Embarking On A Lifetime Adventure: The "What-If" List
In 2007, The Bucket List movie, starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson, inspired millions to create lists of things they wanted to do and places they wanted to see before they died. We all have an end of the road we will reach one day, but why set that as your goalpost? Who starts a book by reading the conclusion? Instead of thinking about the end, let's think about all the chapters in the middle. Let's write your life story with all the adventures you will have along the way. Your "what if" list will identify the passions and projects you want to accomplish and the obstacles in your path. You might realize that the hurdles are just excuses and not much prevents you from achieving those goals.
It's time to think back to when the whole world was your oyster before your responsibilities weighed on you like a heavy burden. If your younger self could talk to you, what would you tell yourself to do in the next year, five or ten years? What dreams have you let fall to the wayside that you need to revisit? What do you tell yourself that you will do someday (when the kids are grown, have more money, or finally get in shape? One study published in Psychological Bulletin indicated that 94% of people surveyed reported that procrastination harmed their happiness. What are you putting off today for whatever reason?
Your What-If List
To begin, make a numbered list labeled 1-20. Start by writing "what if" next to each number. Then, set a timer for five minutes. Write your list in the past tense. For instance, you write, "What if I went back to school?" instead of, "What if I go back to school?" The verb tense choice helps you envision your life after completing that goal. The second rule for your list is that it is just for you. You can say, "What if I signed up for a dating site?" but cannot say, "What if I get married?" because you are not in 100% control of the choice to get married, but you can take actions that might increase your chances of achieving that objective.
Identify The Top Five
Now that you have your list of twenty or so "what-ifs," think about which would significantly impact your life. Think about the conversation you will have with your best friend five years from now. It's December 2028, and you are reflecting on your choices over these years. Which goal would make the most significant difference in your life? How has your story changed to make you a more interesting person? Did you travel to Europe (or live there)? Did you climb a mountain? Change jobs? Publish a book? Run a marathon? Maybe you're still in the process of getting your Ph.D., but you are so much closer to achieving it instead of waiting to start. If you had a time machine to jump into the future and witness your friend congratulating you on your extraordinary life, would you start working on your what-if list today?
What Is The Result?
Once you narrow the "what-if" list down to your top three to five choices, it's time to write your story and identify your why. Let's say you wrote down, "What if I learn to cook a new dish every week." What will happen in your life if you make that choice? Here's one potential outcome. You save over $1,000 per year because you are meal-prepping and bringing the leftovers to work instead of buying lunch. You lose ten pounds in the first three months because you eat healthier. Your coworkers take notice and start asking if you are willing to make extra lunches for them too. You net $5 per meal that you make. Your coworkers love your dishes so much that you expand your side hustle and make meals for dozens of families. You need to hire an employee to keep up with the demand. You enter your best recipe into a Betty Crocker contest and win $50,000. That seems like a pretty exciting story to tell your best friend five years from now! Your what-if story becomes your why to remember during the hurdles.
What Are The Hurdles?
Now it's time to consider what will prevent you from completing your goal. You will likely face internal and external resistance along the journey to success. You will inevitably face difficult obstacles and decisions regardless of your what-if list.
Perseverance means to keep going when your mind and or body want to stop. Everything inside you wants to give up. So why not? Let's say one of the goals you wrote down was, "What if I lose 20 pounds?" Months later, you've been working out and watching your diet, but the scale has stayed the same. You are tired and start thinking, I am never going to finish. What's the point? These thoughts will nag you until you acknowledge them. So tell those thoughts, "I hear you, but I'm not going to feed you." Instead, focus on your positive mindset. Remind yourself of your what-ifs and then speak encouraging and uplifting mantras, such as "I like doing hard things." And "I'm becoming the best version of myself."
Temptation is everywhere. You will be at a business lunch next week, and your lunch companion will ask, "What do you want for dessert?" This type of question is tricky to resist because the expected reply is not a yes or no. You might also get external resistance from others, telling you you will fail, even before you get going. You might hear, "I tried that diet, and it didn't work for me." When you feel resistance, remember your why and look for external supporters. Spend less time with the naysayers, those that bring you down. Do not waste your time and energy with them.
Write Your Story
Asking what-if encourages us to rekindle the sparks of our lost dreams and aspirations and to confront our "if only" mindset. This exercise helps us identify our secret ambitions and the barriers preventing their realization. By creating a "what-if" list, we can better visualize a future where these goals are achieved and imagine the significant changes they can bring to our lives. Ultimately, the journey of fulfilling our "what-if" list can enrich our life story, narrating a tale of resilience, determination, and accomplishment.