Are You Self-Sabotaging By Asking “What If”?

March 17th, 2014 by Nick Notas 8 Comments

What If Sabotage

Overthinking can paralyze us. Before we’ve even set out to do something, we’re already imagining countless different scenarios in our head.

This usually plays out with a series of internal “what if” questions…

“What if I fail? What if I look stupid? What if people judge me?”

We envision the worst outcomes possible. We terrify ourselves from taking action.

When you believe an experience is going to be negative, you’re likely to avoid that experience.

You’re setting yourself up to fail. And it’s because you’re asking the wrong questions. How we talk to ourselves has a powerful impact on reality.

Think about this…

Do these “What if” questions make you more anxious or less anxious?

Are you really more prepared by stressing over them in your head?

Have they gotten you the success you wanted?

Instead, what usually happens is…

Ask negative “what if” questions -> Imagine negative outcome -> Inspire inaction -> Don’t gain experience or improve -> Reinforce negative beliefs and insecurities about yourself -> Inspire inaction in the future

We need to break this self-destructive cycle.

But, I understand it’s not easy to just “stop overthinking”. That advice never works. You have to replace a bad habit with a good one.

Reframe your questions from fear-inducing and demotivating to exciting and encouraging. If you believe in the negative possibilities, then you must also believe in the positives possibilities – right?

As Don Draper said, “if you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.”

Ask yourself, what if…

  • “She rejects me?” vs “She loves my approach and we hit it off right away?”
  • “I never find someone else and I’m all alone?” vs “I found someone else who treated me how I deserve?”
  •  “People judge me for talking to her?” vs “People see me as a confident man for talking to a beautiful girl?”
  • “I bomb the interview and they don’t want me?” vs “They love me and I end up with my dream job?”
  • “I ask for her number and she doesn’t give it to me?” vs “She’s so excited she starts pulling out her phone before I can?”
  • “She pushes me away when I go to kiss her?” vs “She passionately kisses me back?”
  • “I ask her out over text and she says no?” vs “I ask her out and she says she would love to?”
  • “I create physical contact and she freaks out?” vs “She starts touching me back in a flirtatious way?”
  • “I ask her to come back to my place and she refuses?” vs “She says yes without hesitation?”

The only way this can work is if you truly visualize the whole thing playing out.

What if everything goes perfectly? What if it goes the best way possible? How much happier would you be? How much more fulfilled would it make you?

My hope is that this motivates you to start this constructive cycle…

Ask positive “what if” questions -> Imagine positive outcome -> Inspire action -> Gain experience and improve -> Reinforce real, lasting confidence -> Inspire action in the future

What you’ll realize is that the outcomes to your “what if” questions are often wildly different (and much more positive) than you expected.

The truth is you can’t predict everything and you can’t always control the outcome. While envisioning happiness and success definitely improves your chances, it’s still not a 100% guarantee.

So what actually matters are the actions you take and the vital experiences you get from that. Yes, even the experiences that don’t end how you hoped provide valuable insight, skills, and emotional growth for future endeavors. They’re all good for you.

Because as long as you’re creating opportunities for yourself and building the right foundation, great success is inevitable. But it all starts by asking the right questions.

  1. justin on March 17, 2014

    But it’s so hard! I’ve actually been trying to do this lately after reading some of your other articles, and it’s a day by day thing I have to work on. If you’ve been asking the bad what ifs your whole life it takes a long time to fix it, but so far it’s been worth it to me.

    • Nick Notas on March 18, 2014

      All that matters is taking the first step, no matter how small. You’re trying to change a lifetime of habits. Visualize an easier scenario going well and attempt that. From there, work up to something slightly more difficult. Rinse and repeat.

  2. Katya on March 18, 2014

    One can pretend that he/she reframes the question, but in the back of their heads they can still hear “who am I kidding”. What needs to be changes is the importance of the issue. If you are afraid to be alone, learn to love it. Find something that consumes your attention and makes you not think about all these endless fears. Fears go away when they realize they are not important anymore.

    • Nick Notas on March 21, 2014

      Agreed, but that’s where most people need to get to through action. Experience is that path to disproving the importance of the issue and shattering limiting beliefs. It can be extremely difficult to divert your attention when you don’t have the tangible experiences to back it up.

  3. Don on March 18, 2014

    This does take some effort and work to master but it really pays off in the end. I used to fear going up to women because I was certain they were going to laugh at me. But one day, I had this epiphany that what if she doesn’t laugh at me. What if she actually likes me? I started to look at approaching women from a positive mindset instead of a negative one. It took much of the fear away and helped me with approaching women.

    • Nick Notas on March 21, 2014

      That’s awesome to hear Don! You have to challenge the BS you have built up in your head and put it to the test. Once you do, you realize that pretty much every horrible thing you imagine will happen, never does.

  4. Courtney on March 21, 2014

    I know that it’s often easier said than done…but “what if” it really IS that easy. As someone who practices meditation and tools for achieving a more positive state of mind, I can vouch that even if you don’t feel it, fake it until you make it. Eventually the doubtful voice in the back of your mind goes away.

    Thanks for this reminder. Great post.

    • Nick Notas on March 21, 2014

      And thanks for the thoughtful comment Courtney! It actually is that easy…it’s the mental block that is hard. That’s exactly why I wrote this post, to hopefully get people “to fake until they make it” and realize that making it is much more possible than they ever imagined.