Do ‘what ifs’ restrict your experience of life?
I had a client who was loathe to switch off her cell phone during her coaching sessions, in fact at any time. Sound familiar? It’s just another example of how cell phone dependency has surged into lifestyles around the world. But with my client, I’ll call her Tracy, it was more than just keeping herself in touch with her loop of social networking; it was a manifestation of her ‘what if’ anxiety, her preoccupation with the unknown future.
Tracy’s reluctance to switch off her phone was based on her fear that her children (in their twenties) or her mother may need her. What if something happened to them and they needed her advice and assistance? Her children had long since left home and were living in another city, and her mother lived in a retirement village with 24/7 help on hand as well as other off-spring besides Tracy whom she could call.
The ‘what if’ anxiety can take on a life of its own propelling us into increasingly elaborate settings far removed from reality. Left unchecked this anxiety begins to influence the choices we make and steer us on to paths where our experience of life is severely limited by our fears.
When the fear-based ‘what ifs’ begin to direct our lives we can put their validity to the test. Tracy could not recall a time when her lack of cellular contact such as on plane trips and other areas prohibiting their use, had resulted in disaster or an irreversible turn for the worse which she, had she been available, could have prevented. Nine times out of ten, this is true for all of us.
Then we played out the ‘what ifs’. What if her mother had a fall and could not get hold of Tracy? Then what would happen? Her mother could call the help on hand and one of her other children and they would take care of her. What if one of Tracy’s children had an accident and called their mother whose phone was turned off? Then what would happen? They may feel more anxious. And then what would happen? They could call roadside assistance or another appropriate service. They would also edge a notch further in self-reliance and coping skills.
Examine the ‘what ifs’ playing out in your mind. Firstly, do your past experiences give good reason for the repetitive ‘what ifs’? Secondly, complete your own personal ‘what ifs’ and their possible results. Then answer “what would happen then?” And to that response, again ask “and then what would happen?” and so on. Truthful answers to this line of probing will reveal how your anxiety is a waste of energy and robs you of fully experiencing the present.
If your behaviour dictated by ‘what ifs’ has become habitual, take baby steps in the reversal of the pattern. Tracy began with five minute breaks from her phone with a little reward at the completion of each one. Gradually as she extended her out of contact periods, she learned to relax more and appreciate being fully present with those around her.