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5 Steps to Stop the “What If” Treadmill

Quick note: Be sure to head over to the Brazen Careerist’s Blog (Brazen Life) this afternoon, where I share 4 Ways to Get Pumped About Your Current Job.

The act of starting is the key to success that many of us never reach because we are still on a treadmill loop of the What Ifs. For each decision, there are several different outcomes, barriers, potential domino effects, and so on. And if you’re anything like me, you hesitate to make a decision until you have thought of every single What If, a thousand times over. It becomes your new internal soundtrack. You can’t concentrate on anything else. Your brain is stuck on examining all of the reasons why you absolutely cannot move forward in a specific direction: you’re not going to get paid enough, you don’t have enough experience, you’re too young, you have a family to support, you’ve never lived away from your parents before, how could you waste so much money or so much time. Pretty soon, one small What If, turns into a huge story you tell yourself – all swirling around in your head, gaining steam and traction, until you are certain that you original idea was so ridiculous, that you were crazy to think it in the first place.

Being the over-analyzer that I am, this What If treadmill used to be my friend (and probably the only treadmill I’d ever hop on). It used to keep me comfortable, it used to keep me on the safe path, and it refused to let me DO anything that had any value to me. And even more than holding me back from starting or doing, it was also insulating me from who I truly am. I couldn’t possibly quit my job, or move across the country, or get a cat, or buy a new car, or go back to school, or so on – only after getting off that mental treadmill, was I able to see how much I was holding myself back – wishing that I had taken many steps so much sooner.

5 Steps to Get off the What If Treadmill

  1. Get all of your What Ifs out of your head. I know, genius, right? But stop giving your What Ifs power by letting them grow and fester in your mind. WRITE THEM DOWN. Stop living in your head. Be fully transparent with yourself, you do not have to share your What Ifs with anyone, but write down in one setting, each and every potential road block along with all of the intricacies. Do not stop at only the “why I can’t do this,” but also capture “the because” that follows. This step alone will help you feel lighter, and less pressured – I promise. If you still feel as though you’re stuck in a specific decision cycle, continue to the next step.
  2. Reality-check your treadmill. Seeing your various options written down on paper in front of you, cross out the ones that feel ridiculous – sometimes our minds get away from the reality of the situation, and seeing it written can seem like it’s laughable or even implausible. Cross the What Ifs that make no sense to you on paper, and if they all make sense, at least you have thoroughly reviewed your options.
  3. Worst case scenario it. In college, my roommate gave me the Worst Case Scenario book and it made me realize that sometimes the worst thing that could happen isn’t all that bad after all. Go back and review your remaining list and figure out what is the absolute worst thing that could happen for each If. Think each scenario all the way through and be sure to capture it on your index card or paper.
  4. Let it breathe. You do not have to make a decision right.this.moment for most decisions. If this is a situation that you’ve been pondering for enough time to let it hop on the treadmill to begin with, I’m guessing it’s not an urgent life or death situation. So let your What Ifs and the scenarios, breathe. Look at them, revisit them a few times, and continue to see which ones resonate and which ones can be crossed off the list. Some are just not practical, and others may seem too aggressive. That’s ok – just sit with them for at least 24 hours, and let each If breathe.
  5. Give yourself a deadline. Pick a date in the near future that you will make the decision by – pick one that feels comfortable to you, and subtract one day. Make a commitment to yourself that you will have a decision of how to move forward by that date, period. If you need someone to help hold you accountable to that decision date, let me know – I’d be happy to help you out with that.