When I was little, especially late at night, I could get myself into a tailspin. I’d worry about all kinds of things. And, because I was a chatty little kid (surprise, surprise!), I’d go to my mom.
“What if things don’t work out?”
“What if they don’t like me?”
“What if there’s a car wreck?”
“What if.. what if… what IF??”
After a couple of these questions, my mom would shush me and say, “You’re playing the What If Game.” What that meant at our house was that you’re borrowing trouble, worrying about things that may or may not happen. I spent a lot of time on that. Sometimes, it helped me figure out scenarios and what to do if something bad DID happen. But mainly, it just wasted my time. I heard a saying once,
Worrying is like a Rocking Chair… lots of action, but going nowhere.
In my case, telling me I was playing the What If? Game was meant to help me. But it was also meant to get my mom a little peace and quiet. Unfortunately, it ended up minimizing what I was thinking about. It made me be even more critical of myself, thinking,
“Why am I so negative?”
“Why do I bother people with my crazy thoughts?”
“What’s MY problem??”
I don’t think that was ever my mom’s intention, to make me feel worse. But I didn’t really have the power to shut it off, just because she slapped a label on it and implied I should knock it off. I just didn’t have the tools.
In parenting, we do that sometimes, consciously or not. We either step in to solve the problem, or we dismiss our kids concerns as not important. Solving the problem for them prevents them from figuring it out, and then ultimately trusting themselves that they CAN figure out problems. It keeps them dependent on others for solutions – always waiting to be rescued by someone smarter, stronger, more resourceful. See the problem with this route?
And if we gloss over their worries, they’ll learn to take them somewhere else. They certainly will learn that they can’t share them with you! And you’re supposed to be the one helping them figure out the tough lessons in Life. If you take this option, you miss a huge opportunity to not only help your child, but also to reinforce your relationship with them.
So let’s rewrite the rules for the What If? Game.
Because, now I have tools. I know these things:
- Your mind can only think about one thing at a time. This is just a simple fact. We often think we’re multitasking, but it’s never really simultaneously. It’s a constant shifting. So, try to control your mind to the point of, “OK, I need to think about this instead right now.”
- Attaching yourself to a particular outcome is where the suffering starts. We don’t know everything and we really can’t see around the proverbial corner. How many times can you look back and see that something really seemingly catastrophic turned out to either make you stronger for something else or yourself, allowed you to relate to someone in a different way, or opened you up to some unforeseen opportunity. So thinking, “I don’t get it – right now. But maybe I will down the road,” might be a helpful approach.
- Is the bad thing happening now? Ok, then. Breathe. This is all about living in The Present moment. I’m not saying to live in La-di-da Land, look at what’s happening now. Is it where you want to be TODAY? Is it what needs to be happening NOW? If you can look at the situation more calmly, you’ll be able to assess the situation more accurately than if you’re full of anxiety. You’ll have time to panic when/if it does show up.
- Visualizing GOOD things happening can be just as powerful as visualizing the worst case scenario – so do that! Getting in the habit of doing visualizations can start at any age. When you’re putting your child to sleep, help them to visualize some peaceful happy setting. Remind them that they can go back there in their mind at any time. We spend so much time panicking about that imaginary horrible scenario – what would happen if we spent that much time visualizing great stuff? So how about taking it even to another level? What if your visualization was about conquering that fear you’re worrying about? What if you think about succeeding in that situation that is distracting you from the Present? Run a few of those scenarios in your head and see how that feels.
- Which story you decide to tell yourself is TOTALLY up to you! Neither are based in facts, so why not be kinder to yourself? Physically, this will help you as well. A body that is constantly anxious and tense will act a completely different way from one that is content or even happy. So choosing a happier story is kinder to your physical body as well as your mind.
- Have a handy list of your strengths or of things you have accomplished. This may seem odd at first, because we’re taught that focusing on our good points is conceited, egotistical – definitely not a good thing. But when you think about it, how could being ACCURATE about yourself be a bad thing? Sure, you may not want to regale everyone at Park Day with all your wonderful accomplishments, but tell yourself the truth. Make a list of the things you feel good about accomplishing, things you are genuinely thankful for… this list will boost your self-esteem and help you when you’re at a low point.
- Generosity trumps Stinginess. It’s as if you are looking through two different lens: one of Scarcity and one of Abundance. And it all boils down to your personal perception. If you feel full of whatever you’re wanting, you are much more at peace than if you are worried there simply isn’t enough to go around. When we’re afraid we’re not getting our fair share, we resent those who we think are getting more than us. It’s not a pretty picture – but it is incredibly common. Unfortunately, this has a huge impact on our day-to-day attitude, on so many levels. It keeps us unhappy and negative. But using the other lens, think of yourself as having so much that you can share and be generous with others. Society often throws us into unnecessary competition. But think about when you helped someone else – with no gain for yourself. You felt happy and positive about the world. Why not try to do that more often? Help someone else. It doesn’t do anything to diminish your own light. Take a break from your own melodrama for a while and find someone less fortunate than you. Help them…and you will end up helping yourself.
That’s probably a pretty good start at my list. Incorporating these kinds of ideas into your child’s world – or even more firmly in your own world – will really help us all reinvent that dang What If? Game.