Freaking Out About the Future? 4 Things You Can Do Instead
The future has always been uncertain, hasn’t it? Of course, we may feel that sense of uncertainty stronger when we are going through a difficult time. But if you really think about it, throughout our lives the future has always been uncertain. We can expect or project something out there, but the future has always been uncertain. That’s the beauty of the future, isn’t it? If the future is set in stone, then it’s just like the past. Then it’s not much fun, so to speak. The uncertainty is what makes the future interesting.
The fact that the future is uncertain makes it quite exciting, actually. It gives us a lot of opportunity. If the future’s not uncertain, there’s not much opportunity there.
When you feel anxiety about the future, such as fear of some kind of loss, there is a process you can use to work with that feeling. In this process, you do four things.
1. First, identify the fear or anxiety.
How do you do that? As soon as anxiety or the fear of uncertainty arises in your mind, in your thought process, notice it. Spot it, and then try to gently calm that thought of uncertainty or anxiety by labeling it the way you would do in meditation.
You label it, saying, Oh, I have a thought of uncertainty. Or, I am experiencing a feeling of anxiety. When we label our thoughts and get a good look at them, we see that many of those thoughts are not even rational. Just naming them has a calming effect.
There are so many thoughts coming and going through our mind, stirring it up, trying to intensify our fear of the future. So we label this thought or feeling of anxiety.
Next we try to see clearly how we are projecting so many things onto the future. At this point in the process, we try to see which of these thoughts are merely random, unrelated concepts mixed together, just making the experience more intense and fearful. Keep looking, try to see that clearly.
So first we identify the fear or anxiety and label it. And we try to see it with greater clarity.
2. The second thing you can do in that moment is to relax your mind.
Take a deep breath and try to relax, try to stay positive. You could use any method of relaxation you like: taking a few deep breaths, or doing anything that will not be connected to these anxious thoughts and feelings. Do something that will bring a positive experience of your mind. Even meditation! It may be my biased thinking but, in my opinion, meditation is the best method for relaxing, if we can do that.
3. The third thing we can do to work with anxiety or fear of uncertainty, is to connect with wisdom.
Specifically, connect with the wisdom of what you don’t know. In other words, take a little time and reflect on what you know for sure about the future and what you don’t really know about it. It’s very important to be clear about which is which. We’re using wisdom, our discriminating awareness to clarify what we know for sure and what we don’t really know.
It is very clear, isn’t it? It’s your mind. You know what you know. And you know what you don’t know. You don’t have to ask anyone else. So make that very clear for yourself. Be especially clear about what you don’t really know, the not-knowing part.
Knowing what we don’t know is great wisdom.
So at this point in the process, we are bringing together all the facts. If you have trouble discerning, you can bring in some reasoning, using the rational mind to look at all the facts together:
Make a list of things that you know for sure. You might write down, It’s going to be absolutely bad in the future, or It’s going to be absolutely good. Make a list and then just apply reason and logic to it. See which statements on the list you know for sure to be accurate, and which ones you’re not so sure about.
We don’t really need to freak out about uncertainty, about the unknown. If you think about it, if we have a mind, we have always functioned this way –– not knowing some things and knowing others. So don’t let the unfavorable conditions that the world is experiencing right now overwhelm you. You already have great wisdom and you can apply it.
So try to spot as many thoughts as possible that are not based on knowledge or rationality, and make a list of them. Then, when these thoughts come up, it’s easy to deal with them. You will see them clearly and be able to say, Oh, these thoughts have no basis! Then you can worry about those few on the list that it may make sense to be concerned about. We should still try to fix whatever needs fixing. There’s no problem with doing that.
4. The fourth point is to be positive.
Try to stay positive by seeing the positive side of things. For example, consider how this unfavorable condition may bring a positive result. Sometimes we experience difficulties over which we have no control. Once that unfavorable thing has already happened, however, there is still something we can do. We can try to see how a positive outcome may occur, even from that difficult situation.
When we have fearful thoughts and feelings of anxiety about the future, we also have a choice about how to work with them. Using this four-part process, we can identify, label, and clearly see these thoughts and feelings. Then we can relax, and examine our experience with discerning wisdom to find out what we actually know and don’t know. Doing this calms our mind and makes us better able to deal with whatever needs our attention.