I recently decided to change up my texting habits. Instead of typing with proper capitalization and punctuation like I usually do, I turned off the auto-caps feature on my phone and stopped putting periods at the end of my messages. I was hoping that this would give off a more cool and casual vibe in my day-to-day interactions, but that turned out not to be the case.
It actually had quite the opposite effect. My friends, and especially my wife, were immediately thrown off by the change and wondered if something was wrong, either with me or with my phone. When I assured them that everything was fine and told them what I was doing, they just sort of laughed and begrudgingly went along with it. I could tell they thought it was weird.
And so, my experiment lasted all of a day. Soon, I was going back into my phone’s settings and putting everything back to normal. I’ve returned to my proper form of texting once again. And I have to say that it was the right move.
If you’re like me, you sometimes grapple with the “What if?” questions of life. Some you’re able to test out: “What if I communicated differently over text?” Others you can’t: “What if I had studied a different major in college?” Others are just plain silly: “What if I took up bodybuilding? Or hibachi cooking?” Regardless, they come up from time to time, and it isn’t always easy to know what to do with them.
Sometimes, these question come from a place of regret. You wish you had done something differently in the past, and you wonder if your life would have turned out differently if you had made a better choice. I personally find regret an unhelpful emotion most of the time, and so I don’t dwell on it on the rare occasions it comes around. Regret can teach us to make better decisions going forward, but that’s really all it has to offer.
These question also might stem from aspiration. For one reason or another, you want your life to be different in some way. Maybe you want to be seen as more relatable, like I did. Or maybe you just want to get better at a skill or try something completely new. That desire, big or small, for things to be different can lead to a lot of “What if?” questions.
Most of my “What if?” questions, though, are really just a byproduct of curiosity. I’m a ruminator, and so my mind is constantly spinning. I’m also very interested in efficiency and productivity, and so I’m always thinking up ways I could do my everyday tasks differently and wondering if they might work. If you’re the curious type, you probably deal with lots of those kinds of questions, too.
So what do we do with all of these “What if?” questions that come up? It’s not like you can try out every one of them out with no consequences. You can’t A/B test your life, as much as that might be. Is there a way to satisfy those “What if?” question while staying realistic? I’d like to think so.
If those questions deal with your past, the best thing to do is to simply let them go. We can’t change history; we can only learn from it. That’s why dwelling on regret and the questions of how things could have turned out differently isn’t productive.
But if you choose to learn from the past and the questions that have arisen from it, maybe you can do differently going forward and create less of those questions for yourself in the future. That’s not regret, though. That’s growth, and it’s something we should each aspire to.
There are other “What if?” questions that we can learn from, too. Specifically the ones that are out of our reach to try out. If you find yourself constantly daydreaming about what life would be like as a professional athlete but that career path is out of your reach, maybe dig a little deeper into that question. What is it you’re really wondering about?
Often, our questions have layers, and as we peel back those layers, we can learn more about what we’re looking for. Do you want a sense of achievement? A community? Or maybe just some good, old-fashioned time outside having fun? Our questions have a lot to teach us about who we are and what we desire, so we shouldn’t be afraid to investigate them.
And of course, there are the “What if?” questions that you can try out. Some will be utter disasters, like my texting experiment. But others might turn out to be really meaningful. If you have a “What if?” question that you feel is worth testing and won’t cause unnecessary harm, you should go for it. You never know what you might gain by trying something new. It could be a hobby, a friendship, a talent, maybe even a career. You won’t know until you try.
Some people see “What if?” questions as a plague, something that weighs them down and makes them dream of another life. But I think of them as opportunities—opportunities to learn, opportunities to grow, and opportunities to try new things. All of that sounds positive to me, and that’s why I don’t shy away from questions like these in my own life.
Do you have some “What if?” questions of your own that are worth exploring? Maybe it’s time to dive in deep on some those, or even to start an experiment or two. One of the most exciting things about life is that it’s yours to make into what you want it to be. So what are you going to try first?