Embrace the Gift of "What if..."

Dec 23, 2023

I’ve always prided myself on being a very punctual person. In fact, after some awkward party arrivals, I forced myself to unlearn the habit instilled in me by mom to always show up early. I’ve softened over the years, but I still think it shows respect when you show up at the time you say you will.

So, when my dear friend was running late for us to carpool to a holiday event, my instant reaction was to go negative. Will traffic get worse? Will the host be disappointed? Will it throw off the meal since we were providing some food? Concerns can easily trigger annoyance at the perceived source of frustration and concern (in this case my tardy friend).

Fortunately, I’ve learned to pause and check in. I asked myself, "Is annoyance and fear the mode I want to be in this evening?" The answer was a resounding no. So, I used a variation of the “Flash Forward Power Game” from Positive Intelligence.

In the Flash Forward game, we imagine our future self and, looking back, ask what would really be important and meaningful. That can be a powerful technique to help us shift.

Having lost all of my original family, I have processed some regrets about words said or not said to loved ones before they passed, so I sometimes take this game one step further and turn it into a game of “what if?”. I ask…”What if this were the last time I spoke to this person (or in this case, if this were the last holiday I got to spend with my friend), how important would this issue be and/or how would I be happy to have approached the situation?”

This simple reflection has become my compass for navigating potential negativity, and it served me well in this case. It was ridiculously obvious that it didn’t matter if we arrived a little late to the gathering. My friend already felt stressed, we can’t control the traffic at any time, and our hosting friend is very chill about our arrival time. So why not relax and enjoy the evening, and help my friend release any pressure so she can enjoy her evening too?

This thought process all happens very quickly for me now since I’ve practiced enough to usually catch my judge, and my hyper-vigilant, stickler and controller saboteurs before they take me too far “down the rabbit hole”. It still requires that I pay attention though…those negative thoughts can be sneaky and old patterns die hard!

It dawned on me that especially during the holidays, with all the family gatherings, commuting stress, financial pressure, waiting in lines, dealing with lost packages or any holiday hiccups, asking "What if this were my last moment to experience this?" can swiftly recalibrate your perspective. Even if it was the last time I was standing in line, I’d rather do it feeling light, at peace, and in joy. Wouldn’t you?

Having experienced many holidays without family, I've come to appreciate the profound significance of the small, seemingly insignificant moments. It's a reminder that the frustrations we often dwell on are, in the grand scheme, trivial. And how we react to any situation is a choice we get to make in each moment.

So, as we move through the holiday time, let's embrace the "What ifs" – a powerful tool to shift our focus from grievances to gratitude, ensuring we savor the moments that truly matter.