How To Manage Anxiety About The Future
There is only once place that anxiety about the future ever exists: right now.
It can be very compelling – I’ve been here thousands of times in my life – to think about what could happen and to assume the feelings generated by that thinking actually mean something about the future.
Spoiler alert: they can’t.
Research has shown this is one way we try to manage anxiety. We develop most likely scenarios that look like they limit the scope of possibilities and thereby limit uncertainty.
Alternatively we set intentions, goals, or make plans and decisions to further mitigate uncertainties and manage anxiety.
I’m not advocating we ditch plans and goals or even thinking about the future. Of course this is a necessary and useful part of our lives.
What I am offering is that we don’t lose sight of the fact that all of this mental energy doesn’t actually change the fact that we aren’t feeling the future.
The challenge isn’t that we have uncertainty, it’s that culturally we’ve become uncomfortable and even anxious about uncertainty. We’ve also become more anxious about anxiety itself.
It can look very convincing that in order to quiet the anxiety we have to know what is coming.
Since we can’t actually know what is coming we are left with only one option: think harder. Make decisions. Analyze feelings. Create scenarios. Worry. Avoid.
Managing anxiety with more thinking can only produce one result: more thinking.
There Is Another Way
The good news is there is another way to manage anxiety about the future. This alternative direction boils down to one simple fact:
You can only ever feel right now.
The only time feelings are felt is now. Right now in fact. So if you are busy thinking about what can happen in the future the only possible place you could feel that is right now.
What is fascinating is that we forget this is how it works.
It looks like we are feeling what is going to happen.
It can’t work that way. The only thing we can feel is thought right now about what is going to happen.
It may seem subtle. It may seem unhelpful.
This is one of the most useful distinctions I’ve ever seen.
Your feelings can only ever reflect thought right now – not the person, circumstance, scenario that you are thinking about.
Here’s a concrete example: If you are worried about an upcoming test – your feelings are coming from thinking about the upcoming test not the test itself.
Because in the next moment your friend might show up and tell you a funny story and you are no longer feeling your thinking about the test. The test itself can’t give you feelings. Only your thinking about the test.
How is this helpful?
When we see how inseparable thinking in the moment is to feeling in the moment it no longer makes logical sense to think more. And it definitely doesn’t make sense to spend more time changing our thinking.
Because all that could possibly do is add more thought and feeling.
Thinking more can’t create clarity or certainty. Thinking more can’t quiet anxiety.
Just like shaking a snow globe can’t settle the snow.
What is so incredible is that as we become more and more aware of how this works we wake up to it more and more often. We catch on to ourselves when we are caught up in thought and remember there is another way.
In the instant we wake up – we are present. We are in the moment without trying to get there.
We naturally stop taking so much time and energy attempting to manage thoughts and feelings and instead look at what is right now.
In the moment there is an obvious next step to take. Look here. Listen here.
This is where our deepest priorities and certainty lives.
If you are interested in watching a coaching demonstration I did with Tracy who is in the middle of a lot of change, check out the full Facebook Live recording inside our community group here. You can also find a number of additional free resources here.
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