Dealing With The ‘What If’ Pandemic

In the short story ‘Exhalation’ by Ted Chiang, a new Prism technology makes its appearance that allows reality to diverge through the use of quantum mechanics. From the moment the device is activated, time deviates and the present is split into 2 parallel versions that coexist at a different time-space continuum. The 2 realities progress separately as if it was the life on a different planet and what happens to one place has no impact or interference to the other.

The prism creates new divisions of reality and every person could have a number of paraselfs living concurrently in parallel universes. The branches would start out perfectly identical but by using an array of ions, information could be passed along them enabling some sort of communication.

The ‘What If’ Paralysis

What is the most interesting part in all this, is that certain anxieties arose in everyone that made them question themselves and their decisions. In what ways were their paraselfs better than them? Why would the paraself be more successful and happier? Why did he developed different opinions and political views when they both came from the same person? One version would have one person be more violent and puncture his manager’s tires when his paraselfs sit peacefully and have a good working relationship with their boss. Certain fluctuations in the branches, starting from the slightest shifts in molecules and the environment, led to completely different outcomes with people taking different approaches and having different paths.

And this knowledge is what drove people to question themselves and their lives. They would get paranoid about their choices and develop a fear of making the wrong decision. It wasn’t that they didn’t know how impactful their decisions were before. But the fact that the various outcomes were substantiated through real-life examples, and they could see with their own eyes the actual difference a simple decision could make, was a standard recipe for doubts, anxiety, and regrets. Eventually, they would reach a point that their whole life would be consumed by fear, spending money and energy on getting as much information as possible, peeking on different versions, and pinpointing what elements were worth noticing more and what actions they could do better.

And this is where this brilliant story actually makes the point and asks the question of what would you be willing to give in order to have this knowledge and reassurance of taking the right path. How much does it cost to know about the outcomes of the ‘What ifs’ that spin in our minds so often, and what would you give to be relieved of the burden of having to make choices and trust your mind down an irreversible path?

The Relief of Following Others

We are inherent procrastinators. We avoid decisions that commit us to certain roles and paths we may regret later on. And we would rather keep teetering in the unknown than risking errors and setbacks. “Could someone else advise on the issue?”, “Does anyone have any knowledge or information that could help?” we would die for someone to pinpoint us in the right direction. To come and say, “Worry no more my friend. This is what you need to do and it will all work out in the end”

Choices bring a huge weight in them. Not only you are gonna have to live with the implications of them, but they are gonna be a standard reminiscent of what a bad judge you are. Imagine years passing by and a number of events marking your remarkable life only to maintain the question in your head, “What if I had tried to make that project? What if I had taken it a step further? Would I be better off? Happier and more fulfilled even?”.

People can have all the talent in the world and still avoid making a move in fear of failure. We revolt and protest when freedom is taken away from us, but there are so many cases that people give out their freedom on their own. We all secretly desire to be led on among the crossroads, because this way we can always point back and say it wasn’t our fault.

We are more inclined into following a guidebook and a ‘do X in 10 steps’ recipes than to open our eyes and think for ourselves.

Taking The Easy Way Out

When Facebook was just 2 years old, it received an offer from Yahoo for a full buyout for 1 billion. At that point in time, Facebook was nothing like it is today. It had a much smaller user-base, advertising revenue, and concrete plans for the future. While the two other board members, Peter Thiel and Jim Breyer, were claiming to accept the deal, Zuckerberg was uncompromising.

“This meeting shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes. We’re obviously not going to sell here” he said, perpetuating a wave of shock in everyone. “But you own 25 percent! There’s so much you could do with the money!”. Nothing could persuade his mind out of it. And think about this for a second. Acquisitions of this sort are so often and regular in Silicon Valley. There is a whole mindset of creating something just to sell it out and win the quick bucks. One can only remember the famous motto:

“I made a fortune by selling too early” — JP Morgan

Winning money this way is most of the time considered the smart move. The safe bet. Imagine how bad it would look to refuse such an offer and then fail to achieve your targets. You would become an entrepreneurial example of failure and bad decisions. Mark had all the incentives to play it safe and get his little cut out and withdraw on an island, spending his time in cocktail parties for the rest of his life. But it would take a very strong judgment and critical thinking to eradicate any external influences and follow your gut feeling.

The Price For Self-Reliance

Acting through your own accord separates you from the rest and set you up for easy criticism. Especially when you may miss the minor details in a big project, in which case a couch potato would feel eligible to bring attention to them. Marking your own way diverges you from the general consensus and exposes you to the world, allowing them to scrutinize your actions under the microscope. Judgment and gossip are gonna become your new friends no matter how hard you work or how considerate you are.

And if you are lucky enough to do a misstep, you may become a meme with people attaching your sad face next to an example of a “bad choice”. But moving along anyway means that your anchor resides internally and have taken the decision to follow your own thoughts instead of chasing the approval of others.

Morning Routine and The Placebo Effect

The last few years, there is a hype going on over the morning routines and various processes that wake up your body and revitalize your brain to be healthier and more alert. Who would have thought that a cold morning shower could make you write 10 books and achieve glory and fame so fast?

Now don’t get me wrong, the things that are usually listed in the routines are actually good. And the truth is they are good weather you do them in the morning or in the afternoon. But the markering point that you need to do them in the morning when you wake up and grasp the day by the horns seems more like a placebo pill that is promoted by fake self-help industries rather than a genuine suggestion with substance.

Morning routines have a very special mechanism. By getting us out of our comfort zone they force us into new patterns of behavior and out of our little autopilot behavior.

Morning routines impact us the same way buying new clothes is. They make you feel good for a little while, maybe a couple of weeks, till you get used to them and then you seek to add some refinement of improvement to the sequence to get that spike again. But the spike is not so much in the thing itself as much as in the thought of you having found an awesome new way to rejuvenate yourself. The same way you feel good when you get your hands on a new piece of knowledge that separates you from the rest. You validate your ego, you applaud your intelligence and driven attitude and bath into the awesomeness. So much so till the effect subsides and you need another shot of the same futile medicine.

But this little turmoil in our daily lives is what causes us to feel a bit more alert, wakeful, and alive even. We pay attention to the world around us a bit more and learn to see the world through our own eyes. This pattern of operating is what invokes the most creative parts in us and constitutes the mode of decision making that offer the most value.

Why You Should Never Feel Regret

There is no such thing as regret. People make mistakes constantly and they progress through them as they go along. You always make your choices based on the knowledge that you have in front of you and do the best you can at each point in time. The paralysis by analysis phenomenon is an indication that you base your behavior on how others are gonna perceive your doings or what would be the best choice in accordance to them. You are afraid to make a decision because you are not sure how they are gonna respond to it and because you might fell short in their eyes of your critics. But the remedy to such feelings is always the same. Revert the perspective to originate from the inside and all restrictions are gonna disappear in an instant.

I would argue that pretty much every time you feel regret is because you forced yourself to act in accordance to other people’s expectations and lost sight of your anchor and what your real needs were. This temporary shift is what made you feel so bad later on that you felt the futility of the whole endeavor.

Nietzsche’s Eternal Recurrence

Nietzsche once proposed a very interesting experiment. Imagine that the life that you live right now, with all its failures and successes and good and bad parts, you will have to relive again and again for infinity. Imagine that you caught yourself into and a never-ending loop that replays your life with all the choices that you made in it, forever. Would you able to sustain such a weight even as a thought experiment? Would you be able to withstand the responsibility of your actions under such a light and progress in life knowing the repercussions you every move would have?

“There will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence — even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself” — Friedrich Nietzsche

But as heavy and tragic such a vision would be, it would also be liberating in a way and encouraging. Because it offers the self-affirming notion of you embracing your life and yourself in all its glory and manifestations, with all its boredom and perplexity that is going on, and all the pain and bliss it entails.

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