The “What If” Mindset

Don't go through life wearing blinders. Avoid problems with a little planning.Many years ago, I worked 40 miles from home. Thanks to stretches of stop-and-go traffic, the drive would usually take me an hour and a half — so that’s how much time I allotted. But what about the days when there was an accident on the freeway or when I was running late?

I’d spend the drive stressing out, and thinking up excuses as to why I was late. After all, it wasn’t my fault traffic wasn’t going as smoothly as usual. And it wasn’t my fault that xyz had happened at home, and so I had to deal with that before leaving for work.

I was doing the best I could. Right? Well, no.

Wearing blinders

I wasn’t doing the best I could. I was wearing blinders. I had this idea that life “should” be a certain way, and so I refused to look at the other things that might happen.

If you’re a horse pulling a carriage down a noisy street, blinders are a great idea. They prevent panic and help maintain focus. But horses have a driver who watches out for them. We’re our own drivers, and wearing blinders is detrimental.

We run into things that we could have avoided with a little planning.

Admit that life doesn’t go perfectly

I could have saved myself a lot of stress on those drives to work by admitting that it often took me longer than expected to get to work — and then leaving a little earlier. Yes, I probably would have arrived at work a few minutes early many days, but isn’t that better than frequently getting there late?

Instead of spending my drives rationalizing the fact that I was late, I could have reduced stress and enjoyed the drive.

Considering the “what ifs” would have left me much better off.

Applying the “what if” mindset to money

The “what if” mindset is one of the best ways to get yourself into great financial shape, because it forces you to consider things ahead of time.

What if you lost your job tomorrow?
What if you had to be hospitalized?
What if you got the opportunity to go on an awesome trip, but had to go without pay?

And the list goes on…

Find the answers

How could you deal positively with situations like those (and others)? What would you need to do (or what would have to change) in order to have a good outcome?

Figure out the answers — or get help doing so — and then start making the changes needed to get there. Make a plan. Recognize that it may not be a very good plan at first, but that any plan is better than nothing because it takes off the blinders and empowers you.

Then improve your plan as you go. Eventually, playing the “what if” game starts to be fun, because it becomes more and more about the opportunities, and less and less about the negatives as you get those covered.


  • I totally agree with you! I’ve been living with the “What if” mindset ever since getting married. Here are some of the things I have done: Created an emergency account, paid off nearly all our debt, opened a savings and investment accounts for each one of the household members, and have purchased term insurance for my wife and I. If those options diminish, I still have my trusty 30 gallon water jug piggy bank on stand-by. LOL Now that I have something rather than nothing, it definitely provides me with some relief for the “What if” scenarios.

  • Great suggestions on planning out your financial future. It is a great relief to have these many what if questions answered ahead of time (before you actually run into the situation). It does take a little bit of balance though. Plan for what you can but don’t spend your life worrying. Make the plan and leave it at that so you can enjoy your life!

  • Richard Buse

    This is a great post. Addressing the “what if'” questions isn’t about obsessing about potential adversity: It’s about building peace of mind and creating more options and opportunities. Building up savings makes it so much easier to leave an pleasant work situation. Having an emergency fund makes it so much easier to address a crisis and move on. Saving for retirement buys more time for doing what is really fulfilling.