When “What Ifs” Backfire

I few weeks ago while grocery shopping I found myself playing the “what if” game. Are you familiar with that game? It’s the one where you begin pondering how your life would be different if you had made different decisions.

“What if I was less awkward and quiet growing up?”

“What if I pursued a different major in college?”

“What if I was working somewhere and not staying home with my kids?”

“What if…. (I’m sure you can fill in the blank)?”

It feels like once you start asking these questions they never stop. It is like the rainstorm that starts slow as you feel one or two big drops hit you on the head, but then before you know it you are getting poured on and are surrounded by raindrops. Once you let those first questions of “what if” land on your head, it seems that they just keep pouring on you and weighing you down.

Asking these questions aren’t typically a good thing for me, because I often start asking these questions when I feel small. When I feel insignificant. When I’m really not sure what I’m supposed to do with my life. However, as these questions almost drown me with their weight, I realize that they often make me feel worse. They make me feel like I’ve made a wrong turn. That I’m not where I’m supposed to be. That I’ve failed someone, maybe even everyone.

However, the other day in the midst of my “what if” rainstorm, something else struck me. Why is it that when we ask “What if” we often imagine ourselves happier, more successful, or that life in general will be better (whatever that means)? What if the answers to my “what if” questions actually made my life worse? This thought has stuck with me since that day and takes a lot of the wind out of the sails of asking “what if?”

It is strange how I always asked these questions assuming that if I had made changes in the past that I’d be better off now. I think that is what most people who ask “what if?” think. If everyone thought they would be worse off making other decisions we probably wouldn’t play the “what if” game so much. Until the other day it had just never crossed my mind that I had no way of knowing that following my “what ifs” would lead to a better life.

Of course add to this that the “what if” game is pretty futile as it is. I mean no matter how hard we want to we can’t go back in time and choose differently. I think we all know that, but we still dream that we could have had a better life. I guess I’m just not so sure of that anymore. I’m not saying that I won’t ever play the “what if” game again. That I won’t get drowned in a storm of “what ifs.” What I do know is that I haven’t been so prone to ask those questions since I’ve realized that there is no guarantee that my “what ifs” would have turned out any better than where I am now.

Even though I know that I can’t go back and change things, it is the idea that I may not have wound up any better off that has shaken me out of asking “what if” so much. I’ve come to realize that we are never certain of our decisions and how they’ll turn out, even looking backwards. Always asking “what if” stops us from appreciating what we do have. It also inhibits us from doing what might need to be done to provide more meaning and substance to our lives. This is where I want the focus to be, not on the “what ifs” but on the decisions I’m making or need to make for the future. Even if I’m not always certain of the outcome of those decisions any more than I am of the “what ifs” of the past.

What about you? Do you play the “what if” game? If you do how have you snapped out of it?

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3 thoughts on “When “What Ifs” Backfire

  1. At one point I thought through what would have happened if I had made different choices. I thought about the people surrounding me at the time and the effects their choices made on their lives. It turns out that if I had made some different choices I would probably be most unhappy and stressed to the max! The most effective way for me to snap myself out of the “what if” game is to think that if I had made different choices I wouldn’t have met Steve and that is just unthinkable!

    • Yeah, thinking about not meeting or marrying Kristen, and having our family that we do have is a pretty good deterrent too at least for the far past “what ifs.”

      I wonder how often the choices we think about and “what if” about would lead us to being worse off than we are now? I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if most of them did result in that.

      Thanks for commenting/sharing Jeanne!

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