7 minute read
What if you just met the love of your life on a cruise ship that happens to be heading straight for an iceberg? What if you wreaked havoc on the police department, turning your town upside down, because they’ve done a shit job handling the murder case of your only daughter? What if you had to face your own loneliness as your best friend prepares for her wedding and you find yourself competing for her attention with a beautiful passive aggressive socialite? What if you caught a subway within seconds of the doors sliding closed and your life unfolded in ways you least expected?
In the creative arts world, these energy boosters that jazz up imaginary worlds are called the “Magical If”. What if… Act as if… They transport you to help tell a story in colorful and meaningful ways.
In the real world? What if seems to have an entirely different meaning.
We don’t tend to look at “what if’s” as magical at all. They are more like the “Dreaded If”; The “Cringing If”;The “Vomit Inducing If”. What if I move to a new city and make no friends and am miserable? What if I never find someone who “gets me”? What if I spend too long building my career that I end up with fried eggs and no babies? What if I make a total fool of myself when I speak up at the meeting? What if I sign up for that class and am the oldest one by a bajillion years? What if I ask my boss for a raise and he thinks I’m being difficult? What if I ask my boss for a day off and she thinks I’m being lazy? What if what if what if whatifwhatifwhatifwhatif.
We can drive ourselves batshit crazy with all of the what if’s.
Take it from someone who is a recovering severe second-guesser. It is the worst feeling being stuck in limbo with decision making. It’s a frenzied tailspin. Sometimes it feels like I’m stuck in wet cement and other times it feels like I’m falling at the speed of light in quicksand. This loop is exhausting, debilitating, and takes a major hit at my self-confidence.
Before I know it I’m back in the loop of the deep dark alley of depression; bawling tears on a whim with its fierce grip. The difference these days is that I am able to pull a u-ey ever since I decided to take advice from the wise man that is Vanilla Ice.
See, I had to teach myself how to be a better decision maker. Some people are born with this strength and others…well, aren’t. I have a habit of flying from the extremes of the treacherous “what if” deep waters all the way over to “eh, screw it” impulsivity. So, why am I giving advice on decision making? Because if these strategies work for someone like me then they are bound to work for you. Because some decisions do call for thinking through and others benefit from the just go for it already spontaneity. The goal is to know yourself enough so you can decipher between the two.
My recipe for pulling myself (often times yanking myself) out of the dark and into the light is a combination of humor and quick, clear insight. That’s why Vanilla Ice’s to-the-point lyric of “stop, collaborate and listen” does the job.
Let’s break it down:
When I fall into the “Dreaded If” sand trap of decision making, stop is the first word to pull me back out of my head and into the present moment. For a while, my inner voice was in harsh, emergency mode, STOP FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!! Gradually, with practice, it was more of a “pay attention” nudge to have me look up and see the roses so that I could, get out of my head and into my space. The cliché to pause and take in our surroundings is not one to be trivialized. It’s a game changer. Taking note of how I talked to myself was a major eye-opener. I always acquaited softness with being weak. It’s taken me decades to change that mindset.
Once I pause, I go straight to my senses and name the first thing I see (even if you’re not lucky for that first thing to be roses, this still works). “I see a black fan.” Then I describe it, “It’s round and shiny.” Then I say why I’m grateful for it, “It’s keeping me cool on this hot day.” It’s so simple that it’s easy to fly by and discount this step. But what happens is that then I’m back in my body and space and out of my head.
Now that I’m less reactive and more responsive, my emotions are calmer and I can face the decision from a more grounded mental point of view. Often times when we think of collaborating we think outside of ourself. I’m a huge proponent of collaborating with others which made me wonder: How can I have my “seen by the world”self collaborate with my inner self when it comes to decision making?
Know thyself to grow thyself. Take the time. It’s worth it.
I find that taking the time to pause, check-in, and write down what matters to me makes all the difference. I pay attention to how I feel when I write down my beliefs and values so I can see which are mine and which are not. There is anywhere from a slight to severe shift internally when I write down what I believe and care about. Whatever fires me up and fills me with joy stays. The rest are taken out of my list of priorities. Some people do this exercise a few times a year. They carry the list with them and take peeks at it to keep them in the forefront of their minds. I do this more frequently because I find that the practice of regularly handwriting a list amps up the power of them. Go with whatever works for you.
From there, I am able to face decisions with this question: Am I making this decision out of love or fear? Once your values and beliefs are in check this answer is un-muckified. It’s easy to want to race through this step and say “Of course it’s out of love for myself or for a loved one or for a stranger. I’m not a jerk.” When I slow down enough I can take note to see that it’s not always that simple but it usually is clearly one or the other. No matter what, once this question is answered I know the next step to take. Sometimes it’s loud and clear: Yes or no. Stay or go. Sometimes it’s knowing that there’s a need to gather more information. Sometimes it’s realizing who to ask for advice (and chances are that person will serendipitously show up in your life). Other times the next step is sitting in inaction. Don’t be fooled that this is doing “nothing”. This is sometimes the hardest choice to make because we want to fix things. We want to move on and fast. Being in the in-between place is uncomfortable. But sometimes just knowing that we’re choosing to sit in that space uncovers answers that we never would’ve seen otherwise. And the answers become crystal clear.
For me, this step arrived within the last year. If I’m being honest, I put it into action just within the past few months. I decided to listen in. To face the music. It took a mix of deliberate practice and tears of joy and sorrow. And it’s still going on. What I’ve noticed is that there started to be a release, a softening. I had the harsh realization that I’m filled with a lot of anger. I have many mental habits that don’t serve me at all. I saw how I was making many of my decisions without taking myself into consideration in the least. As I continue to move through this space I feel myself uncovering an inner relationship that beats steady and strong. Since deciding to make this newfound friendship a priority, I find that when I call myself out for falling headfirst into the intersection of competition and comparison, my tone is kinder. Instead of shaming and reprimanding myself with brutal phrases I sense more of a physical redirection. It’s as if there is a soft set of hands turning me towards what serves both me and the world better. This inner power helps me to choose not to go down either road and to get the hell out of dodge.
By choosing to pause, dig deep enough to get to know my true self, and then listen from a genuine and soulful front seat, decision making is not as daunting.
The “Dreaded What If” is now toned down and when it does show up I’m able to catch it (most of the time). I’ve even found myself looking at “what if” from the vantage point of brainstorming ideas for my business and have even brought this method into workshops to help people see their imagination at work in a productive and beneficial manner. This style of shifting our thoughts helps to refocus our minds on facing our fears so that we can create more of what we love.
The “Magic What If” is not just for the page, stage and the screen. It’s for the story of our life that we are choosing to create. By making this shift to think about ” what if” in a positive light instead of a negative we begin to create more of what we do want. If we can start telling ourselves that we are deserving of what we want then decision making becomes clearer. The decisions may not always be easier, but you’ll be rooted in clarity which is a huge step in the right direction.
Sliding Doors (1998, Director and Writer: Peter Howitt) A London woman’s love life and career both hinge, unknown to her, on whether or not she catches a train. We see it both ways, in parallel.