Diem is looking for solutions to keep her house warm this coming winter and running into a time crunch. Michael is trying to fix a faulty fuel injector in his little classic car before it goes into hibernation until next Spring. On both sides of the country, winter is approaching and the fearful What-ifs are creeping in.
You know the What-Ifs. Those nagging questions that linger over you like a dark cloud threatening to rain on your parade. The ones that start with “what if” and end with tragedy. “What if I there’s a blizzard in September and I have no heat?” Or “What if gas pours out of the injector port and sets the garage on fire?” The odds on those happening are longer than winning a billion-dollar lottery, yet we still go down What If Road anticipating doom and gloom, and adopting a new mantra, telling ourselves, “This isn’t good.” We likely do that for one of two reasons: we’ve conditioned ourselves that if something good doesn’t happen with every attempt we make, the only other option is something horrific will happen; or we are ignoring our own advice to Embrace the Gray, and remember not everything is always black and white.
Indeed, there are two sides to every coin, every action has an opposite reaction, and a silver lining hides behind the cloud. We’ve been taught to think in pairs and too often the pairs are of two extremes. War and peace is just as absolute as stop and go. But even when there are only two options available, it does not follow that they must be polar opposites. A fuel injector can be repaired to the point of efficient operation or if not, it can be replaced. Those are much more livable alternatives to it will work 100% like new or if not, it will burn down the house.
The What-Ifs feed on the extreme. Before we turn onto What If Road we usually already are frustrated with our performance and have lost sight of our goal, our objective, our reasoning, our timeline, or some or all of these. All we can see is it won’t be perfect therefore it can’t be good, and if it isn’t good, it must be bad. That’s when the What-Ifs take over.
Not all What-Ifs must be bad. It would be perfectly acceptable to ask, “what if I win the lottery?” but it would not be perfectly normal to ask that. When was the least time you asked yourself, “What if everything goes according to plan?” You almost never ask yourself what if every goes right because you plan for success, and in your mind, you see the positives. You project will be successful, you will have a fun vacation, you will get that promotion, she will say “Yes!” or you will hit the lottery, just as you envisioned. You ask yourself “What if…” when things begin to go awry. What if you planned for things to go awry? Not plan to fail but plan the responses to the potential that things may go wrong. The airline and the medicine fields were the first major industries to adopt Failure Mode Analysis (FMA), a system where things that can go wrong are anticipated and remedies placed in practice before the opportunity for failure can be committed.
In FMA, before Michael started working on his fuel injector, he would have asked a whole series of What-Ifs. “What if… it needs more than cleaning… I can’t remove the injector… I don’t have the right tools… I can’t get it remounted… it still doesn’t work… it’s taking longer than I anticipated?” Each question is calmly and rationally addressed and answered before any work is begun. “What if it still doesn’t work,” is met with “Then check the wiring harness for a good connection,” and “What if the harness is connected properly,”, is countered with, “Then confirm the fuel rail is connected to its source,” which leads to “What if all the connections appear correct and secure,” and answered with “Then consult a professional.” And thus, if a particular problem arises in fact, you have already answered it in theory. Then the only question left is “What if everything goes according to plan?” which now you can ask and can answer it positively because you you already have dealt with the negatives in your plan.
The true power of What-Ifs is when they become our allies rather than our worst nightmares, and we face them before they rise to challenge us. The only way to get ahead of the What-Ifs is to look ahead with your own series of If-Thens. As Ben Franklin taught us, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”