To Those Who Fear the Future

I was once part of a regular Sunday evening call with a group of guys. We’d read a book together and hop on the phone to chat about our reflections on the reading, share life updates and get advice.

Every week about midday on Sunday is when began to dread the call.

I’d imagine all of the things I could be doing with that time. I’d kick myself for ever signing up for a commitment that would rob an hour from my Sabbath when I was meant to rest and prepare for the week (read: eat pizza and watch Iron Man again). I’d gripe and grumble all the way up until the call.

Then what do you think happened?

Invariably we’d have an amazing conversation, I’d feel heard and connected to this group of guys, and afterward I’d have energy and be incredibly grateful for the opportunity to engage with folks who were on a similar journey as me.

I wasted valuable time fearing the future when in reality, the future was full of promise and rich connections.

My Sunday night book club isn’t the only place I’m guilty of this internal disquiet when it comes to the moments I’ve yet to live…

  • I fear vacations to places I haven’t been.

  • I fear dinner with my girlfriend’s friends who I don’t know very well.

  • I fear conference calls.

  • I fear a Saturday with no plans because what if the plans that transpire aren’t the plans I like?

  • I fear pool parties.

  • I fear concerts.

  • I fear giving presentations for work.

  • I fear speaking publicly even though my job is to be a speaker.

  • I fear people finding out I fear the future.

Yet 9.9 times out of 10 whatever future I was afraid of never transpires. In fact, more often than not, I have a great time meeting new people, the presentation goes, or something unexpected happens that was delightful, not damaging.

It’s become clear this is a default setting of mine and I’ve spent plenty of time being frustrated with myself for operating this way, but that’s not useful either. For us to grow and move forward we must realize we know ourselves better than we think we do and look for predictable reactions to our lives that do us no good. This way we can modify our behavior mid-swing.

We might not be able to completely change our default settings, but by bringing awareness to our mindsets and behaviors we can actively choose a different way of interacting with them instead of operating on autopilot all the time.

Here are a few ways I navigate the fear of the future in my own life you might try:

  • Write out all the scenarios and moments which cause you fear or anxiety so you’re clear on what causes the inner feelings of dread. This helps later because you can look back on this list if feeling fearful and say to yourself — this is normal, this is expected, this is something you do.

  • Write out (or record a voice memo) of a few examples of moments you were afraid of the future or nervous about a new experiences and none of those fears came true. Recall a moment that wasn’t as bad as you thought it was going to be. Preferably a time when you actually ended up having fun, were more successful than you thought you’d be, or a new and unexpected experience led to joy or something positive.

  • Have a fear friend. Find someone close to you who knows your story who you can call to set you straight when you’ve got the fear of the future film playing. Use Brené Brown’s fantastic starter line: “The story I’m telling myself about the future is…” — and then share all the worries you’ve got. Your fear friend can guide you back into reality by helping you remember things rarely, if ever, transpire as awfully as you imagine they will.

  • Shift your perspective about a future scenario you’re fearful of away from yourself. Instead of obsessing about yourself and how you’ll navigate the future, make it about others. When we march into a moment with a deep desire to pull others in and help them feel included, we stop listening to that unhelpful and fearful voice and move into action.

Fear is about survival. I’m generally fearful about the future because I feel like I’ve worked so hard to get to a place of peace right now — today — after navigating so many challenges and wounds in the past. After all this work on my present and after all this effort to accept my past, the future just feels like too much of a responsibility to manage.

The great wisdom, of course, is we don’t have to manage the future.

We can set that responsibility down and never pick it up again.

We can stop trying to wish away negative moments which may transpire or will positive experiences we’ve no ability to create.

The great freedom over fear of the future comes in this moment, and in the one immediately following this moment. Because the negative experiences we’re afraid of happening are exponentially more likely to transpire when we finally enter in to that future with fear in our hearts. If we carry fear from this minute to the next minute, and carry it all the minutes strung together until we reach the moment we’re anxious about, we will have guaranteed fear will be with us.

Or we can let it go in this minute.

And maybe a few minutes from now it comes back, but we let it go again. And if we work at it, we get to a place where we’re only anxious about the future every 20 minutes or so. When we start to get good at this, we’re not worried about what’s going to happen and we learn to perhaps find some excitement in the unknown possibilities of a future we’ll never be able to control.

This is slow growth, but the good new is we can start now. And we can work on it whenever we want. We become who we practice being. After a while, putting ourselves in the right frame of mind becomes a thing we’re accustomed to and fear is a thing we can forget.

As a high school buddy of mine used to say:

Fear is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t take you anywhere.”