Every day, we waste energy on things that either haven’t happened yet or may in fact never happen. We home-in on the ‘what ifs’ and end up regularly throwing precious time and energy into the cauldron of oblivion.
In my experience, these wasteful scenarios mostly fall into two categories:
- Prioritizing Negativity
- Thinking Too Many Steps Ahead
Both pose a genuine threat to your productivity and success, and have the power to impact your mindset, dragging down your positive energy. That is, if YOU let them.
Let’s take a look at each of these challenges individually to really understand why, and how you can defend against their poisonous influence.
So, this category refers to all those times where the ‘what ifs’ hold you back. Those times where they seep into your mind and influence your priorities. Instead of anticipating the amazing opportunities and experiences in front of you, you focus on the negatives that could arise from the situation. And this prevents you from making the most of it. Scenarios like…
“We should invest in X”, “but what if…”
“I’d love to do that, but what if Y happened…”
“I can’t go there, because [what if] Z happened…”
“I could never say that to them, because [what if] they thought X…”
Of course, this confusion around consequences is natural, after all, evaluating risk is a big part of life. However, it’s important to draw a line. Even when the consequences are terrible like ‘what if the plane crashed’ or ‘what if I got kidnapped’, it’s critical to first take into account the reality of the situation, and the likelihood of the event. It’s very easy to lose perspective in these scenarios, particularly when outside influences distort our view.
By prioritizing my negativity, I would be potentially compromising one of life’s opportunities – and depriving myself of a great city.
For example, me taking the decision not to travel into London because of an increased crime rate sounds smart, right? Avoid the area and the problem is avoided as well – seems sensible enough. But, when you think about the amount of people travelling into London every day, and the location of most of this crime, it quickly becomes clear that my odds of being a victim are low due to my circumstances. There is not enough risk to justify me avoiding London altogether.
Reducing The Prioritization Of Negativity
To prevent the ‘what ifs’ from taking control, it’s important to first dive deep down and find their root cause.
- Why is a belief so strong that it warrants a change of action?
- Where does the fear come from? Is it cold hard evidence that justifies the concern or is it just a misguided perception with little realistic backing?
These are the questions you need to ask yourself to determine whether or not your worries are based on genuine circumstances. Once you’ve identified your ‘real’ level of risk, you then need to weigh up the gains that could be made from taking the action.
- What pain will you feel if you don’t do X?
- What opportunities will you miss?
By allowing the ‘what ifs’ to take control, that negative energy sits in the back of your mind and undermines your ability to make good decisions and evaluate genuine risk. If you can find the root of that concern, you can eradicate the negativity and with a clear mind, take the actions that make the most of the opportunities in front of you.
Thinking Too Many Steps Ahead
When we have ideas, we often think about the situations in which they apply and how they will impact the status quo. We think about the ripple effect and from there try to scope out a picture of what will… or at least ‘what should’ happen. While this line of thinking certainly makes sense, it can go too far and paralyze your ability to choose a direction. This can undermine your mentality and your actions.
It’s very easy to think too far ahead and then freeze on follow through because the consequences of what you think might happen prevent you from making a decision. You end up trying to solve problems that don’t even exist yet, and this just complicates the decision-making process further. The train of thought often goes…
“If I do this, then [what if] this happens, and this happens, and then this happens”
“I don’t want to do X, because [what if] X, Y and Z then happen”
Now this isn’t to say that you should be rushing in without considering the risks and potential impacts of your decisions, because that would be foolish.
“If you feel there is major challenge at Step 3 in your plan, for that to come to fruition, Step 1 and 2 have to go the way you foresee – and this is rarely ever the case.”
It’s important to always think about the likely ramifications of what you do, however, it should not go to the extent where you’re thinking 3, 4 or even 5 steps ahead of where you’re currently at. And the reason is simple. The problems you’re foreseeing, they’re based on events you think will occur, and while that’s fine, for every extra step you take, you’re seeing problems that are less and less likely to actually happen. If you feel there is major challenge at Step 3 in your plan, for that to come to fruition, Step 1 and 2 have to go the way you foresee – and this is rarely ever the case.
How To Avoid Thinking Too Far Ahead
The best way to keep your focus on the stuff that really matters is to know your destination. Take a look at the big picture and acknowledge the risks, but don’t let them take control. The way in which you reach your destination will likely differ significantly from what you see in your head, so you need to be focused and flexible.
Prioritize and make sure you focus on the things that will make the biggest difference, and then improve step by step as you move forward. There will no doubt be bumps in your plan, but chances are, they’re not the ones you saw coming! As competition, life and plans shift, you’re never going to be 100% prepared. Just remember to approach your journey with a philosophy of agility and you’ll be ready to take on everything life throws at you.
The French writer Montaigne once said ‘There were many terrible things in my life, but most of them never happened’ and this sums up the sentiment around the nature of future concerns – the majority will never cross your path. Don’t let the potential consequences of the future stop you from taking action today.
What do you do when faced with uncertainty? How do you balance the consequences of the future with the need to take immediate action? Leave a comment below and let’s see what our peers make of this challenge.