Words to Live By, Part II: What’s the Down Side?


Here’s another magical phrase for you all to use. This one focuses people and breaks them out of a downward spiral of negativity and doubt. You simply ask that ruminating, perseverating person, “OK, so what’s the down side to doing that?”

Here are some examples. Some colleagues at work are upset that a state-organized committee doesn’t have enough diversity on it – diversity of medical needs. There are lots of representatives of people with physical health problems, but not enough, in their view, of people with varying kinds of mental health problems. They have gone to lots of meetings and argued endlessly with the state officials running the show. They argue over and over, saying things like “We need transparency!” “We need the public to feel they matter – all aspects of the public!” “How can you stack the deck this way?” and so on. I was dragged into the fray, went to some meetings, and wondered why no one asked the state officials this question: “What is the down side to letting more people from the mental health community join this group?” This question cuts through the nonsense and posturing, and forces one’s opponent to defend their ridiculous position. What could POSSIBLY be bad about letting more voices be heard? What could they say to defend their decision? They can’t say, “We have enough people with mental health issues,” because that’s pretty narrow-minded and inappropriate. When you ask “What’s the down side,” there is nothing to say, at least in a political setting, except, “Oh. There isn’t one.” Rather than endlessly arguing, everything comes into focus. Polarized positions crumble and everything works out!

It works at home, too, friends. My chronically employment-impaired husband (who finally has a job he loves – going on 7 months! Yay!) would burrow into a pit of despair just contemplating job postings. “What if they ask me to do marketing? I can’t do that. I don’t think I should apply for this job.” Well, when you are unemployed, there is no down side to applying for EVERY JOB THERE IS. So I would say, “You could simply explain that marketing is not your strength. If they like the strengths you do bring to the position, they will figure out a way to get someone else to do the marketing. You’re not signing in blood that you’ll take the job. Just send in an application, because…what’s the down side?”

Again, this cuts through anxiety and perseveration like a hot knife through butter. We’re not even talking about a 46 cent stamp here (my old saying used to be, “Invest the 46 cents!”). We are talking about cyber applications! All one need do is press “Enter” and the application is sent. Arguing for hours about why they won’t like you or why it’s not a good fit is, frankly, bullpoop, ESPECIALLY when you are unemployed.

Kids – they love to find reasons NOT to do stuff. My stepson didn’t get into all the classes he wanted for next semester at college. He is in a state of gloom. “Why don’t you talk to your guidance counselor?” we suggested to him. “Oh, what can she do? She can’t throw someone out of class to make room for me!” he said.

“Well, maybe during the Drop/Add period, someone will de-select a course and that will open up a spot for you.”

He said, “That never happens…well, at least not in MY experience.” Yes, your one semester of experience!

So then I said, “What is the down side of speaking to your guidance counselor?” This forced the lad to stop and think and realize he has been trapped by the power of “What’s the down side?”

What can he possibly say in response? “I’ll be wasting 15 minutes of my valuable time by talking to the guidance counselor!” or perhaps “She’ll throw things at me because I had the audacity to ask for her help.” Maybe she will say, “We don’t believe in Drop/Add at this school – off with your head, you insurrectionist, you!” So guess what, he’s going tomorrow to see her, because he realized THERE IS NO DOWN SIDE.

This works on the little ones, too. “I can’t go to bed now because I’m not tired,” was a favorite around here back in the day. What this really meant is, “I want to watch endless hours of TV.”

“I know you aren’t tired.  You don’t have to sleep.  Get into your bed and read and listen to music ,” I would say. The protests and reasons why this was truly a terrible idea would begin and I would ask, “But what is the down side to getting into your bed? No one said you have to go to sleep. You have lots of stuff to do and you can take your time doing it, but it just has to be done in the bed.”

Given that he had permission to use all the tools he needed to stave off sleep, since he clearly was NOT AT ALL tired, it was impossible to make a case for staying downstairs. There was no down side to relocating, other than perhaps missing TV, not that THAT was his motivation for proclaiming his insurmountable alertness. You know the rest of the story. Surrounded by books and toys, it would take about 10 minutes for the little guy to nod off.

Put this in your tool kit with “It’s just my way,” the magical words I shared with you last February and see if it helps. PLEASE report back to let me know how it worked!

7 comments on “Words to Live By, Part II: What’s the Down Side?”

  1. The job application has to be a guy thing! I’ve had the same conversation with my hubby a million times. He talks at nauseum about some job he saw online. So I ask, “Did you apply?” and 9 times out of 10, he says no. I ask why not and he comes up with a list of a million reasons why the job ‘might’ not be the absolute perfect fit. So what?! Apply anyway. Maybe it’s a better fit than you think… but you’ll never know if you don’t apply!!! I don’t know why they view just applying as ‘signing in blood’, as you put it. 😉

    1. Insecurity, fear of the unknown, fear of making a mistake, anxiety….That’s why asking “What’s the down side?” flips the whole dilemma around and frees the perseverating person from their fears. It’s really liberating.

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