Playing the “What if” Game…Again

Today’s post has a little different flavour than my previous ones.  This time the test subjects aren’t my students.  It’s me, and the critical part is the little voice inside my head playing a more adult version of Shel Silverstein’s ‘Whatif” poem…again.

Ever since signing up to do a 9-day kayak tour around the Bowron Lakes circuit, I’ve been playing the doom and gloom, what-if game with myself.  Whatif this goes wrong, whatif that goes wrong, whatif this happens, whatif this doesn’t, and on and on.

I play this game whenever I take on anything challenging and outside my comfort zone.  I remember playing it when I was pregnant with my second child.  I worried about not getting enough rest, about having two children in diapers, about being able to cope.

I also played this game when I went back to university in my mid-thirties with two children in school.  Would I be able to do studying required, would I fail, would I be able to manage a family and my studies, would I find a job when I was done?

More recently, I played the game when I was going on an overnight snowshoe trek with 12-13 kg. on my back.  What if I couldn’t keep up?  What if my back gave out?  What if I forgot something important?

Whew!  I get anxious just writing down all these pessimistic platitudes.  I can hear Linda Ronstandt singing, “Poor, poor pitiful me” in the background.

You’d think I’d be able to do something about this bad habit of mine.  After all, I am an intelligent and resourceful person.  But, no, here I am at it again.  What if a bear attacks us in the middle of the night?  What if my arms give out 4 days into the trip?  What if I have to fart when we’re in the tent and trying to sleep?  Do I need a measuring tape to make sure I dig 6 inches?  And, oh my God, what if I get diarrhea in the kayak??

Then, a little ray of hope creeps into my thinking.  Maybe my kayaking partners will have to cancel.  Or maybe the Bowron will have to be shut down to the paddlers because of some freak plankton attacking the boats.  I’ll be able to sound so very disappointed when I tell everyone that we had to cancel.  They will sympathize and feel sorry for me while I secretly breathe a sigh of relief.

However, I have come to realize that I need a back-up plan in case the plankton attack doesn’t happen.  So I decided to tackle the irritating whatif beast head on.  Awhile back, I read Martin Seligman’ book, Learned Optimismand it gave me two ideas.  First, I am going to follow his ABCDE strategy that goes like this:

Activity (what I did): I signed up for the kayaking

Belief (what I think and believe): I’m gonna suck at this!  It’s gonna be a disaster!

Consequence (of my beliefs):  I worry, fret, and ruminate about all the things that could go wrong.  (I read somewhere that it is often the anticipation of an event that brings the most happiness to a person.  They obviously didn’t interview me.)

Disputation(this is where I am supposed to refute my beliefs):  Looking back on my previous battles with worry, I can say that they all turned out just fine.  Two kids nineteen months apart was busy but manageable, and I loved it.  Next, I enjoyed being a mature student.  Well, maybe not that night I spent alternating between frantically finishing a paper and crying and ranting about the stupid professor who made up such a stupid assignment.  I survived the paper, went on to graduate and get a great job.  And that snowshoe trip was awesome.  I kept up and there were no catastrophes.  So, I can do this trip, too.

And the second thing I’m doing?  I’m setting aside 15 minutes every day at 8:30 p.m. to fret and worry all I want.  And then I’m done.  Until the next day at 8:30.

But, you know, there is a positive to all this worrying.  I’m always pleasantly surprised after it’s all over and everything turned out just fine.  And then I wonder why I worried so much.  Sigh.

What are some of the tricks you use to get yourself out of the worry mode?  


About Sherry Langland

Mother, teacher, consultant, learner, and maybe a budding photographer...
This entry was posted in Education, Personal Growth and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Playing the “What if” Game…Again

  1. Let’s see…you’re going with someone who has come within a hair’s breadth of having to be helicoptered out of Joshua Tree National Park…capsized her kayak in the Everglades (song in my head: Zippy the Gator Goes Chomp, Chomp, Chomp), forgot her bag with her clothes in Edmonton before that snowshoeing trip in Kananaskis country (So should I do this thing in my jeans…or is there a store open at the Kananaskis lodge…), deliberately set off bear spray in her living room (gassing the dog and scorching the soles of her own feet)… Chances are excellent that something will go wrong. It’s highly probable that I will be involved. But I’d also say that chances are good that we’ll survive. Please get that z-drag rescue system together. I suspect that I’ll probably need it. Or you’ll all need to tie me to my kayak or something…


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