A man needed to cut his lawn, but his lawnmower wasn't working, so he decided to borrow his neighbor's lawnmower. As he walked over to his neighbor’s house, he thought about all the favors he'd done for his neighbor over the years, and went over all the "what if he doesn't lend it to me?" scenarios in his head. “What if he says “no?” “What if he tells me I have to rent the lawnmower?” “What if….” By the time he got to his neighbor's front steps, he'd convinced himself the neighbor wouldn't lend him the lawnmower - despite all the favors he'd done for him over the years! By the time he rang the doorbell, he'd worked himself up to a full boil. When his neighbor answered the door, he shouted, “You can shove your lawnmower, for all I care!" and stomped away in a huff. The neighbor just blinked in confusion, wondering what had just happened.
This joke highlights how people can have very real feelings about something that has not (and may not) actually happened. “What if” is about fear, about speculating that punishment, rejection or deprivation lies ahead, as in the joke, and in following examples:
What if I gain five pounds after eating that cookie/sandwich/soup/banana/cake?
What if I go out with that guy and he turns out to be a complete jerk?
What if I ask someone out on a date and she rejects me?
What if I ask my boss for a raise and she gets mad?
What if I make a mistake and get fired?
What if I'm making the wrong choice?
What if I say the wrong thing?
When you have here-and-now emotions about future events, you may turn to, or from, food, to distract, numb, or soothe yourself. This kind of thinking also creates a heightened sense of powerlessness, since you have no actual power over these future fantasies, since they do not actually exist. Powerless may facilitate a greater sense of anxiety, which often leads to disordered eating, since you may replace anxiety about the future event with anxiety about weight, calories, and so forth.
In contrast, “what is” is about reality. When you are grounded in what is actually happening, or what you know to be true, you are less likely to feel anxious, worried or upset.
What if = fear. What are you worried about that has to do with an imagined future?
What is = reality. What do you know right here, right now? Who are you, right here, right now? What do you know to be true about yourself? How have you handled difficult situations in the past? Remembering who you are and recognizing your capabilities can mitigate fear, because when you know you can get past difficult situations, you are less afraid of them.
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