When I think of the future - whether it’s a 5 days from now, 5 years, or 5 decades - I always imagine the worst possible scenario. My mind meanders into apocalyptic hells, destitute living scenarios, visions of myself broken and alone, bereft and forsaken.
They feel so real that it’s almost comforting to return to these images. I know them well. I’ve built them up over years of filling in the blanks of the future with a certainty it will all end in magnificent horror.
I imagine this started out as a proactive move. My mind wanted to prepare me for all possible outcomes, and chose to focus on the worst possible ones so I wouldn’t be surprised by what happened.
You know, some perverse version of the Boy Scouts creed: Always Be Prepared.
The trouble is, when you premise your existence on the idea that everything is going to end in a fiery ball of doom, it makes it incredibly difficult to create something good. To believe that anything you do matters. To invest your time in relationships, in your creativity, in growing or building anything.
I’ve been watching my thoughts a lot lately, and choosing to get curious about them.
I’ve noticed a very clear pattern wherein whenever I think about something that might be wonderful, I immediately start listing all the ways it could end horribly.
Some of this is inherited. I remember my Mom used to list off all the ways the thing I was excited about might tragically go wrong. I know she was trying to protect me, but I’ve found I’ve picked up the habit.
So when my roommate announces he’s moving out, I start to panic at the prospect of finding a new one. My mind is overrun by questions like: “What if I choose the wrong one?” “What if I can’t tell he’s psychotic and he kills us all in our sleep?”, “What if he seems nice but it’s all a front?”, “What if I can’t trust my own instincts?” and on and on.
When I find a role I’d be great for and want to request an audition, my mind inevitably runs away with: “There’s no way they’re going to call me in,” “I don’t have enough experience to play at that level,” “I don’t have an agent so there’s no way they’re going to open my email,” “This project is too good to be true and even if I got the role I’d probably hate working on it.” Yeesh. Talk about a no win no win no win.
I live in impossibility.
I live for ways and reasons to cut myself off from possibility.
I am a master at creating intense, fear-mongering drama out of the simplest of unknowns.
And the weird, embarrassing thing is... I think I enjoy it. I am starting to accept that I am an intense person who loves to feel things intensely. Heightened sensations make me happy. And frustratingly, even intense fear fills that craving.
So I’m investigating ways to release myself from my own operatic drama. I know that our actions follow our thoughts. So if I keep deciding that the thing I want is going to turn out all wrong, then I won’t pursue it.
Here’s the thing that gives me hope: our thoughts are habits.
We build muscles of thinking the same way we build muscles in the gym.
By doing reps.
I have built a habit of freaking the f&*k out.
I have flexed that muscle until I got myself the equivalent of six-pack abs of freaking out.
Freaking out feels important to me. It feels like I’m actually accomplishing something. It feels like I’m showing everyone how important this thing that I want is to me. I am giving it seriousness by thinking deeply about all the ways it might escape me.
Freaking out is where I have built my muscle.
Fear is what I have invested in.
And so it’s a go-to muscle.
Present me with a possible scenario - a date, travel to another city, a party with people I don’t know, a new job - and my mind will fill itself with doom scenarios.
The good news?
Fear is a muscle, but so is faith.
I can build a new habit.
I can teach myself to imagine everything will work out for the best.
I can direct my thoughts.
I can create my reality.
But where do I begin?
First, with awareness.
I will tune in to the times my shoulders start to rise, my chest feels tight, or I catch myself biting my tongue. These are all signs of anxiety, which are clues that my mind is running away with doomsday scenarios.
And I can start there.
I can start to consciously list all the all the things I would most enjoy in that possible future.
I can think of the things that make me happy now and imagine having more of them in that unknown future.
Even better, I can imbue that future scenario with details.
I can imagine the beautiful dress I would wear on my first day of work. The feel of the silk fabric brushing against my legs. The vibrancy of the green.
I can imagine sipping a latte at the end of my first date, inhaling the bitter sweet smell, enjoying the tickling of the foam against my lips, loving the quiet moment of the first taste.
Details engage the senses, which bring you back into your body.
Pick one moment from your unknown future that you want to create in your mind, and describe it. Fill it with details. What will you see? Who will be there? How will you feel? What will you wear? What will you eat? What will you hear?
See how your body relaxes.
Do your shoulders relax? Does your breathing slow and deepen? Does your jaw unclench?
These are signs that you have strengthened your faith muscle.
These are markers of a successful rep.
This is your body saying thank you, message received.
I can be at peace in the present now, because I have faith in the future.