- We condition ourselves to negative outcomes through what-ifs that foretell a bleak tomorrow.
- The problem that arises: This repetitive negative self-talk will eventually germinate into pessimism and depression.
- Ironically, why-not thoughts have the potential to turn the what-ifs around.
The preponderance of negative thoughts we have, four to seven times as many as positive thoughts, leads us down a very scary pathway to our future. If we let it. Our What If thinking is like a handicap in golf, a mindset that creates needless worry and concern.
A major reason our negative thoughts are so predominant is a pattern of constant reinforcement. We condition ourselves to negative outcomes through what-ifs that foretell a bleak tomorrow.
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right.”—Henry Ford
What-ifs are almost always registered as negative. We prognosticate the worst-case scenarios probably as a means to be prepared for the worst. “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst” is a well-known adage that programs negative thinking.
Pessimism and Depression
The problem that arises is that this repetitive negative self-talk will eventually germinate into pessimism and depression. Being depressed puts us in the pit of our emotionality. We now have a longer journey to unleash our positivity. We create an emotional handicap, which makes it even harder to find the good stuff. Depression also diminishes motivation and drive. These are the very components needed to rise from the pit. We need to diffuse automatic negative thoughts which lower self-esteem and make it harder to make decisions (Amen, 2015).
We can always ask the question “Why?” in any situation. But how we answer is really the key. The preponderance of negative thoughts leads to most why questions feeling threatening. “Why me?” This is the most obvious response to negative life experiences. We struggle to think “Why not me?” We struggle to even say “Why not.” Ironically, why-not thoughts have the potential to turn the what-if thoughts around.
Instead of putting negative possibilities upfront, we could consider some of the positive possibilities available. Why show up? Why not show up and see what happens? Nothing happens when we don’t show up. Why predict what we don’t know? Maybe there is a fear of finding out something about ourselves that we are not sure we want to know.
Just Do It
How do we face uncertainty? Nike’s Just Do It slogan was a way to push athletes through their uncertainty while performing. We are all performers. We all need to push through our uncertainties. Paradoxically, Nike’s Dan Wieden altered Let’s Do It, which came from convicted murderer Gary Gilmore’s statement shortly before his execution. Wieden’s slogan is all about taking the negative and turning it into a positive.
Similarly, passengers on United Flight 93, on 9/11, thought: What If this plane is just another missile of destruction? They decided: “We have to do something.” The last words heard: “Let’s roll.” “Just Do It.” This rejected the negativity of what if.
“If you surrender to the wind, you can ride it.”—oni Morrison
Part of our resistance to finding the why-nots is getting out of our own way. We set arbitrary self-limitations on ourselves that sabotage our potential. Asking “Why Not” at least gives into the possibility of a successful outcome. We are not self-limiting but rather self-promoting our abilities.
The ability to create a new direction in business is full of uncertainties. There is the financial risk. You also will have to create and maintain a vision that maybe no one else has been able to fulfill. There may be surprises that you did not foresee but you will have to hold onto your passion and believe in yourself. The whole journey of being an entrepreneur is full of what-ifs that are turned into why not.
The unemployment rate for actors according to the Actor’s Equity Association is around 90 percent. Why would anyone believe they could make a living as an actor? Perhaps, the aspiring actor asks, “Why not me?'
It seems unlikely that any actor making it in the profession would have started with more what-ifs than why-not. These people would have to be some of the most optimistic people on the planet. They persevere against the odds by not accepting the odds for themselves.
The uncertainties of work life in the future are escalating all the time. Tomorrowmind, a recent book about the future of work by Gabriella Rosen Kellerman and Martin Seligman, suggests that our resilience, growth mindset, self-compassion, and support network will be even more salient in the ever-increasing technological future of the workplace. The gist of the book is about our potential to deal with uncertainty by developing our psychological strengths to a higher level.
We cannot be passive about change, we will have to navigate adversity through our psychological well-being. Part of that skill will come through asking ourselves not What If but Why Not.
Amen, D.G. (2015). Change Your Brain, Change Your Life (Revised and Expanded): The Breakthrough Program for Conquering Anxiety, Depression, Obsessiveness, Lack of Focus, Anger, and Memory Problems. Harmony, 480 pages.
Kellerman, G.R. & Seligman, M. (2023). Tomorrowmind. Atria Books, 288 pages.