We fixate our thoughts on the future and so complain that the future worries me. If we stay focused on the future than yes, I’d be worried about my future, too. But there is a solution which I offer in my four tips for coping with the future.
If I were to ask for a show of hands, how many of you would raise your hand in agreement that generally speaking, I’m worried about my future? I’m assuming most of your hands are raised in agreement. Why is this so? Why does the prospect of “the future worries me” resonate? The answer is fairly simple and consists of one word: unknown.
None of us knows the future. Therefore, by its nature, the future is an unknown. Since it’s an unknown it tends to be scary, because I can’t prepare myself for it. Therefore, the future worries me. As humans, most of us desire to be in control of our daily lives, although, no matter how much we strive for control, much of life is beyond our control. The future is one of those areas outside of our control.
When we feel that we can’t control an aspect of our lives, then we feel “out of control”. Feeling out of control is scary itself as we worry about where we will end up if we aren’t in control. So, the future is not only an unknown, but it’s also out of our control. Actually, the future isn’t in anybody’s control!
So yes, when the future worries me, it should! THAT’S NORMAL.
When I work with clients who state that I’m worried about my future, obsessing over it, stressing over it, I help them to understand that their feelings about their future are to be expected. If we are to dwell in the future, meaning, keeping our thoughts focused on the future, then we will be worried and anxious. The statement that the future worries me is deeply felt. I let my clients know that although what they’re feeling is a normal response to their action if they would rather not feel worried and anxious then they need to do only one thing – change their action!
If my action; keeping my thoughts in the future causes me to worry and have anxiety, does it not make sense that changing my action; removing my thoughts from the future would cause me less worry and stress? The common definition of insanity is doing the same action over and over yet expecting a different result. Therefore, the definition of sanity is doing a different action and getting a different result.
Here are my four tips for coping when the future worries me:
- Refocus your thoughts: Throughout the day, whenever you feel worried or anxious, pause a moment to notice where your thoughts are focused. Are your thoughts focused on the past or the future? If so, this is the source of your worry. The future worries me when I dwell in the future. Consciously move your thoughts back to the present moment by consciously focusing on what you are now seeing, feeling, experiencing, etc. We have control over the present moment, so keeping our thoughts focused on the present automatically reduces our worry and anxiety.
- Change your perspective: Perspective is how you see and interpret the world around you. Our interpretation is derived after being “filtered” through how you feel about yourself. If you’re negative about yourself, you’re most likely negatively focused on the world around you, and vice versa. Changing our perspective on an issue allows us to view a different way of thinking, which may help us find a solution different than those we’ve tried before. A different solution leads to a different outcome, and therefore sanity.
- Worst case scenario: When we dwell in the future we tend to focus on what can go wrong (TIP: referencing number 2 above, a change in perspective would be changing your focus from what can go wrong to what can go right. Why must it be negative? Since I don’t know my future why focus my thoughts in only one option, the negative option? Since I don’t know the future isn’t it possible that it could be positive?). Since you’re already focused on what can go wrong, consciously ask yourself “What’s the worst case scenario?”. When you objectively and logically review what you fear as the worst case may in fact not even be that bad! A few months ago I was working with a client on this very topic. I used the example that what if a sinkhole developed right now and this whole building went down. What’s the worst case? The client stated that the worst thing that could happen is that he dies. I asked why that’s the worst that could happen to him? Of course, he mentioned family, kids, friends, etc, but that’s not the worst case for him, it’s the worst case for them! If he dies he’s dead, there are no more worries or concerns for him. So the worst case might be that he survives and is scared. Yes, being scared is normal. What do you do next? You try to climb out; you either succeed at it or rescuers finally get you out, but regardless, the odds of being trapped in the hole, alive, with no one coming to save us, would be rare. And if you say “but what about the zombie apocalypse”? Well, in that scenario I would rather be hidden in the hole. My point being, worrying about a future sinkhole will cause anxiety; but understanding that even the worst case scenario isn’t that bad, allows us to reduce our worry about an impending sinkhole.
- Plan for the future with a reasonable expectation: Please don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. I’m not saying that to live in the present means we forego any future planning. Not at all! First, concerning the scenario for which you are planning, determine those areas of the scenario for which you do and don’t have control over. Those areas you have no control over you need to ignore. But, those areas you do have control over you need to make plans. Understand that the decisions you make today will impact your future plans. And, situations and events out of your control will impact your future plans. This is why I say that we need to have a reasonable expectation. We can make the best plans in the world but keep in the back of your mind that they may not come true. And that’s alright. Why? The opportunities which may open up for you instead may be better than what you wanted. In the future, other opportunities may exist which don’t exist today, and there’s no way of knowing that until we live in the future’s present moment. So, make your goals, plan for your future, but keep an open mind to what that future may actually reveal.
Let this thought comfort you: today was yesterday’s future for which you worried. Was it as bad as you thought? Tomorrow is today’s future. What decisions and plans can you make today to help you in the future of tomorrow?