Have you ever stopped and noticed how much time and energy you spend on imagining your future? It is quite astounding when you begin to notice what goes on in your mind, almost without you being aware of it. I’m not talking about ‘high level’ imagining: ‘If I won the lottery, I would…’ or ‘When I retire, I will…’ I’m talking about the everyday mundane imagining of your future, the level of what the next meeting/encounter you have will be like, or what you will say in that email or phone call, or what going to the supermarket will be like.
Maybe you’re different from me, but I find that I have frequently run several scenarios about things that haven’t actually happened yet, starting with a straightforward version, and then adding in a series of ‘what if’s’: what if it’s raining, there is no space in the car park, what I want is out of stock, I’m feeling too tired by then. By the time I’ve finished, a simple event has become full of complications and complex ways of dealing with them, and I’m feeling stressed just at the thought of it – and I’m only going to the supermarket!
And 9 times out of 10, none of my complex plans are needed, because it is a straightforward simple event when it finally really happens. All that stress and effort was unnecessary. (The 1 out of 10 is when something I hadn’t predicted happens, and I’m not prepared for it after all!)
Wow! What a waste of energy and effort! We put ourselves through all these experiences with their emotional tugs and pulls, and none of them are the actual experience.
Yet this can be a really useful tool for us, should we choose to consciously use it. It was designed to help us, not to make our lives more difficult.
We know this because small children use this faculty in their minds differently, until we teach them not to. When a small child imagines the next thing to happen, they look at how it will be fun or exciting or different. They look forward to things and wonder what will be in those next steps with curiosity, not judgement.
And then we learn to wish things to be a certain way, and expect them not to be that good or simple. We learn to fear that we might fail or we might be disappointed, and we therefore learn to plan to try and protect ourselves from those possibilities. If this actually worked for us, I guess it would be useful, but it rarely does.
So what can we do about it?
- Begin to notice when you’re imagining from fear, futurising to handle made-up problems. And stop yourself and laugh.
- Consciously choose to imagine like a child: ‘How will this be fun?’ ‘I’m curious about how this will be.’
- Imagine yourself just being comfortable in the situation, no matter what happens. Don’t play scenarios – just see and feel yourself being comfortable and let the rest be vague and misty.
- See yourself at the end of the experience saying: ‘Well, that all worked out fine.’
If we were enlightened beings, we would just be in the moment, and let it all unfold without getting caught in the dramas. Most of us aren’t there yet, so let’s put this faculty of ours to good use, instead of letting it cause us stress and unnecessary waste of energy!