[This is the practical post I haven’t done in a good while. Enjoy!]
We’ve all been there. Some of us have made ourselves a cozy little corner in the ‘What if…?’ world. Some of us steer clear and live frugally on surprise. Some of us go to the extreme, whether one way or another, and assume the very worst or the very best of a given situation.
Lucky for me, I’m a fiction writer so I’m kind of allowed to live in ‘What if…?’ Take my only published novel, Making Room, for example:
What if there was a mid-20s girl who had been raising her three younger brothers for most of her life?
What if her brothers stayed in church and their sister didn’t mind because that meant staying away from their parents’ fate, but the sister stayed away from church at all costs?
What if she met someone?
What if she wanted to change but didn’t know how?
What if she was challenged?
What if that guy she met really pissed her off?
What if her brothers got scared that they were going to lose their sister?
What if the girl started seeing things a little differently?
What if she went to church?
What if she believed the best instead of the worst?
What if it all worked out?
I get to live inside the fun what-ifs that get me published and help me be a writer. They bring me through the string that is the story and get the novel from word 1 to word 83,500. Page 1 to page 259.
Unfortunately, in the daily grind that is reality, this ‘What if…?’ land can be a minefield of anxiety and stress. And yet we stay there. We try to stave it off by repeating positive statements, praying, playing music, watching TV, going for a run, swimming laps, drinking, smoking, etc. We do anything to keep our minds off of:
What if I screw it up?
What if she’s mean to me?
What if I can’t do it?
What if there are too many cars and I can’t make that left turn? (I say this to myself every day; getting out of my apartment complex is a life-endangering event!)
What if they hate it? What if they hate me?
What if I made the wrong choice?
And sometimes the distractions work, but more than likely they’re the keep-at-bay kind of distractions that when completed, the ‘What if…?’ comes back into play like a child begging for attention.
Unless you do it right. There are ways to choose a distraction that will get you off the path of ‘What if…?’ and back into a land of less worries.
So here’s what works for me to get out of my ‘What if…?’ funks:
1. Choose an activity that keeps your mind engaged. I prefer running, swimming, or writing. That ensures that I’m not just letting my brain ‘forget’ for a while. My goal is to banish my ‘What if…?’ for good, not just be ignorant or oblivious.
2. When I begin my chosen activity, let’s say swimming, I take a deep breath. I mean, from the toes. I let it out nice and slow.
3. I start the activity. If it’s exercise, I concentrate on breathing so that I can get the most out of the activity. If it’s writing, I go wherever the trail leads.
4. After about 2-4 minutes – depending on the level of anxiety I’m feeling – I go back to my ‘What if…?’ corner and sit there, dispelling every negative ‘What if…?’ with something positive and more realistic. (As I write this I’m in a Live Chat conversation with Shutterfly because my packages are God-knows-where and I’m saying ‘What if they don’t re-send them?’, ‘What if I don’t get my precious memories in the form of a photo book that I worked on for hours?’ ‘What if they punish me for the post office’s mistakes?’) So, case in point:
What if they don’t re-send them? – I continue talking to customer service and at least get my money back.
What if I don’t get my … photo book? – then I re-order it after I get my money back. I still have all my photos.
What if they punish me for the PO’s mistakes? – that would suck, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world. I’d still get a photo book.
Some of our ‘What if…?’s are realistic, but many times they are not. Many times they are tiny, baby-step manifestations of our worst fears. We go from zero to dead on the side of the street in 10 ‘What if…?’ questions or less.
The only way to battle a lie is with the truth. The only way to get rid of darkness is to turn on the light. The only way to get rid of false and worry-inducing ‘What if…?’s is to counteract them with more positive scenarios. Focus on the truth, the light, the positive:
Because that Shutterfly issue up there? Resolved in less than 5 minutes. Enough time for me to create plenty of ‘What if…?’s that had me arguing with the post offices that messed up, begging Shutterfly to resend it, and crying because I’d be out the money AND the product. The ‘What if…?’s mess with our minds that easily. Send them away just as quickly, though, and you’ll keep your heart calm, your mind clear, and your wits about you.
You tell me:
What do you do to help counteract negative ‘What if…?’s?