“What if he thinks I look fat?”
“What if she thinks I’m awkward?”
“What if I’m not smart enough to get an A?” “What if I can’t get the project done before the deadline?”
“What if ______?”
What if… you stopped asking ‘what if’?
Whoa, I know that may sound crazy. And I’m not saying you should have utter disregard for the consequences of your actions.
What I am saying is that the reason we ask “what if” is because of underlying fears.
Fear of the unknown.
Fear of rejection.
Fear of failure.
It’s easy to identify the fear by working backwards from your question. “What if <he/she/that group> thinks I’m <dumb/annoying/weird>?”
There’s probably a fear of rejection in there somewhere. You’re worried about what people think of you. Did you ever think that in your attempt to not come across as dumb/annoying/weird, you might be increasing your chances of doing just that?
What if… you started being yourself, without worrying about the what ifs? You are unique, so be yourself (everyone else is already taken, anyway).
What if… you started giving your best effort?
Yes, I am implying that asking lots of negative “what if” questions hurts your chances of success. If you are focused on what might happen, that means you are less focused on your job/task/situation.
If you resolve to always give your best effort, the aftermath will take care of itself. If it’s good, you’ll know you worked for it. If it’s bad, you know you gave it your best shot. (And other people see that too.)
Worrying about all of the negative outcomes hurts you more than helps you. It adds stress and worry that you can replace with a positive attitude. Seriously, do you think you can do it?
If only… I hadn’t spent so much time on “What if…”
If you are a wide receiver on a football team, the quarterback is going to throw you the ball. When you see that ball in the air, do you start thinking: “What if I drop it? What if I get hit from behind as I catch it? What if I land out of bounds?”
If you do, you won’t be playing in the NFL anytime soon. You’ll probably be nick-named “Butterfingers.” And you’ll probably beat yourself up after the game, thinking: “If only I had kept my eye on the ball… If only I did more practice catches… If only I weren’t afraid of getting hit…”
The alternative: Don’t think about what happens if you fail. Focus on what you need to do to succeed.
Run as hard as you can to beat the defender to the ball. Pull that ball in like it’s your newborn child and you’re protecting it from the cruel outside world. Don’t worry about missing. Like Nike says, “Just Do It.”
That’s the only way you’ll avoid saying: “If only I hadn’t flinched at the last second… If only I were taller… If only, if only…”
What are your “What If” questions?
What do you worry about? When do you find yourself worrying about negative outcomes? Is it at work, when you doubt your abilities? Is it at home, when you question your parenting choices? Is it in social circles, when you really want to be liked?
If you can figure out your “what if” questions, you can start catching yourself. You can start ignoring the urge to worry about the bad things that might happen.
It will be a conscious effort at first. But before long, you’ll forge a new pattern of thought. One that is more positive, and less filled with worry.
And those things you were worrying about? I’d bet most of them won’t happen anyway.
So lose the stress — otherwise “what if” will turn into “if only.”