“What if?” is my least favorite phrase in the entire English language. Scratch that. Out of the five thousand plus languages out there, “what if?” is by far the worst phrase.
Second-guessing ourselves is a part of human nature. We make thousands of decisions over the course of our lifetimes, dozens of them each day. And when we make particularly bad decisions, decisions that severely effect us, it’s easy to reflect upon those choices and ask ourselves where we would be if we hadn’t made them, to wonder how it would have played out had we done something different.
But just because second-guessing is a part of human nature doesn’t mean we should do it. Asking ourselves “what if?” is a very dangerous thing. It opens us up to an endless amount of questions and outcomes. It fills us with anger and regret. Useless anger and regret, I might add, because dwelling on what could have been won’t change anything. Thinking about how you should have handled your mistakes won’t allow you to redo them. Life isn’t like typing an essay. You can’t simply delete the parts that you dislike and reword them.
As scary as it seems, our choices are concrete. Everything that happens is permanent. Nothing can be redone or erased or repeated. Using phrases like “what if?” won’t make anything better, no matter how much we want them to.
Although some better outcome could have theoretically occurred, we shouldn’t waste our time wondering about the hypothetical. Instead we should channel our efforts into what we can change: the present and the future. We may not be able to get rid of our mistakes, but we can work to mend them. We may not be able to rethink our poor choices, but we can keep them in mind as we venture further into life.
It all starts with eliminating phrases like “what if?” from our vocabulary. Instead of thinking about what we should have done then, let’s think about what we can do now. Let’s look ahead rather than behind.
How do you feel about the phrase “what if?” ?