Typically when we begin a sentence with “what if,” it’s signaling something we fear. It can be big and scary as in “What if this lump is cancerous!” to the mundane, “What if I’m late picking up my son from baseball—we’re going to be late for piano lessons again!”
“What if” covers a broad spectrum of possibilities that can take a fine afternoon and nose-dive it into the murky waters of negativity. The mere utterance of a “what if” places us in a state of worry and anxiety, a habit that grows stronger the more we engage with it.
Many of us get stuck in the worry cycle a good “what if” can create, and if we’re honest, we can go a little overboard with all of it.
A more sanity-saving approach.
We know worry is useless, but that doesn’t stop any of us from doing it. This is why it benefits us to resort to tactics that trick our brain.
Instead of using “what if” in a fear-based way, we use it as a diversion — a clever way to present a problem while, and this is the important part, offering a solution. Better yet, a solution with an action step! Our brain won’t be able to stop itself from obsessing over a solution.
To perform that type of creative hat trick, we begin by not using “what if” in terms of things we’re afraid of or regrets we might endure, but use it to create concrete answers and clarity in our lives. We use it as a catalyst to change — a reason to experiment, rather than as a question we ask to hurt ourselves.
Try a few “what if” alternatives.
Here are a few “what ifs” to help spark some creative mindset-altering magic:
What if… I didn’t eat any sweets after 4 p.m.? Would that curb my sweet tooth enough so that I’d stop eating a bag of Raisinets after dinner every night?
What if… I stop putting off working out and start with a brisk outdoor walk today? Will I find in three months I’m a much happier person?
What if… I did 10 minutes of stretching first thing in the morning? Would that help me ease into my day better (and work out a few of my chronic kinks?).
What if… I didn’t look at ice cream as something I had to give up, but instead, I went without it for 7 days? Would that help me see how habits play a huge role in my day-to-day living?
What if… I took 15 minutes every Sunday and planned out my meals for each night? Would I find that I’m better prepared and less stressed in the evenings?
What if… I organized my day by placing only three things on my to-do list rather than the usual 10? Would I feel more accomplished at the end of the day?
These are not high-level fear-inducing questions. They’re thought-provoking. You’re asking a hypothetical while providing a probable (and enticing) outcome, one worthy of putting forth the effort to discover if perhaps it’s true.
And once you answer these hypotheticals, you can dive deeper by asking more “what ifs” — the process feeds off itself and can change your habits from bad to good to better to amazing. It’s a process you can continually repeat for a lifetime.