LOSING YOUR LIFE TO “WHAT IF…?”

distressed face When I think about how much of my life has been spent feeding the anxiety of “What if’s…?,” it’s truly staggering.  The “What if…?” habit is that tendency to play out various future scenarios that might occur in our lives.  What if I fail the test?  What if it rains this Saturday?  What if I forget what to do?  What if he says no?  What if it doesn’t work?

If it were possible to get a Ph.D. in “What if’s?”, my Dad would tell you that I’ve earned at least two…with honors. As a planner by nature, I’ve always argued that anticipating several outcomes to a situation and having contingency plans in place was a smart strategy.  I enjoyed being prepared and this method seemed to work for me.

Although planning can be a beneficial undertaking, the part that I was neglecting to see is how much of my life was being consumed by this approach.  It was nearly impossible to enjoy the present moment when my mind was constantly planning for a future situation and all its’ possible outcomes, many of which would never materialize.

Have you ever been so worried about an upcoming job interview, big presentation, work deadline, sports competition, or qualifying test that you couldn’t relax and enjoy those things going on in your life in the moment?  Have you missed out on the joy of being with friends or a good night’s sleep because you were playing out possible future scenarios in your head and planning how you would respond?

What I’ve come to realize is that, in large part, the “What if…?” strategy was a way to cope with my fear.  Since I believed that I wasn’t particularly effective when thinking “on my feet”, I figured preparing in advance would remedy this weakness.

And what I’ve learned is that the very strategy I was using to combat my perceived limitation was actually creating it.  The reason I was not as quick “on the spot” was because I was never IN the spot.  I was not fully present in the moment.  My mind was always racing with “What If’s?” and trying to recall the responses I had rehearsed.  It’s pretty tough to respond to something with wisdom, clarity and authenticity when your mind is filing through pre-made responses that may not even apply to the current situation.

Revelation: I couldn’t effectively think “on my feet” because I was too busy being in my head versus being present in the situation.

Insight is huge, but breaking the pattern takes a little more faith and practice.  It can be hard letting go of coping mechanisms we believe have served us for decades, but sometimes we realize that we no longer need them.  In fact, sometimes those tools we used earlier in our lives become more of a hindrance than a help, but we’re too caught up in our habits to realize it.

What habits or coping strategies are you holding onto that no longer serve you?  How can you spend more time living in the moment and not worrying about the future (which, by the way, I have finally learned I can’t control no matter how hard I try).

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