Don’t Get Walloped by the “What Ifs”

Oh, the deadly “what ifs!” We wonder, we worry, we fret ourselves into utter madness, and the more we think on what might happen, we miss what is happening. It takes some concentration to talk yourself down from the what ifs, but it can be done. The what ifs can be anything that keeps us from sleeping or feeling good. Here are some of the what ifs I’ve had, followed by what I told myself to disperse them:

  • What if I get cancer? (If I do, I’ll deal with it then. For now, why worry?)
  • What if one of our indoor cats get out? (Then I’ll move Heaven and earth to find the kitty. Meantime, I’ll be careful that they don’t get out.)
  • What if I lose my job? (Then I’ll do what I always do–get another one.)
  • What if I go blind and can’t read anymore? (Then I’ll learn Braille. AND I won’t have to worry about driving anymore, either!)
  • What if something happens to someone I love? (Then I’ll do my best to be there for them.)
  • What if evil aliens come down and take over the planet? (Well, perhaps they’ll run things better than we’ve been doing!)
  • What happens if I step on a lobster in the dark? (Then I’ll pick him up and boil him. Mmm–lobster salad for breakfast!)

See how how nutty this can get? Here are some of the anti-what ifs I perform when I can’t sleep at night because I can’t shut my head off:

  1. I get up and make a cup of tea or cocoa. As I drink it, I review all the good things in my life.
  2. I read something light; any of the Harry Potter books usually does it for me.
  3. When any of those ‘what ifs’ comes to mind, I say out loud, ‘nope–not gonna happen.’
  4. When I can finally lie back down in bed, and my brain starts to fill up with the what ifs, I say out loud or in my head “peace, peace, peace, peace, peace.” I keep on saying or thinking it until actual peace comes to mind. It takes a little practice, but its doable.
  5. If that fails, I do my gem alphabet in my head: “A is for amber, B is for beryl, C is for chalcedony, D is for diamond, E is for emerald” and so on. (FYI: there are no gems I know of that begin with either “x” or “y”.)

Find what works for you, but don’t let those pesky what ifs get you. All that worrying gets us no where, and I should know, as I have spent the better part of my life worrying. And guess what? NONE of what I worried about ever happened!

Like anything else, banishing the what ifs takes practice. Many of us have grown up with the idea that bad things are always floating around, ready to drop on us for no good reason. And, once they do, they’re there to stay. As I’ve learned, that really isn’t the truth. Bad things do happen to us, but it’s how we deal with them that matters.

So how do we deal with bad things? First, see them for the opportunity they present. Once I started looking at things this way, my attitude changed. I started to think that perhaps what happens to us is a clear message that it may be time to move on from what we’re doing.

A few years ago, I tore a rotator cuff. My surgeon advised me to get my neck X-rayed before he would schedule the surgery. The reason for this was that during rotator cuff surgery, the neck is hyperextended so as to get good access to the shoulder. I agreed, and had the X-ray done. It turned out that my neck was so unnaturally straight that I needed surgery to correct it.

I wasn’t happy about this at all. I hated the thought of all the time I would be out of commission. But I got the neck surgery done, and later on had the rotator cuff repaired. I wore a neck and shoulder brace for weeks. It was nearly impossible to do many things I took for granted. Sleeping in the braces was not fun, and just getting dressed was an ordeal. Luckily the Crankee Yankee (my husband) was there for me; he patiently dressed me, drove me around, made sure I was as comfortable as I could be.

Gradually I began to see this enforced time out as what it really was: not only a time to heal, but to rest and reflect on what I should be doing. I did a lot of thinking, planning and changing during that time. This particular ‘what if ‘ that had become a reality was the start of a new life for me.

Oh, I didn’t change my career and become a rock star, nor did I invent a better mousetrap. But I did learn to be more patient with myself and others (a lesson I had needed badly!), and I learned some techniques for being more positive.

It all comes back to the old ‘put bad out into the world, get bad back.’ Which can easily be changed to ‘put good into the world, get good back.’ It’s the same with the what ifs–learn from the message, but don’t waste time worrying. If the what if is something we can actually do something about, well, great! But if it’s something completely out of our control, we can’t afford to give it real estate in our heads.

Remember, as with pets, the what ifs can be trained.



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