What Could Go Right?
The same stranger I'd had this conversation with told me she often finds hers stuck thinking of "what if" scenarios of everything that can go wrong. This is an experience I think everyone can relate to and for those with anxiety, it's a frequent or constant problem.
I talked about this pattern of thinking in this post. I listed everything that can go wrong in a drive-thru because I've found that to be an effective way to describe my anxiety to others.
But this woman at work wanted to know what she should do about this thinking. She felt trapped by it and needed an escape plan.
So I asked her if she's ever taken time to think about everything that can go right. Her face lit up from the idea and she grinned.
When I find myself worrying about what can go wrong, it's hard to leave that line of thinking. It weighs on me and crushes me and I keep thinking of worse and worse outcomes until I'm convinced that nothing good can possibly happen.
This isn't a tool I utilize often, but I should. Because when I change that thinking and start asking what can go right, I'm reminded that things can go right.
The best way to do this is to go crazy. Think of every good outcome, no matter how absurd they may be. Let's use the drive-thru again. They could get my order right. They could accidentally give me free food. There could be a sale I didn't know about. The cashier might be really nice. The cashier could be so nice that we get to talking and become friends!
Seem ridiculous? Pop over to that list of things that could go wrong. Is getting distracted when rolling down the window and hitting another car also ridiculous? I stopped myself from coming up with more things for that list, like a flash flood or a crazy person getting in my car while I'm stopped or the car spontaneously combusting. In the middle of the "what if" panic, those seem like valid outcomes.
Outside the panic, they're ridiculous. Just as ridiculous as becoming best friends with the cashier.
That's the whole idea of this exercise. When you start coming up with good outcomes and realize how ridiculous some of them sound, you'll also realize how ridiculous someone the bad outcomes sound.
This allows you to step back and, now that you're not asking "what if," look at the most likely outcome. The outcome where nothing eventful happens.