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“My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.” – Montaigne.

How often have we spent a significant portion of our lives worrying about what will happen, what could happen, what might happen?  Devoting all our efforts to worrying about all manner of terrible misfortunes which could befall us, rather than concentrating upon the task in hand.

And even worse, worrying about what would have happened or could have happened or might have happened!  So that instead of dealing with reality, we continue to expend considerable time, energy and effort worrying about all the would, could, might have happened things which didn’t happen, leaving ourselves no time to reflect upon the things which actually happened, to appreciate our successes, and to work out what to do next.

  • And yet, for all our time worrying about all the possible misfortunes and disasters which might befall us, how many of them actually happened?

    Chances are, if you are like the vast majority of the population, very few of them at all; and of those that did, they were almost certainly much less of a problem than you had originally feared.

    And, while we are being honest with each other, in those cases where we did encounter misfortune it was quite probably something we hadn’t foreseen or thought about anyway!

    When we worry incessantly about what could or might go wrong, we are doing several things –

    1. We are using up valuable mental resources which could otherwise be devoted to constructive activities
    2. We start to worry and even panic more and more about things that have not happened and probably won’t happen
    3. We devote so much of our time to over-worrying about some things that we completely miss things which can actually happen.

    Not to mention that what we focus on grows, so by focusing on what potential major disaster may befall us, we can actually at some level end up inadvertently bringing it about!

    Wait, what? We can cause misfortune by thinking about it? How does THAT work?!
    Simply because we spend so much of our time focusing on it, that some part of our mind actually interprets it as something we want (after all, if we didn’t want it why would we spend so much time thinking about it? Who would be daft enough to spend so much time thinking about something they don’t want?) and sets about seeing if it can help us achieve it.

    Ooops!

    So, but focusing on all the misfortunes we don’t want, we either help to bring them to fruition, or else at best we just waste so much of our time and effort thinking about things that will never happen (or would never have happened had we not spent so much time thinking about them).

    “Ah, but we must consider all the things which could go wrong so we can plan for them” is a common response.

    And yes, it is true that it is good practise to consider where a plan might fail so that alternatives can be put in place or the failure avoided in the first place.

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    However, there is a huge difference between having an eye for potential pitfalls and worrying ourselves to death by imagining all manner of disasters which, if we are honest, aren’t going to happen.

    And it is more important to focus on what we are doing, what can go right, and enjoying the process.

    So next time you find yourself asking “What if it doesn’t work”, pause for a moment, take a few deep breaths, and ask yourself “And what if it DOES work?”
    Similarly “What if [bad thing] were to happen?” – ask yourself “And what if it doesn’t happen?”

    After all, life is filled with things which could theoretically go wrong.
    Even deciding to get out of bed is fraught with potential imaginary danger – what if you fell and broke your arm getting out of bed? Hey, it could happen! So best stay in bed, safer that way. Only, what if the ceiling collapsed on you while you were in that bed – ooops!

    Consider the trapeze artist. They realise they might fall which would be a major disaster, so they have a safety net and they get on with it. They don’t then start worrying about “What if the safety net broke?” !

    So next time you find yourself conjuring up all manner of disastrous possibilities and worrying endlessly about them to the point where you end up doing nothing, think back to all the other times you imagined lots of disasters and notice how almost none of them ever happened anyway.

    And in doing so, allow yourself to avoid the most serious misfortune of all – that of not actually doing what you want to do! That, in the end, is the ONLY real major misfortune, and it is one which is completely within your own control.

    Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment and share your thoughts!