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Why Your Mind Loves Running What/If Scenarios

I went out one day to check on whichever shell was roaming around inside the outdoor play area and found this amazing mushroom literally growing off the side of the garage! How DO they do that?! Nature. Amazing.

My mind is definitely a prepper.

From always buying two of every household supply at the grocery store to waking me up in the middle of the night to ponder a dreamed-of near-escape in more detail, it is always game for another, well, game of “what/if.”

When hurricane season rolls around again, it sends me to the pantry to eye the rows of bottled water and asks, “Are you sure we have enough?”

If I have to go to the (dreaded) dentist/doctor for a checkup, it bribes me with a reward: “If you get out of there alive, I’ll buy you a cupcake.” So of course I go.

My mind would make a great drill sergeant, or one of those wilderness expedition leaders so popular on reality television today. Give it a spoon, a stick of gum and a ski parka and it would make a tent and dig up a (non-poisonous) mushroom for our dinner.

And then there is the rest of oh-so-modern me. The part of me that is not-mind lives in an air-conditioned casa surrounded by contemporary conveniences. No one is mashing potatoes with a rock or rolling around in citronella to ward off pests. We have potato mashers and pest spray for all that.

This part of me gets routinely confused (not to mention terrified) by my mind’s persistent fascination with what/if scenarios.

The most ferocious predator I am likely to encounter in the average day is a voracious newborn mosquito. Yet it simply will not leave me alone.

What if you leaned too far over your balcony and fell off and hit your head?  

What if you fell down the stairs and broke your back? 

What if your brakes suddenly stopped working?

What if that orange juice you just drank tasted “off” because it was poisoned?

What if global warming becomes global frying and it’s too hot to live here anymore?

What if that last bout of vertigo means you have some horrible incurable disease?

What if your best friend hasn’t texted you back because she hates you?

What if, what if, what if. What would you do? How would you survive? It just won’t stop.

When I am awake, it ponders whether not spending my day completing my (court required) defensive driving course means I’ll never do it and then a cop will pull me over and arrest me and send me to a jail full of professional criminals and then what. 

When I am asleep it sends ice storms and tsunamis and really scary people to put me through my paces. What if, what if, what then and how would you respond.

I don’t know if everyone’s ancient limbic brain stem is this active. But my personal fight-or-fight system got the message somewhere along the way that these types of survivalist mental exercises are vital – life-saving, even.

I also want to clarify – these what/if scenarios aren’t the type that keep me locked up in my home or frightened to engage with life. If that were the case, I would definitely be seeking professional help (and I probably wouldn’t have attempted to spray paint that accent wall in my house without wearing a mask or goggles)!

But they are just always there. Sometimes it makes me laugh, to be honest – like, yes, I could die in some freak rogue happening that makes front page headlines. People do….every single day. Statistically speaking, the probability is quite low. Unfortunately, I nearly flunked statistics in college, which explains why that thought isn’t particularly trusted or motivational.

I just think we – and by “we,” I mean homo sapiens as a species – have made such vast and rapid progress over the last century or so that there are parts of the brain that haven’t caught up yet. In some dim recess of my mind, saber-toothed tigers still exist. And they live in my neighborhood.

And that, my friends, is why my mind insists on running what/if scenarios nearly round the clock. Or at least that is today’s working theory. In this way, I suppose my mind thinks it is mentoring me in the art of staying alive for one more day. Who knows – maybe it really is.

Today’s Takeaway: Do you ever catch your mind taking some situation you are in or were just in and using it to “prep” for the future?  Does your mind ever start randomly wondering out loud to you what you would do if a perfectly ordinary, every day, innocuous task suddenly turned dangerous or deadly? Or am I the only one? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


Why Your Mind Loves Running What/If Scenarios

Shannon Cutts

Parrot, tortoise & box turtle mama. Writer. Author. Mentor. Champion of all people (and things) recovered and recovering.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2018). Why Your Mind Loves Running What/If Scenarios. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 2, 2020, from


Last updated: 20 Oct 2018
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