The What If Monster

It is early morning on this cold, rainy Sunday and I am re-reviewing a speech I am set to give later on today.  I have gone through this speech multiple times, and continue to imagine my audience falling asleep, laughing under their breaths, laughing out loud, my voice somehow disappearing as soon as I open my little mouth, a massive exodus after I get started…

My what ifs are wide awake this morning.  And they are LOUD.

What if I am perceived as a joke?

What if I am never asked to come speak at this foundation again?

What if I lose my place in my speech and stutter until I find my place again?

Oh shit, what if I never find my place again?

What if I didn’t print the font large enough for my own comfort? (Look, my progressive lenses are amazing, but they aren’t magic!)

If you haven’t noticed already, anxiety and I are quite familiar with each other. We used to be quite intimate for years and as I continue my own internal work on my perfectionism, the intimacy wanes.   What I am hoping you notice is that my what ifs live in the past and in the future.  What if I didn’t. What if I never.

What my what ifs are not immune to is the present, the here and now.  Here’s your early morning nugget: anxiety is a nasty circle of what ifs.  The more we give the what ifs power, the more the what ifs take our power.

Does that make sense?

Let’s go back to my current conundrum.  Oh yea, my friend, I’m taking you with me.

If I sit in the what ifs of my speech today, I would not successfully give the speech.

Let me explain.

Things occur in our lives moment by moment.  I think we agree there.  But how often do we look at life moment by moment?

When our kid(s) are speaking to us – or in my case when my kids are speaking to me at the exact same time and I am just trying to keep up – how often do we key into what is being spoken to us in that moment, rather than predicting the next comment, peeking around for the nearest exit, or in my case silently inspecting the kitchen table to see how many crumbs my kids are leaving as they enjoy their after school snack? Let’s not even get into the “damn it, I forgot to get milk at the grocery store…I was just at the grocery store, why didn’t anyone tell me we were out of milk” internal dialogue I have.  We can insert any grocery item where milk is here.  And I’d just like to point out, I don’t even drink cow’s milk! (I had to get that mom fussing moment out.  Thanks!)

Back to my point.  While we are far off in adult-ing la-la-land, we are not being present.  We may be physically present, which explains why the kids keep on with their verbal shenanigans of the day, but we are not being mindfully present.  Look, some moms may retort that multi-tasking is our innate, spiritually given, talent.  I’m not disputing that. I can mom with the best of them sometimes, and completely suck at mommin’ the next.  If I may be transparent with you, when I suck at mommin’, it is usually because 1) I have way too much on my plate and am overwhelmed, 2) not being present or mindful, and 3) not asking for help with #1.  Of course this is not intentional.  But let’s be honest: We can’t do it all.  I can’t do it all.


Anxiety is actually a friend to us when not in overdrive.  There is a survival driven aspect about anxiety that teaches us or reminds us of something, in an honest effort to keep us safe.  Was I the only kid that itched to put her hand on the stove, just to see what those bright, warm, pretty ringlets would do? I never got the opportunity because my sister tested it out for us and it looked pretty painful.  That taught me something: the stove can be dangerous. It never stopped me from cooking, but it imparted in me the necessity to check before touching, to make sure things are turned off…you get my point.  That’s the good in anxiety.

From a very old perspective, watching a neighbor from the cave next door get eaten by the saber tooth tiger that sure was gorgeous, but turned out to be a mean, hungry, predator, also provides a certain anxiety to make sure we check before heading out to hunt for dinner, or even attempting to pet the adorable animal (which would have been me, I like just about anything furry and cute).  So past experiences do serve an important purpose for us; to remind us of how things went wrong so that we can stay on this beautiful earth as long as possible.

What if blog picYet when it turns into “everything is dangerous because of the past”, that’s a problem.  That’s when our what ifs get out of control, making us worry “what if this happens just like this over here happened X years ago”.  Or “this smells like what happened before with X, so I better steer clear of XYZ”.  That’s living in the past and the future.

What is happening right in front of you?  Are you PRESENTLY in some sort of danger?  Look, if you are, I would hope that continuing to read my blog is NOT the top of your priority list.  But it is very likely that you are not.  So, what’s with the what ifs then?  How can we pull ourselves out of this nasty, unforgiving circle of the past and the future mushed together in a stinky ball?

First step: Awareness. By first recognizing that you are in the what if circle, you’re already a step ahead.  Awareness brings us to the here and now.

Next step: Relocating your energy. The past is something that you cannot change and you can never predict the future with 100% accuracy.  So why put so much energy into trying to change the unchangeable?

Next: Recognizing what you do have control over: your own actions, your own responses to a situation, right here, right now.  Trying to control what might occur, trying to predict others’ reactions to you just isn’t your monkey.

And last but not least: Give yourself permission to go with the flow.  Now does that mean never plan anything?  Hell no!  We’ve got adult-ing to do people!  Of course we have to schedule and plan things accordingly.  What I mean is allowing things to be just as they are without trying to control all aspects for YOUR OWN COMFORT.  The more energy you spend on doing that, the more frustrating it is when things don’t pan out the way you wanted them to. (I smell some recovering perfectionist stuff in the air here).

So off to my speech.  I cannot predict how the audience, the foundation, the person who entrusted me to stand in front of all of these people will respond to what I have to say.  I cannot predict how everyone will perceive me, and focusing on past responses to my appearance and dialect would stop me from ever getting in front of these kind individuals in the first place.  I cannot control how others interact with me.  I can only control how I interact with them.  I control what I chose to say and not say.  As I move from moment to moment, I can chose to be present as I stand before the audience, or live in the past where I’ve been humiliated, or in the future of what if I humiliate myself.  My friends, I have a feeling I know if you were in my shoes what you would chose.  And off I go, pushing myself to be mindful and present throughout today, even if it is moment by moment.

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