Ali Pica

YEAH, YEAH, YEAH, ALI: What if I can’t stop asking, ‘What if?’

YEAH, YEAH, YEAH, ALI: What if I can’t stop asking, ‘What if?’
Decrease Font Size Increase Font Size Text Size Print This Page

“What if” writes:

“I know sometimes we think, ‘What if I did this?’ or ‘What if that really happened?’ However, the ‘what ifs’ we say to ourselves are just like wishing or hopeful thinking.

I have learned through personal experience as well as from my doctor to STOP with the ‘what ifs’ because it can have a negative effect on our behavior, personality, and mental stability.

My question to you is do you believe thinking or saying ‘what if’ to ourselves or to other people is a negative issue, particularly when it comes from someone who already has mental conditions? Please explain!”

Dear “What if,”

What if someone created a cure for cancer? What if I won the lottery? What if I am a failure? What if there was a zombie apocalypse tomorrow? (It can happen… Be prepared, people.)

The point is, you could think of a million “what ifs” and they may not be helpful to you, or worse, destructive. Or you could think of “what ifs” that could spark a new idea for an invention, a positive life change, or prepare you for tomorrow’s zombie apocalypse.

Thinking about “what ifs” isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing in and of itself, but how much time we spend obsessing over them or thinking, “What if?” about every little aspect of our lives. If we spend a majority of our time obsessing over “what ifs,” we would never accomplish anything meaningful because we would be too distracted or scared to do what we wanted and needed to do. Considering that you have what you call a “mental condition,” thinking about “what ifs” isn’t necessarily the problem. It is most likely the significant amount of “what ifs” and/or the time spent obsessing over them.

My recommendation to you is to do what your therapist suggested and “STOP” thinking so much about “what ifs.” However, I do understand that it is difficult for people who have certain mental health disorders to stop their racing thoughts, such as people who have clinical depression or bipolar disorder. If you do continue thinking of “what ifs,” try to concentrate on the questions that you can turn into a positive change.

For example, “What if I went back to school?” Then, you could think of ways to make this happen, such as searching for scholarships, programs, job prospects in your desired field of study, and so forth. If you really want to make this an entertaining exercise, you could always rephrase your answers to your “what ifs” in the form of a question, à la “Jeopardy,” such as, “What if I applied for this scholarship, which would help me go back to school?” The “what ifs” may be endless, but at least they are positive and constructive examples that would enable you to gain control over your life. Good luck and best wishes.

Sincerely yours,


Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Ali is an advice column that runs every Friday on NEPA Scene. E-mail your anonymous question to Ali here to be featured in a future column.