The Power of "What If?" to Combat Fear

Everyone has a dream. A secret goal of some sort that they haven’t gone after yet. It might be a career switch. It could be a business startup idea. It may be the plot for the next great novel. Whatever it is, professional or otherwise, most of us leave it to shrivel away because we’re afraid. Afraid of failure.

Even worse, you might not consciously be aware that you even have a secret ambition. The fear of failure has pre-emptively hidden it away. Tucked it way back in your mental sock drawer.

In either case, I want to introduce you to the power of WHAT IF. To the power of asking yourself questions in order to move forward. Move up. Move on. Author and journalist Warren Berger explores this very idea in his new book “A More Beautiful Question” by looking at the right kind of questions.

In general, the “what if” question forces us to look at something from a completely new perspective. To change the landscape and rearrange the furniture, presenting us with something in a way we’ve never seen before. And that is the path to new ideas, new connections, and new ways of thinking.

What If Failure Wasn’t Possible?

This first question opens us to new ideas. If failure was not possible, what would you be doing with your life? There are no limits, and removing the fear of failure (which we all have) gets you thinking about other more important elements, like job satisfaction, fulfillment, and good old-fashioned excitement.

Changing careers, for example, scares most of us, regardless of age. We worry about having to start at the bottom again, and having to work extra hard to earn our stripes. And if it doesn’t work out (i.e. we fail), it would all be for naught. This nagging fear of failure stops us from recognizing our true calling. Asking this “what if” at least opens the door a crack, and allows us to peek in at our unconscious wants and desires. But, realistically, we know the potential for failure is still there.

What If I Maintain the Status Quo?

That said, some of us imagine the worst, and somehow see no way to bounce back. And that’s that. The fear of failure is too powerful to overcome.

If you find yourself in that thinking, ask this question. Really think about it. Analyze it. Break it into smaller parts. If you stay in the same job for which you feel nothing, for example - what would that mean? You might focus on the guaranteed security, or the steady paycheck, and that’s fine. But doing nothing means you’re not moving forward. You’re not changing. And if you’re thinking about this stuff in the first place, it’s most likely because you feel a draw or pull to do something. Doing nothing is the easier choice, but that doesn’t always make it the better one.

What If I Don’t Succeed?

We should face our fear. Grab it by the throat and pull it to within inches of our own face. Examine it from every angle, asking the next crucial “what if”. In this scenario, we choose to accept the potential failure, but we look past it. What would we do next? Does failure in any one particular endeavor (even something as important as your career) automatically signal the end of the world? Is recovery possible? Sketch out the specific steps that you could take to recover from the worst case scenario. Now, look at that recovery plan. It’s probably nowhere near as bad as it was in your head, right? It’s how we deal with fear and failure that makes us who we are. Look, failure is a part of life, but assessing the risk and choosing to chance it anyway is the smart way to grow and move forward. With a plan.

What If I Succeed?

Instead, next try and focus only on the positive. A major change is scary because we fear failing. We tend to hone in on the possible negative consequences. Always. But...what if you succeed? What if you switch careers later in life, and are wildly good at it? How would that affect you? Imagine the benefits to your health (physical, mental, and emotional), your demeanor, your outlook on life.

Success is not a given at any time, but neither is failure. We need to change our thinking but focussing on the possible POSITIVE outcome. Latch on to it.

Once you make the decision to make a change, even if you do eventually fail, it’s obviously still an opportunity to grow and learn. Again, the tendency is to zero in on the mistakes, dissecting everything we did wrong, over and over. Learning from our mistakes is important to our development, but it shouldn’t be at the detriment of ignoring what we did right. So celebrate the mini successes within the failure. Build off of them. And keep trying.


Photo by Vic

Creative Commons License