The “What if” Trap

Are your thoughts keeping you up at night? Is your brain trying to run every possible, worst case scenario for you to be prepared for anything that might happen? If the answer is yes, you have fallen into the What If Trap!

We all want to be prepared for what may happen in our business lives. Strategic planning is an important part of any good business plan. However, if you are trying to perceive every roadblock or setback before it happens, not only is that exhausting, but could actually sabotage your ability to deal with things when they happen in real time.

Our brain has the ability to forward think. It can project thoughts into the future and play with options that might happen. The problem is that although are brain can travel to the future, our body can only be in the here and now.  And when the brain and the body are disconnected, the emotion that is cultivated is anxiety. Every single time.

Instead of staying balanced and connected, we shift into an emotional type of thinking that sounds reasonable, but isn’t. Anxiety also shuts down the part of the brain we need to make good decisions, the frontal lobe, and without it, we are operating on all reaction and emotion. That is never a good place to operate from when you are trying to make decisions.

So, what can you do?

First, we must recognize what is happening. Our body gives us clues that we often ignore.  They are like an early warning system that lets us know we are no longer in the present moment, but heading into the What If Trap. We hold our breath, our heart rate increases, our chest and throat get tight. We may feel our hands and feet get cold while our face gets hot.  These are all signs that we are in one of the three anxiety states: flight, fight, or freeze.  Once this happens, our emotional brain starts freaking out, making interpretations that we are not ok, and everything will be bad!

Being aware increase the chances that you can reverse the process.  Take a slow deep breath.  One option is to breathe in deeply for the count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 2, and blow out slowly for a count of 6.  The longer out breath helps to reset the central nervous system.

You can also shift your thoughts.  The brain cannot think inside and outside at the same time. When you refocus your attention away from your catastrophizing thoughts and put your full attention on something tangible in front of you, the brain must shift.

Put your full focus on something in your hands.  Get curious about it.  Describe it in as much detail as possible.  Involve as many senses, sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, as you can.  The more involved you are, the less you will be able to keep the What If thoughts going.  Once you do, the body makes the shift as well and you will calm down.

This is a practice. The more you do it the better you will get at it.  I know if sounds simple and it is!  But it also works!  So, give it a try.  See if you can make the shift.  Once you do, you will understand that this is where the control of a situation lies, not in thinking about everything that can go wrong!

If you would like to bring Innovative Mindful Solutions into your business, contact Terry at terry@terrygaller.com for more information!