A little while ago I wrote a blog about ‘if only’ – that not so useful way of replaying the past. This time I’m looking at its equivalent about the future: ‘What if..’.
There’s one thing for sure about the future: it’s mostly unpredictable. We don’t know in advance what will work out and what won’t. We don’t know what might happen to help or hinder our plans. We don’t have control over the future.
Yet we spend a lot of energy trying to cater for possible problems, where we have some concern over the way it might go. This can be at the micro-level: ‘What if I miss the train tomorrow?’, or at the macro-level: ‘What if I get ill and can’t earn my living?’
Once we switch on the ‘what if’ button, we can take ourselves very easily into a place where everything could be a problem, because our thinking has that flavour attached to it – we get the ‘what if’ syndrome, where we run scenario after scenario of things going wrong.
And that is the issue with ‘what if’. It sends us into a lot of ‘rehearsals’ in our minds of things going wrong. We imagine what could happen, we feel the emotions attached to that, and we get ourselves in a right old state! It uses a lot of energy, and sets us up perfectly to be anxious when we reach the part of the future that we’ve done this not very useful rehearsal for!
And have you noticed how many of our ‘what if’s’ don’t come to pass? So all that energy we used was completely wasted.
If we spent that energy on rehearsing in our mind how we make it more likely that it works out OK, that would be far more useful. ‘I’ll catch the train I want to, and to make that easy, I’ll go to the station early, and buy my ticket in advance’. This is a useful rehearsal, and prompts us into preparing properly.
Now I’m not saying that it’s wrong to have a back-up plan. It can be useful to have an alternative approach up your sleeve. So we can come up with an alternative by saying to ourselves: ‘And if that doesn’t work out, what I’ll do is..’ This prompts us into rehearsing a back-up plan in case we need it.
We can neither control nor predict what exactly will happen in the future, but we can make it easier for ourselves to handle it, whatever it is, by sticking to useful rehearsals in our minds.
Life works, most of the time, so don’t stick a spanner in the works by ‘what if-ing’ yourself!