The dominant thread throughout my new book, The Train Keeps Leaving Without Me: A Practical
Guide to Happiness, Freedom, and Self-Fulfillment is to take control over your life and be planful. Taking charge of your life will increase the chance for personal happiness. One aspect of doing so is to try to anticipate different scenarios in both your life as well as in specific situations so that you are prepared for anything. We call this “What if?” thinking. Examples of What if?thinking are as follows:
… my company goes out of
… it rains and I want to have
an outdoor wedding?
… my boyfriend cheats on me?
… I can’t afford to pay my
mortgage this month?
The first important fact in these real life examples is that some are within your locus of control to do something about and others are completely out of your hands. There is little or nothing you can do to prevent What if? scenarios when you are totally at the mercy of fate. You can prepare for unpleasant outcomes but not prevent them. Your goal has to be to develop a plan that will hopefully minimize the negative effects should they occur. If you don’t, you can get bogged down by a great deal of anxiety due to obsessive-repetitive thoughts from an overflow of information, conflicting thoughts, and catastrophizing. So, if your company is in danger of going out of business, instead of simply worrying about something completely out of your control, get your resume together,start networking, contact a head hunter, and peruse the job websites.Without a productive plan your anxiety becomes more of the problem than the actual situation because you will be spending your
time ruminating, which interferes with your ability to enjoy your life in the moment. A football coach once said, “Be where your feet are on the field.” That suggests that you need to focus on the moment and be aware of where you are right now. So, make a plan to prepare for potentially unpleasant scenarios and then let them go to enjoy the present. Another adage, “Don’t argue with a fool” also comes to mind. Try not to allow the worries to re-enter your mind by catching yourself, seeing a big red stop sign, and diverting your attention elsewhere.
There are also benefits to What if? thinking. The benefit is that you can prevent potential problems by thinking through different scenarios. Tantamount to things like the Internet and fire, when used with balance, wisely, judiciously, and in a calculated controlled manner, they become beneficial tools instead of perilous ones. When you worry wisely and judiciously you are able to consider every angle and every factor to potentiate a positive outcome. In problem solving it can help you plug up holes in a plan to also potentiate success. But remember, whether your “What if?” is something that you can control or not, you need to limit your thinking about it. Make a plan and implement it to deal with the controllable situations. Direct your attention elsewhere to stop thinking and worrying about the situations you have no control over. By doing so, you can facilitate your happiness and minimize a worry ridden life.
Dr. Michael Osit is a Licensed Psychologist practicing in Warren, and author of The Train Keeps Leaving Without Me: A Practical Guide to Freedom, Self-Fulfillment, and Happiness (09/16) and Generation Text: Raising Well Adjusted Kids In An Age Of Instant Everything (07/08).