The Only Way to Stop Playing the Deadly Game of What If

There is a game a lot like Jumanji. Once you start playing, you must keep playing, damned the consequences.

It’s the game where you go down a spiral of depressive thoughts and intense emotions that have nothing to do with where you are right now.

I call it the What If game. Here are the rules:

  1. You have to live out the answer to a What If question. Put yourself in a what if scenario. Examples include what if you got fired tomorrow or what if you did just one thing differently that one time in the past.
  2. You have to feel all of the emotions of the event like it’s happening right now.
  3. You have to be completely absorbed into it so that your mind is living it like it’s real.

Ready? Let’s play.

Start out with a moment in the past. What is a moment of intense embarrassment or helplessness for you? Got that moment? OK, now I need you to replay it over and over, like you’re living in a time loop, and really feel those emotions. Yes, feel those raw emotions. OK, got it? Next put subtle variations between each loop to bring out more emotions. Now, make it so that you can do everything in your current life on automatic pilot while you relive those emotions. Nice job! You’re really good at the What If game.

I became an expert at What If. I became so good at What If that the scenarios didn’t even have to be about me or rooted in any fact. I treated my sad, fearful, shameful, and helpless emotions like a fine sauce that needs to simmer. Oh yes, I was a master chef, locked up in the kitchen of my mind.

And then I found the cure. I found it when I heard about all the benefits of mindfulness. Newspaper articles, books, podcasts, and even my friends were talking about mindfulness. So I decided to give it a try.

The cure is thinking about what you’re doing right now.

I’ve heard a lot about being in the present and I thought it was a state of enlightened happiness. But once I brought myself to the present, I realized it wasn’t a state of happiness. It was the mere action of making yourself think about where you are and what you’re doing right now.

“I am writing a blog post at my desk.”

Just by thinking about what I’m doing right now kills the power the What If game held over me. If I’m in the present, how could I be in the past or the future? If I’m writing a blog post, how could I be reliving a bad memory or living a false reality?

This simple action radically changed my life.

Depressive spirals didn’t spiral. The past stayed in the past. The future became one I plan and prepared for, not daydreamed worst scenarios of. I was done playing the game of What If. When I feel myself living in some other time or making up false facts, I remind myself where I am and what I’m doing.

Living in the present is nice. It’s freeing. It’s now. It’s what I needed.

Do you find yourself daydreaming of a worst-case scenario future or reliving the past? What do you do that brings you out of it?