• Transforming “What Ifs” from Anxiety-Provoking to Possibility-Making

Transforming “What Ifs” from Anxiety-Provoking to Possibility-Making

For all of the years I’ve been a psychologist and coach, I’ve watched people torture themselves with “what-ifs”.  They pose dire questions to themselves about upsetting things, then get mired in the anxiety those questions have provoked.  “What if my spouse dies?”, “What if I lose my job?”, “What if I don’t ever find a partner?” and on and on and on!

My approach to dealing with this penchant we have for tormenting ourselves with worry is to ask the question, “What if?”  In other words, answer the question!  “What if my spouse dies?”  “Well, I will grieve heavily and things will be difficult for some time, but eventually life will go on.  Do I want to experience this?  No, but I don’t control whether or not I experience this, so I may as well stop ruminating about it and get on with my life!”

Oftentimes when people answer the question, there’s relief in the knowledge that, while whatever it is wouldn’t be how they would want things to go, it likely would be survivable.  It’s unveiling the likely outcome so the person can actually look at it rather than keeping it lurking in the darkness of the mind where it becomes much bigger and scarier than when exposed to the light.

Now, however, let’s take this whole “what-if” thing to a new level!  What if we used our what ifs to expand our thinking, to open up possibilities, to dream BIG?  What if we posed our what if questions to ourselves in a way that got us considering possibilities, desires, expansion, growth?  Doesn’t that sound like fun??!

Little kids do this all the time…imagining, possibilitating, fantasizing. “What if I throw Mom’s iPhone in the toilet?  What would happen?”   Won’t it be grand when we reclaim that ability for ourselves as adults?  For example, instead of saying “I can’t…”, if you approached it from the what-if perspective, what doors would that open for you?  Instead of saying “This won’t work…”, what if you said “What if this working was possible?”  Consider the possibility.

Don’t worry about the likelihood of it working.  Don’t fret about the HOW it’s going to work.  Just consider what it would be like if it was possible.  Dig deeply into imagining what that would be like, look like, sound like, feel like.  Play with the possibility!

What this does is keep open the door of your imagination and allows your mind to begin playing with options.  And when your mind is playing around with options, new and creative ways of seeing things begin to emerge.

And “what if” continues to play a beautiful role in the process!  “What if I turned it this way?”, “What if I tried that?”, “What if I said it differently?”.  A whole new field of possibilities comes alive.  Things move forward in ways they might not otherwise would have.

Now imagine the joy and satisfaction of teaching others to possibilitate!  Imagine a whole group of people sitting around brainstorming wild and crazy…and successful and amazing…ideas.  A whole group of people training their brains, to borrow a cliché, to think outside the box.

And speaking of boxes, I remember an experiment from psychology class long ago where people were given a bunch of supplies, including a stick candle, a match, some string, and a little box and told to make a sconce.  When the materials were handed to them IN the box, most people couldn’t figure out a way to make the sconce.  When the box was merely sitting there along with the other supplies, people were more likely to realize they could USE the box as the base of the sconce, lighting the candle, melting some of the wax on the edge of the box to stick it to the wall, then more wax on the surface of the box to stick the candle to the box.  In other words, when a preset idea of what something was and how it was to be used was introduced, creativity was squelched.  Again, the “what if” served a positive role here in transforming that box from carrier to sconce.

So what if you took conscious time this week to possibilitate using “what if” as your launch pad?  Maybe start with a problem that’s been dogging you.  Slip that problem into some statements such as, “What if this is a fixable problem?”, “What would things be like when this is fixed?”, “What possible ways of solving this have I not been willing to look at yet?”

Set the intention that your door to solutions is WIDE open!  Go!!

About the Author:

Dr. Bonnie Nussbaum
Dr. Bonnie Nussbaum is a holistic coach and clinical psychologist who believes people are capable of far more than they think they are.

One Comment

  1. Tina Games March 23, 2017 at 12:08 pm - Reply

    Fabulous – and timely post, Bonnie! ~ I think we all can get caught up in the “what if” game, following it into an energy of anxiety or possibility. You’ve beautifully guided us into the latter. ~ It reminds me of the quote, “What if I fail? – Oh, darling, but what if you fly?” 🙂

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