“What If…”: How to Turn Worry into Positive Thinking

Take a deep breath.

I am about to whisper two of the most stress-inducing words in the English language:

“What if…”

Those two words are the precursor to hundreds of fears that flash through our minds before we jump into a big adventure.

What if the rope doesn’t hold?”
What if they don’t like me?”
What if I’m not good enough?”
What if the project fails?”
What if my boss doesn’t go for my idea?”
What if everyone laughs?”
What if nobody laughs?”
What if…”
What if…”
What if…”

It can be a vicious cycle. One round of “What ifs” lead into another, and another, and then another. Until you’ve fallen so far down the rabbit hole you’ll begin to feel like the Mad Hatter.

According to Emotional Intelligence 2.0 author, Travis Bradberry, Ph.D., “What if?” statements only throw fuel on the fire of stress and worry. In fact, he suggests the more time you spend worrying about the different negative possibilities, the less time you tend to spend on calming behaviors.

I have caught myself unintentionally playing the “What if” game on more than one occasion. Teetering on the edge of a stressful situation, I often freeze. Staring into the unknown with one “What if” after another.

The fear from those futile questions was paralyzing. I needed to stop my mind from running in circles, but I wasn’t sure how to stop my natural reactions.

One day I tried doing something a little bit crazy. 

Instead of finishing one of my “What if” thoughts with the worst possible outcome, I ended the sentence with the most outrageously positive result I could think of.

What if…everyone in the meeting loves my idea and they give me a raise to prove it?!”

What if…I get a standing ovation after my solo and they make me sing another three encore songs?!”

What if…I write a blog post that goes viral and publishers contact me for a book deal?!”

I made it into a little game. Every time my thoughts were invaded by the words “What if”, I finished the sentence with outlandish favorable consequences.

My “What ifs” started to excite me more than fill me with dread. My thoughts transformed to the hope of amazing possibilities instead of the fear of unknown threats. And my outlook turned much rosier. 

I’ll be honest. Even with a lot of practice, my first instinct still isn’t to finish “What if” with a pleasant thought. I usually catch myself halfway through my third “What if” before I remember to switch the ending. But I DO SWITCH IT. I correct my thinking. I choose to be positive. I choose to control my thoughts instead of letting them control me. 

I choose positive thinking instead of worry. 

You can too. 

Scientists at UCLA-Caltech found that individuals can exert conscious control over the firing single neurons, thus choosing what to focus on.

What does this mean for us? 

We have control over what we focus on. Instead of worrying about bad things happening, we should look forward to the possiblity of the good. 

Focusing on the positive can result in positive outcomes and according to researchers at the Mayo Clinic, positive thinking begins with positive self-talk. 

Which leads us back to the habit of installing a cheerful finish on our “What if” questions. So, the next time you’re faced with those two dreaded little words, remember, you are in control of your thoughts. Choose positive thinking and watch what happens. 

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