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Hypotheticals: Chasing Phantoms


A great weight we can carry if we only think about what might or could occur.

Do you do this with situations such as we are facing right now? There is a tendency towards speculation when we are down or when we feel vulnerable or alone.

Hypotheticals are precisely that, wisps of campfire smoke that follow us around the fire ring no matter where we sit.

On one level, they are helpful and are a necessary part of life. We must forecast things that could happen to be ready if or when they occur. Hypotheticals are precautionary. They can prepare us for action.

But the shadow side is that hypotheticals can also keep us too distracted and anxious. We can overthink every new possibility that comes into our mind. These can come from anywhere. We don’t sometimes even have to “think” them.

Dwelling on possible scenarios can create a beehive of fear. Our body cannot tell the difference between what is imagined and what is real.

Every hypothetical we chase can keep us over-amped with cortisol and adrenaline. With that, can come feelings of anxiety and dread.

Hypotheticals can become our “companion.” They often give us the illusion something is being done, even if it is only in our thoughts, that we are in control.

It can be hard to limit them, especially if they are galloping. There is some withdrawal in taking a deep breath, slowing things down, choosing whether and what we will focus on.

The answer, in my experience, to hypotheticals is to ask the following:

1. What data do I have that makes this a real problem?

2. Does my worry point me towards a solution?

3. What action can I take now based on this thought?

4. Can I wait on this until I have more information?

5. What would I do if I wasn’t hypothesizing right now?

There is a value in searching for things to be concerned about. There is value in being poised for action.

But many hypotheticals are chimeras. What seems real is not. Dwelling on them won’t necessarily change reality.

Hypotheticals can drain away energy over time, that could be vital to call us to action when real dangers are present.

And it is interesting to me that our hypotheticals are selective. What seems so real at the moment, what we are almost sure will happen, these are rarely thought about afterward, when things don’t come to pass.

The reward of limiting hypotheticals is that we can once again hear the birds sing. We are living in the present, not in our heads. Our energy and enthusiasm revive, optimism, once again, can flourish.

We can gain back trust in ourselves where we can decide what is important to strategize around, what ideas just might be wasted effort.

Some things may never happen as we expect. Some things will happen differently than we ever could have imagined.

And some things will happen, just as we anticipate, and we will be ready because we have a plan (and haven’t spun this off into a million variations to consider first).

Limiting our hypotheticals is a kind of control. It’s very different than trying to control everything. But you can have a handle on what might be the most important and / or immediate things that require attention.

And that, in an odd way, can be better than chasing phantoms.

John Bragstad is the author of two books: Compass Season and Nature's Poetry of Life. Both are available at Amazon.

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