How to Avoid the Trap of “What If…” Thinking

During my swim workout this week, I had a “quality” swim set. 8 X 100. The goal was to swim 100 as fast as I could, and then maintain that pace for all the rest of the 100s. After my first 100, I stopped on the wall, and Matt asked me what pace I’d set that I would have to keep for the next 7 100s.

My response: Well, crap…

I’d started out a bit hot, and it was too fast. I thought there was no way I could keep that pace for the whole set. Frustrated, a little worried. Then, I thought STOP!

Why worry or be frustrated about something that might or might not happen? In training, racing, and life, most people fall into the habit of “What If” thinking. It’s a normal manifestation of anxiety where you run through a bunch of different possibilities worrying about what might happen, or could happen, or what you don’t want to happen.

I realized you can waste time worrying about how something might turn out, or you can MAKE IT HAPPEN. The future isn’t something predetermined that just happens to you. You control your future; so change it.

The truth is that what if thinking can go either way. There’s a 50/50 chance of something turning out positive or negative, so why do we always think it’s going to be negative?

Why do we default to: What if I get scared during the swim? What if I can’t push the power I want on the bike? What if I blow up on the run?

Why not think: What if I crush the swim? What if I PR the bike? What if I have the best run I’ve ever had?

My husband, Matt, likes to tell me the story of his middle school teacher, who liked to say, “What if you walk outside and get eaten by a bobcat?” I’m not going to question the wisdom of telling kids they might get eaten by a ferocious feline, but he had a point.

Don’t worry about what might or might not happen. If you want something to happen, go make it happen!

How did the swim workout turn out? I swam six of the 100s at that pace that was “too fast,” and during the last two 100s, I swam those one second faster.