How to Reverse a Negative “What If”

What if

Imagine yourself in the deepest, darkest jungle with dripping vine covered trees towering above your head. The sun can’t even break through the tangled mess. You are on a flimsy wooden swinging bridge suspended only a few feet above the murky waters.

What if below you can see hungry alligators and large snakes swimming around and snapping their jaws, just waiting for you to plunge to your death when the bridge breaks?

Now imagine you’re only 8 years old.

That’s how old I was when it happened to me or at least that is my earliest real vacation memory.

That Christmas, my family went on a vacation to Florida. On a day that couldn’t quite decide whether to rain or not, my parents took my brother, sister, and myself to Gatorland.

If you have never been to Florida, Gatorland is similar to a zoo but full of reptiles and a massive jungle with a boardwalk. My father in particular is an avid museum and zoo goer and tended to take us to many such places as kids.

However, he also loves to read every single piece of information found at said museum or zoo. I on the other hand, like to see stuff, do stuff, and get the minimum information needed to enjoy the activity.

As you can probably figure out, our ‘museum’ styles did not match. This tended to get me into a lot of trouble as a child because I had the habit of wandering away and getting myself lost.

On the day we went to Gatorland, my father was taking what I felt was much too long learning about the mating habits of turtles or some other animal, so I started to wander a bit ahead to see what the next exhibit would be. Gradually and before I knew it, I was on a boardwalk that lead into a jungle.

At first it seemed rather exciting and interesting, but the boardwalk kept branching, and before I knew it, I was totally lost in a now very scary jungle with very real man eating reptiles (or so I thought). I totally freaked out and froze.

You see it was my perception of the event that scared me. I was perfectly safe on the boardwalk. And now having seen the pictures as an adult, I shake my head in disbelief that I was ever afraid at all. But my 8 year old mind was convinced I was in danger and made up all sorts of scary ‘what if’ stories that just kept building and building until I just couldn’t move at all.

Has that ever happened to you?

Do you ever find yourself ‘what iffing’ a situation until your brain practically explodes with worry and fear? Is your fear of the unknown paralyzing you from taking action today?

If you find yourself drifting down that path, I have a tool that I personally use to quickly get me out of it. Maybe it will help you too.

I don’t have a fancy name for it— I just call it the Reverse What If.

When you feel yourself going down the negative ‘what if’ rabbit hole, simply reverse your negative WHAT IF into something positive.

For example, let’s say you are afraid or nervous about going to an event or gathering of people and you start thinking…

“What if no one talks to me and I look like a big loser?”

“What if I trip and embarrass myself?”

“What if I get food stuck in my teeth and everyone laughs at me?”

You get the picture. If that happens, you simply mentally catch yourself and start thinking the reverse.

“What if I am the centre of attention and everyone loves me?”

“What if I make a grand entrance and look classy and elegant?”

“What if the food is so yummy that I speak to the chef and get their secret recipe?”

It really does work to get you out of a negative thinking pattern.

The thing is, you can worry and get yourself all worked up for nothing or you can think about how awesome things could be.

If you focus on the negative, chances are something you consider negative will occur.

But WHAT IF, you focused on the positive and something amazing and special and totally awesome happens instead? It could happen.

When I was lost in the jungle, I was so scared of being attacked by a giant snake and being lost forever, that I let my ‘what ifs’ get way out of control. If I had simply stopped and thought, “what if I wait her and my parents find me soon?” Or, “what if I just enjoy this time alone?” I was a kid and that never occurred to me but it would now.

The point is your perception and thoughts of an event shape it—whether you focus on the negative or the positive is up to you.

I learned a valuable lesson that day and when my parents finally found me, I stuck to them like glue the rest of that day.

Of course that didn’t stop me getting lost at Walt Disney World the next day. 😉

About the Author

Heather WIlsonHeather E. Wilson is the founder and CEO of The Canadian Coach, a directory and membership platform designed to unite, support and promote Canadian coaches. She's a successful business coach, speaker, author (Your Life According to You!), warrior, change-maker, risk-taker, and adventurer all rolled into one dynamic package.