One of the biggest questions that seems to haunt humanity is the question, what if? There’s something about thinking about that question that can bring us great joy or great sadness, it all depends on the question. Psychology calls this “counterfactual thinking” because we imagine scenarios that have already happened and change the outcome in our minds. In other cases, we also use it in a future tense, along the lines of “what if I win the lotto this weekend” and then begins our wonderful fantasy of everything we would do with our winnings.
Counterfactual thinking only looks at occurrences that have already happened, and what could have happened. For example, in honor of everyone graduating soon, when it was coming up on my graduation from UNF, I began to wonder “what if.” What if, I had gone to USF, like I considered? Well, for starters, I wouldn’t have met all the wonderful people that I did at UNF, I wouldn’t be able to call the same group of leading, inspiring women my sisters, and I wouldn’t have had the same experiences that shaped me into the woman I am today. In other cases, we sometimes wonder what if we had acted differently. What if, after the fight, I had talked to him, rather than just letting it be over? What if, after she confessed her feelings, he had done the same rather than shut down? Unfortunately, with counterfactual thinking, unless we have some parallel universe versions of ourselves, we will never know the actual answer to these questions. But they are great for making us ponder what has happened, and where we are in life right now, and think about the path that directed us there.
On the other hand, for that future what if thought, there’s still something we can do about it. It’s something that hasn’t happened yet, and you’re the pilot of whether you follow through on some of it. What if I tell him how I feel? Well, if you follow through on that, there are two scenarios: he either likes you back and shares that, or he doesn’t feel the same way and you most likely suffer some embarrassment. Let’s face it, putting ourselves out there is not fun AT ALL, but if no one ever put themselves out there, everyone would be alone (at least now, in the days of arranged marriages, that probably wasn’t a deciding factor). So yeah, there’s a possibility that it could go badly, but there’s another possibility that it could go great. What if, he likes you too, and that’s how your love story begins? Then, you’re one step closer to your happily ever after.
One thing that I’ve learned lately is that life is too short. So if you’re wondering “what if…” and it’s something you can control, then go for it! If you’re sitting there imagining your life if you did this or tried that, then try it! You never know if you never try. And sure, it could turn out badly, or it could turn out great. That’s never stopped us before. With any situation, it could go bad or it could be the best thing ever to happen to you. Unfortunately, unless you can see the future, there really is no way to know without trying. Now, if you’d rather go back and counterfactually think on it, that’s your choice. Or, you can take a chance, and go for making your what if your new reality.