The What-Ifs

Often when I’m teaching my karate students a new technique, they’ll start coming up with lots of hypothetical situations.

“What if the guy is way bigger than you?!”

“What if he has a baseball bat?!”

“What if this happens?!”

“What if that happens?!”

I usually answer the first few before asking one of my own:

“What if he grows an extra set of arms?! Then you’ll really be in trouble.”

The thing about the what-ifs is that A) there are an infinite number of them, and B) we can only be so prepared for each. In martial arts, the idea is to be trained well enough to be able to adapt to any situation. Obviously training and rehearsing for every single scenario is impossible, so we teach concepts and techniques that — with diligent practice — will come out naturally, as needed. You can’t ask a bad guy to please punch again so that you can perform your technique of choice on him. You get what you get, and you don’t get upset.

After sixteen years of training, I’ve learned not to worry about the what-ifs. I have to trust that my body will react appropriately.

I have a much harder time, though, dealing with what-ifs that don’t involve hand-to-hand combat.

I was grocery shopping with my dad a couple of weeks ago, and I was updating him on some aspect of my life in which I needed his advice. I spoke for about twenty minutes straight, rapid-fire, analyzing this and that, far more animated and expressive than I am on a regular basis. He listened patiently, at times cracking up over my out-of-character enthusiasm.

And of course, most of my ranting arose out of a million what-ifs. If this, then that, but if that, then this, and if this, what about THAT, and so on.

It felt good to get all of that analysis out of my head, but when I was done, I was still right back where I was twenty minutes earlier. I had no new information. All I had was what I knew. Nothing more, nothing less.

We can drive ourselves crazy thinking about the what-ifs, but in reality, we can only be so prepared. Preparation is good, but worrying about an infinite number of things that haven’t happened can be exhausting.

We can’t work with what may or may not exist. We have to concentrate on what we know, and wrestle with the here and now. And when something unexpected comes up — when a what-if actually occurs — we have to trust that our hearts and minds will react accordingly.

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When I was little, I was a bit of a hypochondriac. This was in part due to the fact that my parents allowed me to buy a book called The World’s Deadliest Animals, or something to that effect.

This book featured not only illustrations of some of the scariest animals on Earth, but also detailed explanations of the symptoms one would experience during a fatal encounter.

I was particularly terrified of the funnel-web spider, whose bite first causes aches and pains, and you start to sweat. Then, according to my research, you turn blue and froth at the mouth before dying a mere two hours later.

This information was, of course, very damaging to my childhood psyche, as I assumed any ache or pain was the beginning of the end.

Fortunately, I’ve managed to outgrow my propensity for self-diagnosis, although it does manage to creep up from time to time.

Most recently, I had a dime-sized bump under my left arm that had suddenly become irritated and sore after weeks without complaint.

It took me a week to call my doctor and have him take a look at it, but the effect it had on me during that time was severely debilitating. With each day it didn’t go away on its own, my imagination would cause me to grow more and more paranoid. Sometimes I’d be able to convince myself it wasn’t a big deal, but the voice in the back of my head would always come back sooner or later, asking what if it is a big deal?! My mood eventually became completely depressed. The worry was always there, like a splinter in my mind. Any time I found myself in a good mood, it would sneak up and dash it from me.

A week later, my doctor told me it was an infected hair follicle and could likely be treated with antibiotics. All that worrying for nothing.

The point is, sometimes our imaginations get the best of us, which disrupts our inner peace. Sometimes, it’s best to trust an expert, rather than allow your mind to conjure up any number of worst case scenarios.

If there’s an easy solution to your worry, don’t put it off. Make the call. Then, it’ll be over, and you’ll have peace of mind.

Life is too short to live in fear.

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