Asking yourself “What if?” is a double-edged sword. It can motivate and inspire, when used a certain way. Suppose you are having some difficulty in the midst of project. You might stand back and reconsider your method. “What if I tried it this way, instead?” Viola! Problem solved.
But it can also create fear and anxiety. When we ask ourselves the very same question about a future event, the outcome might not be as rewarding. For example, imagine you have an important job interview tomorrow. Despite your best effort, you cannot fall asleep. You close your eyes and a little voice begins. “What if I’m not qualified?” Or, “what if they ask a question I can’t answer?” Not only do you take the likelihood of sleep off the table, but you just might be sabotaging your chances of appearing confident at the interview.
I’ve always thought of myself as being pretty grounded and reality based. But I am still prone to a good case of the ‘what ifs’ every once in awhile. On my way to my writer’s group, there is almost always a moment of panic when I wonder, “What if they don’t like the piece I’ve chosen to read?” The easiest way to make the tides of terror recede is to actually answer your own question! “If they don’t like what I share, they’ll let me know, and I’ll rewrite it, better than before!”
The next time you find yourself wondering, “what if….? about a future event, STOP! As an alternative, think about what is. You’re snug-as-a-bug-in-a-rug in your very own bed, giving yourself the rest you need to rock that interview! Or, in my case: I’m writing! And I’ve got this great opportunity to give and receive feedback from other writers who respect and care about me.
Now, I realize the examples I’ve offered do not represent extraordinary circumstances. But you could use the same practice for more serious concerns. When life becomes uncertain and things are beyond our control, it’s a natural tendency to look to our destiny. We want to know that everything’s going to be all right.
Rather than making ourselves crazy by asking hypothetical questions, let’s try to focus on the things that are certain. Asking “what if?” propels us into the future, where we cannot possibly know the answer. Considering “what is” keeps us in the present moment, which is really all we have. By embracing the now, we give ourselves the promise a better tomorrow.