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Ditching the What Ifs

Do you ever – or often – think about what your life would be like if only a particular thing changed? If only you weighed less, were in better shape, were married, were single, had taken that other job, etc.

When I was younger, I lived in the “what if” fantasy of being thin, or at least thinner. I had it all worked out in my head. If I were thin, I would be pretty, well-liked, proud of my body, have a boyfriend, have a high self-esteem, etc. In short, everything would be perfect.

But here’s the thing – what ifs can kill you, in at least two ways. The first is because living in “what if” keeps you from focusing on the here and now. The second is, sometimes when you achieve your goal, you discover that it’s nothing like you imagined.

I’ve been thinking about this since listening to a great episode of This American Life titled “Tell Me I’m Fat”. It featured a woman named Lindy West who gave up on the fantasy of what might be and decided to embrace the what is of being fat, and another woman named Elna Baker who lost over 100 pounds and discovered it wasn’t what she expected.

It reminded me of the worst of the what ifs I’ve struggled with. What if my mom hadn’t died? Would I have still eventually lost weight? Would I have leveled off and learned to accept my body as it was? Would I have gained even more and spent these past sixteen years hating myself because of it? And if that last option is how it would have played out, would I choose that life, with my mom alive but me miserable, or would I choose the path I have, with her death and my life changed?

This is why I’m glad I can’t make the choice, and why I decided to ditch the “what if” game. Well, that and because like Elna, I discovered that losing weight did not bring me the life I had imagined, although in different ways. Nothing changed automatically: I did not have a body I would be comfortable modeling in a bathing suit; it was work to improve my self-esteem; and unlike Elna, no magic boyfriend appeared.

So if the “what if” isn’t real, and if it drives you crazy, I suggest ditching it in favor of accepting life as it is. This doesn’t mean not having goals. It just means finding what’s good about where you’re at and enjoying it, so even if things change, and it’s not quite as you imagine, you won’t be disappointed or have to radically change your expectations.

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