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Anxiety and Your “What If Calculator”

Some universities provide a what if calculator” to help students project possible grades. It provides the percentage they need on each test to get their desired grade at the end of the course. Based on what they would like their final grade to be, they can decide how much work and effort to put into studying for their final exam.

If we all had a what if calculator to forecast our future, life would be so much easier!

We could say we all are in a possession of a what if calculator. For many of us, that amazing thought-making machine works overtime. The problem is that though our mind means well, its calculations are not entirely accurate most of the time. Quite often, the predictions are worst-case scenarios that lead us to anxiety, avoidance, and behaviors that get in the way of living a more meaningful life.

We cannot be too harsh towards our mind’s efforts — because its job is to protect us. When it perceives something is wrong, it counsels us to stay away from places, events, and situations that could harm us. In the beginning of time, our ancestors’ what if calculators were constantly anticipating catastrophic events. The need to deliberate about past or future events was crucial to their survival. If they had not adhered to the judgments their minds provided, they would not have survived, and we would not be here.

Though we no longer encounter life-or-death occurrences like our progenitors did, our what if calculator continues to estimate our routes everywhere we go.

Do you need to believe all of your calculator’s forecasts? Some of you may say, “Yes, of course!” However, a better answer could be, “Only when it gets me closer to living the type of life I want.”

Your mind is not a crystal ball that knows the future, even though it sometimes may feel that way. Next time your what if calculator begins to predict, take a moment to answer these three questions before following its input.  

  • Am I reinforcing anxiety by following my minds’ guidance?
  • Are my mind’s projections correct when I choose to disregard its admonitions?
  • How exact are its predictions?

Keep a what if calculator journal. When you notice your mind is forecasting your future and you become anxious, write down what it’s saying. Use a scale of 1 to 10, (10 being the highest) to rate how anxious you are in that moment, and how anxious your mind says you will be unless you follow its warnings.

When the mind’s advice is favorable and moves you closer to your values, act on it. If you cannot do anything about it in that moment and/or it’s not helpful, treat the mind as an external event or separate person. Acknowledge what it says by responding with phrases like: “I hear you.” “You may be right.” “We’ll see.” “I got it in my notebook, thanks mind.” “We’ll see what happens.” “Thanks, you are doing a good job at worrying me.” Then gently get back to what you were doing in that moment. You don’t need to rush the thoughts out or hold onto them tightly. Thoughts come and go naturally. Allow them to do so by observing them and then focusing on what matters most.

Notice the evaluations throughout the day and continue acknowledging them as indicated above. Later, go back to your journal and read your notes. Record what happened when you disregarded its recommendations. Was your mind’s projection 100% accurate or less than accurate? Write it down. Include your insights and how you feel about not listening to your mind’s direction, especially when you realize it’s not useful.

The purpose of this exercise is to increase your awareness as to how your language machine operates. You will discover that you don’t have to comply every time. You can develop a sense of expectancy and curiosity. “What will my mind say today, and will it be helpful?”

Even though your what if calculator is amazing, it doesn’t contain all the information to make exact predictions each day of your life. Its rules and opinions may get you entangled and confused. The good news is that you have a choice. You can decide what to do with its calculations!  

Anxiety and Your “What If Calculator”

Annabella Hagen, LCSW, RPT-S

Annabella Hagen, LCSW, RPT-S is the owner and clinical director at Mindset Family Therapy. Her practice specializes in treating children, adolescents, and adults coping with anxiety and family challenges. Her expertise is working with obsessive-compulsive disorder and (OCD) related disorders. Annabella is the author of two children’s books, “Emma’s Worry Clouds” and  “Nico the Worried Caterpillar.” She is also the co-author of “The Masterpiece Mindset: Empowering your Kids to be Confident, Kind, and Resilient.” She enjoys writing for various online magazines and her business blog. You can reach her at

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APA Reference
Hagen, A. (2018). Anxiety and Your “What If Calculator”. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 20 May 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.