How to Avoid the “What If” Train Wreck

Train Wreck

Ever had that moment when you really wanted to say something — maybe crack a joke or make a point that no one else had seen yet – but instead found yourself wondering what the consequences for speaking up would be?

 

“What if I say something stupid?”

“What if nobody agrees with me?”

“What if my joke’s not funny?”

“What if I get embarrassed and my face turns red?”

“What if I’m so nervous I stutter and spit flies into my boss’s coffee?

 

So instead of speaking your mind, you just keep your mouth shut. After all, you sure as hell don’t want to spit into your boss’s coffee, right? At least, not when he’s looking.

That, my friend, is the “what if” train wreck. You let all these imaginary scenarios take over your mind to the point that non-action was the only choice you were comfortable with.

And as you can see, sometimes these scenarios are just plain ridiculous.

 

That Train Has Left the Station

But it doesn’t really matter how ridiculous the scenario might be, what matters is how it affects you.

 

  • It distracts you from the present – It’s impossible to focus on the moment when we’re in our heads and worrying about what might happen in the future.
  • It makes you anxious – As far as your mind is concerned, those “what if” scenarios are real . . . they’re actually happening. You might even begin to show physical symptoms like an accelerated heart rate, sweating and heavy breathing.
  • It breeds inaction – This is the worst possible outcome. You’ve let your out of control imagination stop you dead in your tracks. Now you’re just standing still . . . going nowhere.

 

Once you’ve started down those tracks, it can be next to impossible to stop that “what if” freight train. You’ve set yourself on a collision course. More and more scenarios start going through your head. One scenario spawns another. Each one is more extreme than the last.

They gain steam. Fear and doubt take control.

And then you crash.

You cave to your irrational worries and become paralyzed. A wreck. Just sittin’ there unable to do jack shit. All because of a few ridiculous thoughts racing through your head – most of which never even have a chance of coming true.

 

Don’t Even Board That Train

The best way to avoid the wreck is to stay off the train in the first place. Easier said than done, I know. But it helps to be aware of a few things when you find you thoughts drifting to all those “what if” scenarios . . .

People don’t give a shit – I don’t mean to sound like an asshole, but seriously, people are not that into you. You’re sittin’ there worrying about what they’re gonna think if you say something stupid.

Well, I’ll tell you what they’re gonna think . . . nothing.

They’re too caught up in their own little world to care about some stupid shit you might say. They might even be on that same train, about to crash themselves. So don’t sweat it. No one’s paying much attention anyway.

All you can see are negative outcomes – Think about it. When you start losing your thoughts to ‘what ifs,” do they ever come with a happy ending?

No.

Each and every one is a worse case scenario. At the very least, a rational mind would come up with a ratio closer to 50/50.

But all you can see is the negative.

That’s because “what ifs” are actually an infestation. Like a fucking maggot’s nest in your brain. One begets another and soon your mind is riddled with ‘em. You’ll never see clearly when your thoughts are that infected.

You just don’t fucking KNOW! This is the cold hard truth. Whatever the scenario going through your head, whatever negative thoughts may be festering, the fact is you have no clue what’s going to happen until it happens. No clue whatsoever.

But it ain’t gonna happen is it? You’ve crashed.

So the only result you’re left with is nothing. Because you did nothing. Now imagine a lifetime of such choices.

How’s that gonna feel at the end of your days? A life of nothing.

 

But what if it’s too late? Those “what ifs” have started creeping into your thoughts and you feel that familiar sense of doubt stating to take over?

Is there any hope for you this late in the game?

 

How to Change Tracks

So you’ve boarded the train and now it’s left the station. Whatever it is you want to say, whatever it is you want to do, you find yourself stuck. One “what if” turns into two, turns into four. The infection is spreading and you’re becoming paralyzed. Afraid to act.

What do you do?

At this point it’s make or break. You have to decide and you have to decide quickly. Decisively. No time for long mental debates about the pros and cons. No time for step-by-step procedures. No lollygagging.

You have just this one second to act. Or not. The coin’s been tossed and it can fall heads or tails.

Again, what do you do?

The answer is surprisingly simple. You only need two little words. My favorite two little words.

Fuck it.

They work like magic. It’s like flipping a switch. In an instant you go from anxiety to action. From worrywart to a fucking superhero.

I’ve written about the power of these two little words before. While that post focused on their ability to snap you out of procrastination, “fuck it” can be used for so much more. In fact, I think it’s time I revisit the idea. Reveal its true power.

So for my next post I’m going to really dig in to the Theory of Fuck It. Show you why it works so well, and more importantly, how to get the most from it.

I’ll even show you how it can change your life. No bullshit.

So stay tuned . . .

Cheers!

(Photo by Studio Lévy and Sons, courtesy of Robyn Jay at flickr.)

Stand Up and TAKE CHARGE!

If you're sick of the same 'ol shit; if you're ready to make real and lasting change; or if you're just looking for a kick in the ass, then sign up here to get advice, insight, and inspiration delivered right to your inbox. Always bullshit-free.

I will never share your email address or abuse it with spam.

Comments

  1. Jesus, I used to be TERRIBLE with this stuff. “What if” used to run through my head all the time because past-Vincent would be crippled with inaction.

    Nowadays I adopted a new rule where I start a timer in my head of five seconds. The moment it hits 5 I HAVE to do whatever it is I told myself to do right then and there. That takes self-discipline in itself, but it’s definitely something. Haven’t broken the rule yet!

    • I like it Vincent! That sounds like it works on pretty much the same principle as “fuck it.” It’s about conditioning yourself to just make that decision in short order . . . the longer you wait, the harder it’ll be to act.

      And though it requires self-discipline, it’s very trainable. I’ll be going into some depth about the why’s and how’s in the follow up, but with time this kind of thing — whether by saying “fuck it” or counting to five — can become an extremely powerful tool to snap you out of inaction.

      Cheers!

    • I used to have the complete opposite problem Vincent as I have been known to suffer from a serious dose of verbal diahorrea during in person conversations in the past. I had to change my behaviour to place some filters and stop myself acting or often re-acting too quickly.

      Sometimes inaction can be the best form of action to take!

  2. Train wrecks can happen when others do care. But you’re right, most of the time others are paying little attention. Sometimes I have to be careful about saying too much in writing.

    • You make a point Dan. But then, I guess a wreck can happen at any time. And those “what ifs” can really take a toll on our writing. It’s so easy to get caught up in wondering how readers will react if we say too much, or say the wrong thing. We just have so much time to sit and contemplate all those worst case scenarios.

      If it wasn’t for “fuck it,” I probably wouldn’t have posted half of my best posts. It’s usually best not to over think things.

      Cheers!

  3. Hey!!!! Mr. Big used that photo on Lean Into It. I just purchased Green Tinted 60s Mind on iTunes Saturday night!!! Ok, sorry for the dating myself, music nerd outburst. Someone stated that repartee is what you think of saying about a minute too late or something of the like. But the meaning is the same. We often wait until it is too late to say what we are thinking or freeze and cannot think at all because we are filled with fear. I say, let it fly and if apologies are needed, tend to them later.

    And brilliant to bring back the Fuck It, Trevor!

    • Thanks CJ! “Fuck it” is long overdue for a makeover. I think you’ll like the outfit I’ve chosen for it in my next post.

      As for repartee, I always think of things at least 10 minutes too late, if not hours too late while I’m trying to fall asleep. I’d be thrilled with a 60 second reaction time. That’s just enough time to give an “Oh by the way . . . ” a nice dramatic heft.

      And you have to admit, it is a pretty damn cool picture, no?

      Cheers!

  4. Hi Trevor,

    This was a wonderful post, my friend! I appreciated the way you explained this concept as being like riding a train.

    This post really came to me at the right time. Just today I had an incident where I wanted to say something but hesitated because I thought I might look a little stupid. Afterwards I wished I’d said it and all the while, as you stated in your post, I wasn’t in the present moment.

    Thanks very much Trevor. Next time I’m just going to say it.

    • Awesome Hiten! If you can pepper your replies with a heavy dose of “fuck it” attitude, you’ll find the conversation spicy and delicious.

      And thanks for the compliment on the train analogy. I thought it fitting since these “what if” scenarios are often so much like a speeding train. Once they get started it can be damn near impossible to make them stop.

      Until we crash of course.

      Cheers!

  5. Wow! I’ve used that photo, too (for “My Life as a Walking Train Wreck”) …

    I’m just coming to recognize the joy of “Fuck It!” – because the chances are pretty-damn-good that indeed, folks aren’t paying *that much* attention to what you’re about to do. Especially if you’re dithering over the very beginning of something, or behind-the-scenes options.

    Happy Monday to you!

    Karen (from the Jolly Hoombah ‘hood)

    • Ain’t it a cool picture Karen? It illustrates a train wreck so perfectly I just had to use it.

      I like how you phrase it as “the joy of “Fuck It!” That’s sounds about right. It IS a joy when you can just express yourself or do what you want without those “what ifs” taking control and keeping you from acting on your instincts. It truly frees you to become the person you are, and to not worry so much about what others think of the real you.

      It’s made a HUGE difference in my own life, and I imagine that it can make a difference in others as well.

      Thanks for stopping by Karen. All sorts of good folks over at Hoombah land.

      Cheers!

  6. Oh boy, Trevor! I had to read yours a little earlier tonight. If I save it for before bed, I can’t sleep thinking I am Super Woman or some nerdier version of her. Well, I have to say that, like Vincent, I was sooooo much worse in my past. I am still pretty bad, truth be told, but I am getting much better about saying it. I rarely have to apologize either. It’s so much more fun to be like that instead of caught up in my head worrying about people who aren’t thinking about what I’m doing or saying. It’s so liberating to realize that. Once you realize that you’re really only fighting against yourself, you can kick your own ass and move on with it.

    PS – I like how it feels like you’re yelling at me. The bold and italics really makes me feel like, Yeah, I better not not say that thing or Trevor will reach through my computer, grab me by the collar, and shake me. It’s effective! Thank you!

    • Ha! No worries Tammy . . . I’m a nice guy. Really.

      I’m with you and Vincent. The older I get the less and less I find myself cruising that “what if” train. But I think we’re all more self-conscious when we’re younger. Age takes many things away from us, but one thing it gives us is perspective. And the more perspective you have, the less you get caught up in what others may think about you.

      And I like the idea of kicking your own ass Tammy, but have you ever tried it? It looks a bit funny. I’m just not sure I could take myself seriously if I was kicking my own ass all the time.

      Cheers!

  7. I think that is going to have to be my mantra. I’ll just wander around chanting “fuck it” to myself. To be fair, I think pretty much all my best decisions in life have happened right after thinking something to that effect. I’ll have to try that five second thing Vincent recommended too. I think this will seriously help me. Thanks! :-D

    • Here’s hoping it works as well for you as it does for me. But if you walk around chanting “fuck it” to yourself, be sure nobody overhears you. Or you’re gonna get some funny looks.

      Cheers!

  8. I like to think that I’m not overly self concious but I psych myself out. For instance, I’ll say something that nobody laughs at or that nobody responds to, or that just sounds dumb and I’ll tell myself I have to watch myself after that.

    • I’ve been there too. It sucks when you feel like you have to be on your guard with your words or your actions. It denies you the ability to just be yourself and say what you please. Unfortunately, I think that’s a pretty common experience.

      Thanks for the comment.

      Cheers!

  9. I find that I’m more likely to have the ‘what if’ problem when socializing online. Not always, but sometimes. In person, I really don’t care. I say what I want. Maybe there’s something about seeing my words on screen and being able to re-read them that makes me more hesitant. At least in person my words aren’t hanging out there to be analyzed.

    Really looking forward to your next post! I loved the article about procrastination :)

    • I know what you mean Denise. When you write something it’s out there for all eternity. You can’t take those words back. And while you can’t take back what you say either, everyone that heard you will soon forget what was said anyway, so your words are effectively gone forever.

      So I can sympathize.

      And I tend to say a lot of stupid shit anyway. Good thing for “Fuck it” or I’d never get anything written.

      Next article’s coming along nicely — I think you’ll like it.

      Cheers!

      • As you know Trevor, writing a blog takes a big dose of ‘fuck it’ attitude :)

        I like your observation that ‘As far as your mind is concerned, those “what if” scenarios are real . . . they’re actually happening.’ If only people were more aware of this it would have a huge impact in how they think and act.

        I am not sure if I agree 100% that people don’t give a shit, it hasn’t been my experience in my personal or business life but I can’t quite articulate it here….I’m away to think about it :)

        • Let me know what you come up with Scott. I’m always keen to hear others opinions on the matter. And you’re right . . . writing a blog takes a hefty dose of “fuck it.”

          I’m sure half of my best posts would’ve never been published if I hadn’t just said “fuck it” and hit that Publish button. Whether due to fear of what others might think, or because my perfectionist nature was starting to take control, many posts could have easily gone into the rejection bin. But a big ‘ol fat “fuck it” later they were published and ended up being some of my most popular posts.

          Cheers!

  10. Hey Trevor, great post. I’ve read a book called “Stop Giving a Fuck” and it touches on all of this.

    One of the things I’ve been doing as part of my morning ritual is to wake up and do 10 minutes of stream of consciousness writing. No filter, write it all down. Then I do 5 minutes of the same thing, except talking. No filter, say it all.

    Hopefully this will have a big impact on removing my filter. Take care

    • Oh hell! That sounds like my kinda book! I seriously gotta check it out.

      And I like your morning ritual here Mans. Especially the “no filter” part. Most of us go through life in a constant state of filtering and watering down who we really are, what we really stand for.

      In other words, we’re being fake.

      I think you’ll find that your unfiltered writing DOES have a carryover effect into all other areas of your life. It certainly has for me.

      Cheers!

  11. Fear is the reason we give up on our dreams and pursuits. Luckily, I realized that when I was just graduated from high school. I always asked myself a question: if I don’t do it now, when I am going to have the courage to do it? Might as well do it now, see some results and try to benefit from it, whatever it is. Take your chance in life OR you’ll be left behind like other suckers. Great post Trevor!

    • Way to rock it Elena! I wish I had been as smart as you when I was that age. I was just plain fucking dumb when I was fresh out of high school. The last thing I was thinking about was my future or developing the courage to go for it (whatever “it” may have been).

      “Take your chance in life OR you’ll be left behind like other suckers.”

      I love it! Straight up truth right there. I know because I was one of those suckers once. Sure am glad those days are gone. I got better things to do now.

      Sounds like you do too.

      Cheers!

  12. Oh yes, spending too much time wondering what people will think of you. How many people stop themselves just from this worry? And honestly, you’re right: fuck it. Who cares? I’ve said stupid and unfunny things before. Everyone does.

    I almost think that if you have this fear, you should purposely say something unfunny just so you can realize that it’s no big deal. Other people brush it off so why can’t you? Most people are too busy paying attention to how other people perceive them that they don’t notice when you say something unfunny.

    • Exactly Steve. It’s just not that big a deal, even though we make it into something huge in our heads. We replay the scenario over and over . . .

      If only I hadn’t said . . .

      What I should’ve said was . . .

      Now they must think I’m a total . . .

      By the time you’ve rerun the script in your head for the umpteenth time, everyone else has already forgotten about it and moved on. So whatever. Get over it. You said some stupid shit . . . now it’s time to move on with your life.

      That’s where “fuck it” comes in so handy. It works wonderfully when combined with “oh well,” as in . . .

      “Oh well, fuck it.”

      Cheers!

  13. Fuck it/ YOLO/ Go Big or Go Home
    “Life’s a box of chocolates…”

  14. So true Trevor. I love how arrogant we are to think the whole world is watching our every move with bated breath. Who do you think you are?!

    • Yes! Arrogance is exactly what it is. As if the whole world is hanging onto our every word. As though we’re the fucking center of the universe.

      What a joke.

      We just need to get over ourselves . . . everyone else already has.

      Thanks for stopping by Liz! It’s always such a treat.

      Cheers!

  15. Great post Trever! I’ve found drinking a couple beers allows me to put my “what if” to death. Though during work or the day I can’t drink beer (I could but would not have a job for long:) So have found the importance of being comfortable and ok about my self with my strengths, personality, and weaknesses. Once we can be fine or comfortable about who we are and how we have been created we often avoid the “train wrecks of life.” Great post!

    • Thanks Dan! I used to work at a bakery that had a whole fridge full of beer that we could drink during our shift. No limit on the amount. The only rule was that we didn’t let the customers see us drunk. And it’s true, a couple drinks certainly can help you through those “what if” moments.

      Can’t believe I ever left.

      But yeah, being comfortable with yourself helps just as well. Because being comfortable with yourself brings confidence, and most “what if” moments are brought about through a lack of confidence.

      Thanks for stopping by Dan!

      Cheers!

      • :) A bit of “brain lube” can be a useful shortcut, but “comfortable with yourself” is a more lasting solution, fersure.

      • What a cool job!!!

        • Well . . . I never really took advantage of that perk. I was more interested in doing the best job I could do.

          What a loser.

          How could I pass up all that free beer? If I could go back and do it over again, I’d be wasted all the time. Just for shits and giggles really.

          Ok, maybe not ALL the time, but at least some of the time. Where I work now we have “beer fridays”, but it’s limited to 1 or 2 beers after the end of the day. Still pretty cool though . . . a free beer a week is better than no free beer a week.

          Cheers!

  16. A great post! I definitely think a good way of steering clear of the ‘what if’ cycle, is to practice being in the ‘now’. Once we’ve learnt how to stop worrying about the future and are able to keep ourselves in the here and now, the ‘what ifs’ will no longer be a problem.

    • Definitely Jess. Keeping a present state of mind is huge when it comes to avoiding that “what if” train wreck. In fact, I’d say it’s damn near impossible to lose your thinking to “what ifs” when you’re totally present. It just can’t happen. Because by definition, a “what if” is thinking ahead to some possible future, but living in the present is just living in the present. And it’s the living in the here and now that can be tricky.

      Cheers!

  17. A great Post Trevor!….I used to have a lot of “Fuck it” attitude in my childhood and teenage because I actually didn’t care about anyone that time and even now, I don’t prefer to. But since I am in a Corporate world right now, I have to actually think a lot and throw my words to people as my words can either step me one ladder up or make me fall on my face. I want to be bold, speak anything I want, don’t want to give a shit about what people think of me…But I can’t stay that way as I need to look upon several factors before I open my mouth…It’s hard for me but I have to deal with it….I console myself at the end of the day by saying myself “It was OK. What you did was right and be Cool about it”
    That’s my life.
    I really appreciate your Post and would like to hear from you in future.
    Cheers!

    • Thanks Manjeet! I appreciate it.

      But I have to say, you’re “corporate lifestyle” seems to be a bit incongruent with who you are inside. Anytime you need to “console” yourself about your actions should be viewed as a big fucking warning sign. That’s a flashing red light telling you to get the fuck out. Now.

      What you’re describing is exactly how I felt during my one and a half years of office life. And what you are experiencing is the uncomfortable corporate leash that’s slowly being tightened around your neck.

      You’ve been tamed, my friend.

      And that’s no way for a man to live. No fucking way at all.

      I hope you find your way brother.

      Good Luck!

Speak Your Mind

*