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Escaping Analysis Paralysis: Shifting from 'What If' to 'What Is'

If we focus on the “what if,” we tend to miss the “what is.” ~Red Werner

Single rain cloud raining on man with tiny umbrella, on an otherwise sunny day

How often have you been with someone who talks about all the horrible things that could happen in life?


They focus on things that haven’t happened, but are obsessed with the fact they possibly could, living in the fear of “what if.”

 

Even when they experience something good—getting a promotion, falling in love, receiving an unexpected inheritance, etc.—their story sounds something like…


“I got the promotion, but the new management is difficult, so I’ll probably get laid off.” 

“I know my partner loves me now, but statistically, most relationships only last six months…so we probably won’t last either.”

“I received this billion-dollar inheritance, but the taxes will probably bankrupt me!”

 

What if” people get stuck in a constant state of emotional paralysis. They don’t understand why people don’t want to be around them or why they have so few friends. They aren’t usually the first to be invited to parties—particularly not intimate gatherings. People are hesitant with these

what if-ers", concerned that sharing anything special will elicit their negative focus, putting a damper on their excitement.

 

Understanding the "What If" Mindset

I have interacted with many people stuck in the “what if” mindset, but as an enthusiastic and optimistic person, I struggled to understand their way of thinking. In learning how to interact with the “what if-ers", I decided to lean into my sense of humor by lovingly dubbing them, “Eeyores.”

 

Do you remember Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh? Always discouraged, living in fear of what could happen—dreary voice saying things like, “sky is blue, but I know the rain is a-comin’. ”

 

Studying these “Eeyores” made me want to take on the role of the wise old Owl; I decided to help them move from “what if,” to “what is” so they wouldn’t continue missing out on the freedom of living in the moment.

 

Analysis Paralysis

Something I realized the “Eeyores” all had in common was analysis paralysis. In this context, analysis paralysis happens when a person dwells on what could happen and then finds themselves spinning in all the “what ifs,” keeping them from making any decisions, sometimes diving even deeper—analyzing the analysis—getting stuck in a state of agonizing defeat.

 

It’s like a train on a track, going around and around—destination in mind, but never getting anywhere.


(*choo choo* All aboard the Analysis Paralysis Express!)

 

But the “Eeyores” had another commonality as well: a deep desire to break free from the “what ifs,” to live fully, and have the courage to go after their dreams. What they didn’t realize is that if they shifted their focus from the negative possibilities to what truly matters in life—to what they wanted—the at-stakeness would propel them forward.


Moving Past Analysis Paralysis

If you know someone who is stuck in the “what ifs,” here are a few questions to help them move forward:

 

  • What do they love most about themselves?

  • What are three things they are grateful for?

  • When was a time they feared an outcome would be “bad,” but ended up working out better than expected?

  • What do they attribute their success and other good things in life to?

  • What truly matters to them, and what do they want out of life?

  • Is there a reason they choose to live in the “what if” instead of the “what is?”

  • Are they aware of how the “what ifs” make them feel? What is at stake by choosing to stay paralyzed?

  • How does feeling bad about things that haven’t happened serve them?

  • What do they fear is the worst outcome if their desired outcome doesn’t happen?

  • Would they like to get off the “analysis paralysis train” to have something different?

    • If they say yes, suggest that when they feel stuck in analysis paralysis, stop for a moment and ask what the worst scenario could be. Then, invite them to step forward into what they say matters.

  • Ask them how you can support and encourage them to live in the freedom of “what is?”

           

What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments how you can help others let go of “what if” and live in “what is”.
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