Vikings were blessed with a freedom from worry and anxiety because of their mindset on fate. Emboldened by their religious beliefs and driven by a desire to enjoy the theatre of life, they were able to release themselves from the stress and unhappiness of worrying over choices because a large part of their destiny was already being written by someone else.
Because the Vikings believed that the fate/destiny, or urðr, of every man was already decided (in a fairly solid but still somewhat malleable way).
They believed that the 3 Norns (diving beings) sat beneath the roots of Yggdrasil, the tree of life. There, they weaved the threads of each man’s life. Urðr (fate), Verðandi (present) and Skuld (future) would record the knowledge and destiny of every man and God. They and they alone held the knowledge of the world and the knowledge of fate because they saw everything, everything that could come to pass and everything that would come to pass.
Well, until Odin half killed himself to also earn some of that knowledge too!
When a Viking charged into an enemies shield wall, or he decided whether to join a Viking campaign to England or to Frankia, he knew that he needn’t worry about making the incorrect choice. There was no correct or incorrect choice – only the Gods knew for sure. So his only role in life was to throw himself at the situation with all that he had, all that his skills and training allowed him to, and to enjoy the journey of life in this world before his journey would take him to Valhalla.
Vikings embraced the idea that a man can only know so much about his destiny, and the possibilities of each branch of choice he made. He embraced that he held a measure of free will over his destiny, but he also accepted that the Gods forged part of his fate too. His best choice was to make the very best of every story that the Norns weaved into his life.
Here’s how you can be inspired by our Viking ancestors and release yourself from a worrying situation by remembering that Only The Gods Know.
You Are Prone To Assume The Worst
You are naturally prone to worry about the worst case situation. For ancient man crossing an ocean, he was more likely to fear the possibility of a storm sinking his ship than he was to worry that the salted pork would be unpleasant to eat. When you fly on a plane today, you are more likely to fear the plane exploding in mid air and crashing than you are to fear getting seated next to a really fat guy.
Your mind is terrible at running to the worst case scenario all the time, and you tend to amplify the likelihood of those terrible possibilities so much so that you become racked with worry. This worry can consume you and plant all kind of negative emotions in your day.
Every time I started a new company and I took other peoples money, my mind’s immediate reaction was to begin to worry about losing every cent of that investment. Within seconds I’m running the news headlines through my minds eye, the New York Times declaring “Failed Entrepreneur Blows $10million in 6 Months” and my parents giving me a phone call to let me know how disappointed they are in me. Within a few more minutes, my heart is fighting it’s way out of my chest and I’m physically fearful and sick from worry.
Despite the fact that these absolutely horrible scenarios are very unlikely (failing in business is very likely, but failing so spectacularly rarely happens) it doesn’t stop my mind from trying to respond with this mindset.
However, learning to catch yourself before you fall into these deep worry spells is crucial for your long term happiness and also your ability to make sound decisions. Which is important because the situations that cause us the most worry are usually the situations that require us to be at our absolute sharpest.
Be mindful that an untrained mind will always fall to the worst case scenario – so how do you learn to deal with this and pull yourself back? How did the Vikings religious beliefs free them from worry? How do I steam head first into startups with other peoples investment without staying awake all night?
Considering The Real Worst Case Outcome
When we dive into these deepest depths of worry and we consider all of the terrible things that might happen, we actually are capable of imaging scenarios at are nearly impossible. We imagine worst case scenarios that are even worse than the worst.
If I fail at a startup, the New York Times is almost definitely not going to write about my failure. My Dad is almost definitely not going to tell me he’s disappointed in me. A kitten is almost definitely not going to die.
So what is the likely worst case scenario?
When you apply for a job, is it really likely that by the end of the interview, all 5 people on the panel will be pointing and laughing at you because you projectile vomitted from nerves, coating the assistant who’s transcribing the conversation and coating her in your breakfast burrito?
When you consider approaching a group of women in a bar, is it really likely that in the 16 steps it takes you to get over to them, you are going to trip over the carpet, grabbing a handful of the bouncers junk on the way down as your thrash wildly for balance, and then hit the floor so hard that you knock yourself out and then piss your pants in your moments of blackout sleep?
When worry strikes before a situation, you need to calmly and rationally consider the realistic worst case scenario. It still might not be pretty, but it’s probably not as bad as your irrational brain would have you believe.
Accepting The Worst Case
Once you’ve become aware of the worst case scenario, you need to visualise yourself in that scenario. Put yourself there. Imagine it has happened, and come to terms with the fact.
Come to terms with the fact that your ship might crash on rocks. Come to terms with the fact that half of your boats may be lost in a storm. Come to terms with the fact that the Parisians may actually know how to defend their city from your horde of savage Viking warriors.
Be aware of how you would feel, how you would be, in that moment. Allow the feelings of that moment (not after that moment, just the moment itself) to set in.
And now breathe. Take a few breaths. Probably doesn’t feel as bad as you expected, right?
The initial fear from the possibility of worst case scenarios causes us to be apprehensive about making any decision. You trick yourself into believing that until you make a decision, the worst case scenario can’t happen yet. You try to delay the inevitable.
But time is cyclic and the waters from the tree of life will keep flowing regardless of whether you choose to partake in the story. What this means is that you can stand still, paralysed by the inability and fear of making a decision, for so long that the situation becomes worse or passes you by all together.
This manifests more so than ever in the workplace, particularly if you’re in any management position. One of the earliest skills I learned when managing a team of employees at just 18 was the damage of making no decision far outweighed the potential damage of making the wrong decision. My employees, equally as junior as me, would come to me to make a call: this technology or that one? This quote or that quote? Ship this client’s project first or that client?
The time wasted by stalling on decisions is time not invested into executing on your decision.
As I grew older, I learned to forget the very concept of a wrong decision all together. There was only one type of choice, and that was the correct choice, made to the best of my ability with everything available to me at that time.
As long as I followed a thorough analysis of all of the facts available to me at the time, experience had taught me that the only wrong decision was making no decision.
Trying To Improve The Worst Case
Once you’ve free’d yourself from the anxiety of making a choice, you’ve accepted that at least some choice needs to be made, and you’ve already created a boundary limit of the absolute worst case scenario, then you can begin to work on making that worst case outcome better.
Unfortunately as a Viking, you don’t have much control over the weather. But what if you did lose half of your boats before landing ashore, how could you make that situation better?
Well, you could ensure that the archers are evenly distributed across the fleet. You could ensure that no more than 1 Jarl or leader travels in each boat. Likewise, you could evenly distribute the food rations for the campaign across the fleet. Perhaps also instruct men to ensure they do not wear their armour while sailing to give each man at least a slim chance of swimming to safety.
In your life, you could both reduce the likelihood of your worst case scenario happening, or you could implement tactics to lessen the impact of the worst case scenario.
To revisit our earlier examples, you could try to not eat much food before you interview and at the slightest feeling of nausea, you could excuse yourself to the bathroom. Before approaching the woman in the bar, you could ensure to take extra care with walking across the bar and you could maybe visit the bathroom first to make sure you aren;t going to piss your pants as you hit the floor!
Both silly examples but designed to illustrate a point – fate is never as cruel to us as we worry about.
Embrace Your Destiny And Reduce Worry In 3 Steps
- Consider the realistic worst case scenario
- Visualise yourself in that worst case scenario and accept the emotions and consequences of that absolute worst case
- Now begin to implement changes to make that worst case scenario less likely to happen, and to lessen the impact of it if it does
If you liked this post, there are many more essays like it in my book, “How To Become A Modern Viking”.