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The poison of "what if" thinking

Rachel Estapa

I was a sophomore in high school when we had a special assignment:  journal about the impact of "what if" thinking and how it would affect our life's quality. I don't remember exactly what I wrote, but it was a loaded question and since then, has stuck with me because it shades so much of how we really think about ourselves, our options and our ability.

So tell me -- when braced with something scary or risky around making a change, how many times have you talked yourself out it because you start asking "well, what if this happens....?" 

Hello, Old Friend

Once again --this is fear's sneaky way of putting doubt into what you're capable of achieving. Many people will site that what they fear most is the unknown, but it's deeper than that because we can accept certain levels of unknown which we don't see as threatening our identity.

"What if" is different -- its gravity implies that we might be fundamentally threatened in a way we may never survive should that possible outcome be true.

And that stops people right in their tracks.

Think about it -- "what if" is devoid of any substance what-so-ever. Does it ever motivate you? Does it even truthfully answer your question? So how come we are still using it as a crutch to not follow through on something?

"What if" is a road-block to personal happiness because we get so caught up in all the things that could go wrong that we don't even allow ourselves to see and put stock into what positives may arise. It's like demanding to view the end credits before you watch the movie.

All this stems from an exaggerated tendency to live far into the future while simultaneously, measuring success based off past hurts -- we become void of the present moment and all its possibilities. We're blinded by the notion that if we are not in control, we are nothing. This facade of control is the root of much worry & pain for many.

How do you overcome it? 

Dismantling "what if" thinking isn't an overnight process -- you gradually building up your immunity to its poison and start first by accepting that numerous things might happen, but that no matter what does happen, you'll be alright. Worry & anxiety are exhausting and the least helpful thing to do is try to stop feeling worried. Why? Because you'll actually end up feeling even worse.

When you catch yourself caught in a "what if" cycle try saying to yourself  "I am afraid of what could happen, but that doesn't mean I can't try it for myself and succeed." Challenging self-doubt builds greater confidence and conviction. No one is ever totally without fears and concerns -- instead, those that succeed find ways to re-channel that anxiety into strength and even learn something new about their capabilities.

Some of the most pivotal breakthroughs I do with my clients is around "what if" and self-doubt thinking.  Nearly every single time, the breakthrough leads to an incredible shift and awakening around personal power resulting in a renewed optimistic attitude towards life. "What if's" fear and helplessness is replaced with the confidence and power of "Sure..why not?"  

And there's another tip right there --- respond to each of your "what if's" with "why not?" If you have a pulse and a heart in your chest, you'll feel a difference right away :)