“What if I get on the wrong bus?”


So, this happened …

It was not one of my proudest moments.

Sometimes, I think very carefully about what I say. But on that day, I had no filter operating between my brain and my mouth.

Even now, I’m cringing as I write this.

I had just moved to London and spent the day with a university friend, who had moved there a few years earlier.

After a great day, as the sun was setting and the temperature was plummeting, I got ready to leave.

My friend was giving me instructions on how to get back to my apartment on the other side of London – which would be a long and complex journey using multiple forms of public transport. The journey would begin with a bus ride at a major bus station near his place.

Everything in London was still so alien to me (the weather, the accents, the buildings), which left me feeling uneasy, perhaps even with a hint of dread.

He was writing it all down on a piece of paper for me. I started planning the whole journey in my mind: what I needed to do, what to look out for, when I would finally be back. Feeling out-of-place, I also started anticipating all the things that might go wrong on the way. I just didn’t know the transport system in London!

In a moment of weakness I spoke my thoughts out aloud, and a second later I totally regretted it.

“What if I get on the wrong bus?” my mouth said, leaving my brain in horror.

My friend laughed as he looked up from his notepad, expecting to see a look of teasing on my face. But he immediately saw that I wasn’t. It really had been a serious question.

He laughed again, a little uncomfortably this time.

I was embarrassed. And he was embarrassed for me.

So what if I got on the wrong bus. Right?

Then I can just get off again.

Ask someone. Look at a map. Get on another bus. Or take a taxi.

I don’t normally over-think things as badly as that, I blame it on being overwhelmed at the time. But it was really useful to have had had that specific experience, to remind myself how complicated (and unnecessary) our thinking can get.

There’s nothing wrong with a bit of pre-planning. But it’s pointless to plan for every eventuality. Especially when, even if it were to happen, it would be so easy to fix.

What if I get on the wrong bus? Who cares!

Sheesh, dude.

Simple Definition

What if I get on the wrong bus?  This #hashtag-story considers the type of over-thinking where you spend too much time planning for unimportant outcomes (which are either unlikely, or are easy to resolve).

Summarizing what it means

There are six types of over-thinking in the #HashtagYourLife system, and you can find links to all of them at the end of this chapter.

Here, I’m sharing my moment of shame with you in the form of a #hashtag-story for the one specific type where you think too much about unimportant possibilities.

And now that you have a label for it (“What if I get on the wrong bus?”) it’s easier to notice when you’re doing it, and thus more easily pull yourself back into reality.

  • Yes, it was useful to remind myself what to look out for, so that I would get off the bus at the right station
  • No, it was pointless to start planning what I would do if I got on the wrong bus.

Being concerned about such an inconsequential event was dumb for a few reasons:

  • It increased my stress, even though the solution was obvious & easy
  • It was something I could prevent if I just read the number on the front of each bus
  • If I did get on the wrong bus, the obvious next step would be to get off
  • Even if worst came to worst and I ended up totally lost, I could always just hail one of London’s famous Black Taxis, and get home safely that way.

Of course, when I say “bus” I don’t actually mean “bus”:

  • What if I speak to that woman in the bar, and she doesn’t want to talk to me?
  • What if I start piano lessons, and then realize I don’t enjoy playing?
  • What if I buy the Laksa soup and it ends up being too spicy for me?
  • What if I stop reading a book that I’m not enjoying, and end up missing a really important lesson?

Some scenarios are definitely worth thinking about – that’s what good risk management is all about.

But other scenarios?  The unimportant stuff I was fixating on? Sheesh dude, then just get off that wrong bus.

Discussing what it means

The aim (and benefit!) of #hashtagging

If …

  • you have useful labels for situations
  • you can instantly see a situation for what it really is (because you have a label for it)

Then …

  • you always know exactly what is happening around you
  • you feel less overwhelmed, and
  • you always know what the best way is to respond.

Stress and Overwhelm

Consider someone who overslept, and may be late for a flight.

They’re feeling very stressed, of course. But the good news is that if they are clear on why they’re stressed, things can immediately ease up. Let me show you a couple of examples …

  • If they overslept by a lot and have definitely missed their flight, there’s no need to stress – it’s done. Of course, they should make plans about what to do next, but that should be practical, not stressed.
  • On the other hand, they might still have time to get the flight, but they’ll have to hurry. Again, there’s no point in stressing – they should just focus on getting things finished as soon as possible. If anything, stress will just slow them down.

Instead, we often get caught up in “What if I get on the wrong bus?” thinking.

  • We try to think about how we might still get to the airport on time, when it’s clear that it is impossible
  • We fantasize how we might negotiate with the airline staff to be let on the plane (even though the plane will be long gone by the time we arrive at the airport)
  • We imagine all the different ways our clients might respond when they find out (all of which are irrelevant – we should just wait and see how they actually respond).

These examples are a useful way of reminding ourselves that, when we find ourselves worrying about unimportant things, we need to stop as soon as possible!

“Wrong bus” thinking includes:

  • Thinking about situations which are incredibly unlikely to happen
  • Contemplating insignificant outcomes (and often we get stuck contemplating way too many of these insignificant outcomes)
  • Planning what to in certain circumstances, when in reality it would be really obvious what to do at the time (so no preparation is actually needed)
  • Stressing about a possible outcome, but in a “suffering” way, not in a practical risk-avoidance way.

I saw this on Twitter, and it seems completely at home in this chapter:

Do you get anxiety going to new places, thinking about the parking situation? Or are you normal?


Using Chess as an analogy to explain our analogy

Even if you don’t know much about chess, the following point will still help you understand this #hashtag-story.

According to this article, “there are more … games … than the number of electrons in our universe”.

No matter how smart you are, no matter how good you are at chess, you simply don’t have the time to analyze every possible move.

Good chess players are those who, when exploring a ‘line’, can quickly tell if it’s likely to be an important move (one which might reasonably win or lose the game for them), or an unimportant one (where it’s easy to respond to any subsequent moves from the opponent).

Don’t waste time on the unimportant moves!

Ahhhhh – if only we applied the same process in our lives as people do in a simple game of chess!

Other (un)important decisions

  • Whether I get on the wrong bus is unimportant. Once I realize my error, I can just get off.
  • Borrowing a lot of money to invest in speculative cryptocurrencies is an important move – I could lose everything, and still owe the money to someone. This needs a proper think.
  • When at a restaurant, I might not be able to decide between the Chicken or Fish. This is unimportant. I mean seriously, if you have spent even one minute debating with yourself and still can’t decide, why waste more time. Stop debating, and just randomly pick one.
  • Do you tend to over-pack when going on holidays? “What if I need smart white shoes?” you ask yourself, as you put a pair of smart white shoes next to the smart black shoes in your giant over-stuffed suitcase, for your one-week beach holiday. No no no no no.
  • When you start dating a guy, should you start planning what you might do if he starts to hit you during arguments? No – because that’s an unimportant decision. (Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying you should accept a violent partner. I’m saying it’s unimportant because there shouldn’t be much to debate if a few weeks after you start dating, he gets violent. The “break-up” response should be an immediate choice – that is why it’s unimportant.)
  • When thinking about your family’s future financial position, should you pretend you won’t die? No – planning for your death (because we all die), like whether to buy life insurance, is an important decision.
  • If you’re reading a book and aren’t enjoying it, should you stop, or just read through to the end? Don’t spend long on that unimportant question! Whether you finish the book or not is ultimately irrelevant. You might waste time, or you might learn something. A little bit of time-wasting is easy to survive. And missing an important lesson (which you’ll probably learn somewhere else if it’s good) is also easy to survive.
  • “What should I do if the test reveals I have cancer?” In a sense, as long as you don’t have a confirmed cancer diagnosis, it remains an unimportant question. Partly because you can alway ask that question, every day of your life, and still not be prepared. And partly because, if you’re not going to do anything different until you actually get that diagnosis, then the question is more about panic than action.
  • Worrying about how your client will respond to your proposal is important. Most particularly because, in anticipating what they might have issues with, you can produce a better proposal in the first place, thus increasing the chance of success.
  • Worrying about whether someone will like you is … unimportant. Not everyone will like you (you don’t even like everyone). So stop fixating on this.

When you find yourself thinking about unimportant issues, when you’re in effect asking yourself “What if I get on the wrong bus?”, then it’s time to flag those thoughts accordingly and stop that wasteful, stress-inducing thinking immediately.

But you probably won’t stop yourself if you don’t notice you’re doing it. THAT is why we label #hashtag scenarios like this.

Risk Management vs Pessimism

Be careful of jumping to the wrong conclusions here. I am not saying you should never plan ahead, not am I saying you shouldn’t consider what might go wrong. As long as you are preparing and not just suffering.

  • YES.
  • While planning my journey back home that day in London, it would be reasonable for me to check that I have enough money for the various fares back home (so I have the chance to borrow before I leave, if needed).
  • I should check that my phone has enough battery (so I can charge it before leaving, if required).
  • NO.
  • But worrying about what if I get on the wrong bus? Unimportant.
  • Debating with myself whether to buy a snack in advance, in case I get hungry on a 1-2 hour journey? Unimportant.
  • Considering what I might do if the bus has an accident along the way? Unimportant.

Remember there is a HUGE difference between Risk Management and Pessimism!

  • Pessimism is where you think about all the things that can go wrong, and then sit there stewing over those bad outcomes (none of which have happened).
  • Risk Management is where, after contemplating all that can go wrong, you start doing things to prevent it from going wrong, or to reduce the impact of it going wrong.

So plan for outcomes that could be really bad. Plan for outcomes that may reasonably happen. Plan for outcomes that are worth trying to prevent (which you can and will do something about). BUT …

Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Learn to drop the unimportant problems. You are wasting your time, and you are not improving the results!

What if I get on the wrong bus?

Then make sure you don’t. Or get off when you notice you have.

Do not waste your life over-thinking unimportant matters.

The six types of over-thinking

Within the #HashtagYourLife system, there are chapters for six types of thinking patterns around over-thinking.

Make sure you understand and can recognize all of them:

  • #[Putting trees in your field]  (Inventing obstacles that don’t exist)
  • #[Chicken or Fish]  (Analysis-paralysis when trying to decide between two similar options)
  • #[Cheese or Chocolate]  (Getting stuck trying to decide between two options which are actually quite different)
  • #[Cup vs Glass] (Overthinking a point of detail, but missing the big picture)
  • #[Just put your damn name in the hat]  (Putting a negative angle on everything you think – unpublished)
  • #[What if I get on the wrong bus?]  (Considering way too many outcomes, even the irrelevant ones)

Making it personal

Yes, you are probably guilty of this kind of thinking. But are you self-aware enough to spot it?

  • What examples can you think of, where you typically waste time worrying about “getting on the wrong bus”?
  • Is there a particular theme, or a specific situation, where you are most likely to do this?
  • Do you succumb to this? Or have you found a way to stop yourself when you get yourself in this loop?
  • What would be the best way to catch yourself when you are thinking about the wrong bus?

Related stories

#[Just put your name in the damn hat]
#[Putting trees in your field]
#[Chicken or Fish]
#[Cheese or Chocolate]
#[Cup vs Glass]

Headline Picture Credit