fearing the worst would be counterproductive when it comes to health and wellness, but as studies show, negative thinking can work in your favor.

Believe it or not, embracing the worst-case scenario can actually improve your performance and increase your well-being. Fearing the worst, or presuming disaster, not only tricks the mind into thinking the pain isn’t so bad, it can make the outcome surprisingly survivable.

In his book, "How Bad Do You Want It? Mastering the Psychology of Mind Over Muscle,” author and ultra-endurance athlete Matt Fitzgerald explores the scientific cutting edge of optimal human performance on a psychological level.

According to Fitzgerald’s findings, the perception of effort—or how hard exercise feels—is the true barrier to elevated performance, not the body. In other words, prepare for the worst, and you might achieve a personal best.

Mind Over Muscle

Matt Fitzgerald

In fitness, as in life, getting results is all about managing expectations. Keep them low, and you’ll never be disappointed.

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As crazy as it sounds, if you expect to feel terrible in a race or at the gym, it might actually aid your performance. On the other hand, if you tell yourself, “It won’t be that bad,” and it turns out it is, your performance might suffer.

“If you feel worse than expected, your perception of effort will increase and your performance will suffer. By bracing for a hard time, however, you ensure that how you feel during the race is no worse than expected, thereby setting you up to get the most out of your body,” Fitzgerald says.

In political terms, if you keep telling yourself that a Trump presidency won't be that bad, and it really is, God help you. Seriously, God help us all if Trump becomes president.

Matt Fitzgerald’s work with endurance athletes is based on a psychological model pioneered by Dr. Samuele Marcora, one of the world’s foremost experts on fatigue and endurance performance.

2,000 years before Dr. Marcora’s psychobiological model though, the Stoics of ancient Greece and Rome were developing their own version of mental toughness. The Stoics were the first ones to embrace the downside in order to overcome obstacles and achieve tranquility.

In a book called “The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking,” author Oliver Burkeman says this about the Stoics:

treva brandon scharf

"Behind many of the most popular approaches to happiness is the simple philosophy of focusing on things going right. One way to do this, the Stoics argued, was by turning towards negative emotions and experiences; not shunning them, but examining them closely instead.

Ceaseless optimism about the future only makes for a greater shock when things go wrong: by fighting to maintain only positive beliefs about the future, the positive thinker ends up being less prepared, and more acutely distressed, when things eventually happen that he can’t persuade himself to believe are good."

Whether you’re an endurance athlete, a political junkie, or just a worried voter, the Stoic approach to life can come in handy—the key is to engage in negative visualization, thinking the unthinkable, before you lift a weight or pull the lever.

If you want to see results, increase your performance, and feel better in general, try the "worst-case scenario workout." You’ll hate it at first, but you just may learn to love it.


I suggest you do the same for politics: think the worst, hope for the best, and pray Donald Trump never becomes president—a truly worst-case scenario.

Treva Brandon Scharf