For 25 years, I've talked about the power of IF. I've said, “IF is half of life.”
Today this is used by many different companies. IF I would have trademarked it 30 years ago, they would all be paying me to use it today… IF!
Once, about fifteen years ago, I was given some advice on team building. It was great advice. As soon as it was obvious how impactful the advice had been, I found myself saying, “IF I would have done this sooner…” When I discussed it my coach, he said, “Yeah and I wish I had started my company when I was six.”
I could list out hundreds of IF stories. IF stories are some of the most essential human stories. What about these:
IF I would have just taken the chance, I would be with… I would have… I would be doing....
IF I would have dared to have the adult conversation; IF I had shared my feelings; IF I would have had the confidence to…
IF I would have said yes; IF I would have said no; IF they would only understand; IF I hadn’t left; IF I had stayed; IF I hadn’t given up.
I'm writing this article the day before the deadline. IF I would have done it last week, I could be playing golf with my buddies right now!
What are some of your IF stories?
Three feelings well worth the ongoing effort to understand, manage and master are resentment, jealousy, and regret.
These are powerful feelings we’ve all had experience with. They are so powerful that our encounters with them can define our relationships, phases of our life, and our attitude toward the world in general. As feelings, they are powerful, but seen another way, they are just particular applications of IF, and not very useful ones.
Resentment: “If I had been treated fairly…”
Jealousy: “If I were as good as them…” “If I had that luck…”
Regrets: “If only I had…” “If only I hadn’t…”
IF, as a word, is a powerful operator, because it allows us to consider what is not.
IF allows us to imagine and plan.
Most of the time, especially in our inner dialogues, IF means that what follows does not exist. In fact, resentment, jealousy, and regret are interesting in that they are intensely powerful feelings we have about things that don’t exist. A situation is not how we would prefer it to be. That’s what the feeling is about.
Because their unreality is where their peculiar power comes from, understanding these feelings starts with focusing on their IFs.
The heaviness of regret, the turbulence of jealousy, and the bleakness of resentment are not necessarily lightened, composed and heartened by focusing on IF, but they are transformed into something useful to you.
As damaging as it can be to act out on these feelings, getting to the core of what they mean is important and transformational.
If you’re still trying to keep the past open and changeable, wishing you could bring today’s wisdom to the options you had yesterday, recognizing that this is impossible is important. If you need to mourn something than can never be, give yourself permission to do so. Everything that makes us feel that the past is alive and can change ends up hurting us sooner or later.
The past can’t change.
But contentment and gratitude and many wonderful things start from the point where we decide that the past doesn’t have to change.
So, take that leap and, just for a moment, decide to accept the past as it is, and recognize that your future can only be built on what you have today. Take those feelings into the present. Disconnect them from the past and future. Knowing that where we are and what we have in our lives today is all there is, what are these feelings really about?
Our jealousies, resentments and regrets can hint at frustrations at our limitations. Are they limitations we fully understand? Can we improve them? Do we need help?
The more bitter and blaming these feelings are, the more likely it is that a part of you knows it will take some help to get where you want to go. Maybe you just don’t know how to break the news to yourself.
Here’s how to break the news to yourself: “Beyond your limitations is a place you can’t go alone.”
Ask for help. Learn to ask for help. Help is the closest thing to magic there is in the world. Sometimes you can’t even tell the difference between the two.
IF is a time-travel word. All of what we call our “baggage” is IFs about the past. If there’s a single lesson here, it’s to use the time-travel power of IF wisely: use it to look toward the future.
When you’re making a decision, slow down. Ask yourself good questions. Practice visionary thoughts, seeing yourself work through the steps, and visualizing the results of the actions you take, or the results of taking no action. There is an opportunity to gain wisdom each time you reach the crossroads of a decision. Take the opportunity seriously. Ask your IFs now, directed toward the future, where they can help you the most.
As we move through life we learn more. We will inevitably look back and feel strong feelings as we see lost opportunities, lost connections, wasted time, wasted potential, and other reinterpretations of the past. If there is wisdom to be gained from doing so, do it, but don’t spend too long on this. Then, be glad that because of the past, you know more now that you did then. Knowing the price of wisdom is three-quarters of respecting its value.
It’s taken me a long time to get in the habit of using IF to full effect. The results are incredible. I recommend making the effort wholeheartedly.
The power of IF is in understanding and properly using its ability to help you talk and think about what does not exist. Because of this, we know that, unlike IFs used to plan and imagine, the IFs we have about the past are often not very constructive, unless we’re trying to reverse engineer a past decision to make a better one today.
Most of the time, to find any meaning in our IFs about the past, we are required to look bravely at the limitations they involve, and to consider asking for help with those if necessary. Knowing that IF means we’re talking about the past or the future and letting that powerfully reinforce the immanence of the present is the power of the flipside of IF.
You are the captain of your life’s journey. Half of that journey is IF. Use both sides of the power of IF!