Saturday, September 22, 2012

The power in "what ifs," part 2.

Last time I wrote about what what-iffing all the bad things that might happen could do, and what could go differently if you what-iffed how good things could be.

Today? The power in phrasing ideas as "what ifs" to allow someone to see something differently in an encouraging way.

I'm sure we all know someone who, being on the outside of his or her life, we can see that a lot of what he or she is complaining about is obviously either being blown out of proportion or, if anything, something that he or she is bringing on himself or herself. (All of that to be gender-neutral without using the plural, "they.")

For example, a client was recently moving into a new place, and he was telling me how stressful the move was becoming for him and how crazy he knew the move would make him. After a few weeks of this I realized that it sounded empty, like he was convincing himself that moving would make him crazy without it actually doing so, but I couldn't put my finger on why. He then explained some of the crazy circumstances he'd been in during previous moves that had made moving before more stressful because of the other situations needing his attention -- none of which was the case now. It suddenly made sense, and I asked him, "What if moving didn't have to be stressful and make you crazy?"

This happens a lot with people; the idea that it doesn't have to be this way simply doesn't occur to them until the idea of an alternative is presented.

Now, consider the difference in phrasing:

"What if it didn't have to be this way?"
"You know, it doesn't have to be this way."

What sort of gut reaction did you have just reading the two different wordings? One suggests an alternate possibility that you might like to explore; the other basically tells you you're doing it wrong. Which would you rather hear?

And what about you? Whatever you're struggling with right now, what if it didn't have to be a struggle? What if it were actually easy? Who would you be if it were easy? Why not be that person now?

The difference in the mindset with which you approach something -- expecting it to be hard vs. expecting something good to come of it -- can make all the difference in the world.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The power in "what ifs," part 1.

I'm sure most of us know how this works. Some kind of trigger comes along, something unexpected happens, and the what-iffing begins.

What if I can't find another job? What if I don't get accepted into the grad school I want? What if talking to her about it makes her mad at me? What if I say something wrong and look stupid? What if it rains? What if he says no? And on, and on, and on. We what-if ourselves into worst case scenarios and before you know it, you're freaking yourself out over something you think might possibly happen. So then what do you do? Possibly nothing, because what if it goes wrong?

I have two responses to this:

1) Okay, what if it goes wrong? What if you tell your mom you don't want to go to the choir concert with her and it makes her mad? Then what? Then you won't have to go to a concert you don't want to go to anyway, and your mom will get over it, that's what. What if it rains? Plan ahead of time for the possibility and it won't be a big deal. What if he says no? Well, hey, you know now that you're brave enough to ask even if you aren't sure what the answer will be. Really, what's the worst that could happen, and how bad is that, really?

2) What if it goes right? What if you find the perfect job? What if you do get into the grad school you want and you absolutely love it? What if talking to her about it actually clears the air and you don't ever have to what-if yourself about this again as a result? What if you say the perfect thing at the perfect time? What if the weather is absolutely beautiful? What if he says yes? What if you put yourself out there and everything works out exactly as you want it to, or better?

It's easy to jump to worst case scenario, but what typically happens when you do that? You lose momentum, you lose interest, you feel generally yucky about something that you could, potentially, be excited about instead. Then if something unpleasant happens, you can prove to yourself that you were right about how bad it could go, and you can do the same thing next time.

But what if you were to look at the other side of the what-ifs to what could go well, how fabulously everything could come together? Then, you're not looking for something to go wrong; you're looking forward to a good experience. Chances are, with this kind of energy behind something, even if it doesn't go perfectly, you'll feel more well-equipped emotionally to handle it.

Coming soon: How a simple "what if" can get someone to think differently, gently.