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How thinking about the future is futile, and can trip us up.

Updated: Nov 29, 2023

We all do it.

Find ourselves thinking about the future, imagining conversations we might have with people, or scenarios we may be faced with. Imagining how an important event might go, and how we can make it the best it can be.

It’s a natural part of the human experience to be lost in some imagined future, rather than being present with this moment.

I find in my own experience, when I am caught up in future-thinking, it tends to bring with it slightly anxious feelings. These feelings aren’t telling me anything true, or real, about the future. Logically, we all know that we cannot predict how the future will unfold. However, it doesn’t stop our mind from going there!

This type of thinking does detach us from the reality we are living in now, and creates expectations within us about how the future should look. When those expectations aren’t met, we innocently tend to feel disappointed, scared or frustrated. The fact of the matter is that the expectations or hopes are made up in the first place, by our own thinking, and aren’t a reflection of what should happen.

What I find helpful to see, is that when we are lost in future imaginings, we don’t have the complete equation on hand. Firstly we can’t know exactly what is going to happen, how something is going to play out. Secondly, we can’t know what our thinking in the moment in the future will be. Wisdom is an in-the-moment navigational force. Whilst our wisdom today may suggest one thing, it may suggest something even better three days later, at the time when we find ourselves actually faced with the event or conversation we have been thinking about. Keeping our mind busy with lots of thinking about something in future, also doesn’t allow us to be in the greatest clarity available. Our mind remains fixed on imaginings. And when our mind feels busy, we tend to not feel at our best, which may trigger more anxious thinking about the future. It can be somewhat of a vicious cycle.

Let’s look at an example to illustrate. You can substitute anything your mind is chewing over about the future:

Imagine that you have a report to write for work that is on a tight deadline. Not only is the deadline tight but you aren’t sure how to structure the report, or what to include in it. And your performance on this report is important as to whether you are considered for a promotion. It feels like a lot is riding on the success of this report!

Your thinking may be telling you, “I don’t know what to write or how to structure the report”….”I don’t have enough time”…”I’m not going to get the promotion and will be stuck with my current manager who is useless”. Whilst your mind is full with all of this thinking, it can be harder to focus on the task at hand. You might procrastinate about starting, adding more thinking such as “I really need to start this or I won’t have time to finish it”. You might innocently then start to add another layer of thinking to the situation by believing that the procrastination means something important about you….maybe how useless you are for not getting on with this….or how you always leave things to the last minute.

With this level of noise in your head, it’s going to feel pretty heavy, and therefore starting the report will feel even more impossible. It can be harder (but not impossible) for our wisdom or clarity to speak to us when we feel like this. It’s like a brass band and flute playing simultaneously. Our innate connection to wisdom is the flute, and the noise in our head is the brass band. When the brass band is loud, and we give it our attention, it’s pretty hard to hear the flute.

So what is the solution?

Firstly seeing that you have a busy mind about this report. Then seeing that you don’t have to believe, or continue to focus on, the content of your thinking about it. Most importantly, you don’t have to buy into all the future imaginings about the outcome your mind has innocently made up. You have no idea whether you will finish the report on time, or what it will mean to the future of your career. Once you see you are experiencing your thought-in-the-moment about the report, not the actual report, it tends to feel lighter, and we can carry on with what we need to do.

From a place of clarity, your wisdom might suggest a walk around the block to take your mind off the report for a while. Or the right colleague to ask for help with the structure. Or you find you can just begin to write. Invariably things aren’t actually as hard as our mind will have us believe, when we imagine having to do something.

Here’s another example from my own life. I had some thinking come up about writing this blog. My mind had lots of comments to make, such as “I won’t get this finished before half term comes”, and “What if no one reads it?” and “Will I make it clear enough, easy to understand and see?” Plus a whole lot more thinking besides!

Because I have explored how the mind works, I knew not to pay much attention to this. I know it’s my thought-in-the-moment about the blog, not the actual blog itself. When we know how the human system works, it takes a lot off of our minds. When I am not paying attention to all the thinking about the blog, and this passes through me, I find myself back in a place of a clear mind. This is a much better place from which to write the blog (or do anything!). When I know that the only place I need to look is at my thinking about the outside world (the blog in this case) and not the outside world itself, it eliminates the need to control, worry and future-project. I now take my mind much less seriously than I used to.

This mechanism for how the human mind works and how our experience is created works the same for all of us. And it works the same way for the ‘big’ things in life, as well as the ‘small’. So whether we are looking into the future and are concerned about our health, our children, money, our job security, a diagnosis, our wedding day etc. we are only ever feeling our thinking about what the future holds, not actually feeling the ‘thing’ itself. The content of our thinking is not the important element here, seeing how the human design works, is. This is where the potential for freedom and acceptance lies.

It can be so helpful to begin to notice when your mind is pulling you into the future, and away from this very moment. Even if the thinking you are experiencing about the future seems very real, important and like it is speaking truth – the reality is, it isn’t! So we are free to let this go, and carry on with what is in front of us now. To let life live us. We get to be far more present in our lives, more connected to what is here right now. Which is generally a lighter, and calmer place to be.

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