The “What if … ” Game

Plan for unknown, risky or even magnificent situations using the “What if … ” game. A tool for helping people venture into the unknown with their eyes open

I like my coaching with my clients to be rooted in real, tangible results, and to relate to actual experience.

So at first sight, the “What if … ” game might seem very different to that – abstract and make-believe. But here’s why it’s such a useful tool both for getting real results and for helping people to properly ‘live’ their day-to-day life and work.


First, people sometimes fail to take action, or fail to really be ‘present’ to their actual experiences, out of fear, embarrassment and shame around what could go wrong, or where they don’t feel good enough, or out of self-criticism about how things ‘should’ be.

At those times, the “What if …” game can be a great way of safely looking at and planning for the scary stuff together.

Leaders and coaches can ask:

What if your situation IS as bad as you think – what would you do about it?

What if you DID actually need to get better at doing X; how would you go about that?

What is actually the worst that could happen – and what’s the first thing you’d do if it did?

Nine times out ten, asking these kind of “What if … ” questions results in somebody really quickly reconnecting with their choice and personal agency (ability to get into action). You’ll get answers like, “Actually, if that did really happen, I’d just do X;” or, “The worst isn’t really as bad as I imagined, the really bad stuff is way, way beyond where I am!” On the tenth time, you might find someone who isn’t ready to re-empower themselves just yet, and the “What if … ” game will just get vague, non-concrete answers. Best strategy then is to simply explore more about what’s currently going on: “Tell me some more about how things are for you right now?” Give it time and space.

The 'What if ...' game can be a great way of safely looking at and planning for the scary stuff together. Click To Tweet

Second (and just as often), we can fail to take action, or forget to be in the moment, because our big, audacious goals, if achieved, would result in radical changes to our situations. This is true even though it seems really counter-intuitive – why would we not take action to make a radical change, or fail to fully experience the process of doing it, when it’s something that we wanted all along!?

But any kind of change, even positive change or growth is by definition scary – it lies deep into the unknown territory.

At those times, leaders and coaches can use the “What if … ” game as a way of safely exploring that unknown territory together. We can ask:

“What if this actually works – then what happens?”

“What if you find yourself changed in some way – how would that be?”

“What if you can’t tell how it will be until you get there?”

Any kind of change, even positive change or growth is by definition scary - it lies deep into the unknown territory. Click To Tweet

It’s human nature to either see only the outcomes we want or, more often, to not look at outcomes at all, because there’s a chance they’ll be unpleasant, scary or beyond our capabilities.

The “What if … ” game is a great tool for exploring what we might find and how we might feel when we do choose to venture into the unknown. And to go there with our eyes open to the risks and the benefits and our ability to deal with them.

Let me know if you’ve used the “What if … ” game, or something like it yourself please? What did you find?

Please leave a comment below if they’re still open at the time of reading, or tweet me @nickrobcoach

Leaders and coaches can help people to reconnect with their choice and personal agency using the 'What if ...' game Click To Tweet

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