We are often told to live in the moment. However, we are also aware how important it is to spend some time on planning our future and working on our present self so our future self is happier and more successful.
Future planning happens in the frontal lobe of the brain. And guess what? That’s where anxiety is born too. Actually, if we think of it, this seems right because our future is unknown and can create some anxiety:
* we might be afraid to go for an interview
* we might be counting our finances and worry that they won’t stretch till next pay day.
* we might be scared that we may lose our job due to the pandemic, regardless of how secure our job may seem in reality.
I recently came back to reading a great book Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. The author mentions how once doctors used to remove frontal lobes to make patients calmer. The anxiety was gone. Brilliant! Although they soon realised that planning skills were gone with it. If you asked a person who had their frontal lobe removed or damaged what they would do in the afternoon or tomorrow they would probably answer, “I don’t know.” And this is not because they hadn’t made their plans yet. They said it because they saw even the near future as we see infinity: far too abstract and confusing to grasp.
What I find very interesting is that our frontal lobe is the slowest to mature when we are little and also the first that deteriorates in old age!
How much time do you think we spend “in the future” per day on average?
“When researchers actually ‘count’ the items that float in the average person’s stream of consciousness, they find that about 12% of our daily thoughts are about the future. In other words, every eight hours of thinking includes an hour of thinking about things that have yet to happen … which is to say that in some very real sense, each of us is a part-time resident of tomorrow.”(Stumbling on Happiness, D.Gilbert)
There is surely a lot to think about in the present already so why do we spend so much time on thinking about the future? Of course, conscious planning is a fantastic skill as long as we plan in details no more than a week ahead, and if we make daily plans it’s best to include a few items a day rather than a long list of things that must be done. Lengthy to-do lists create anxiety; they are not always doable because we don’t allow time for interruptions and emergencies that require flexibility.
Planning is good but so is daydreaming. It can help us to relax. Life is always better in our daydreams: getting the work we want, looking better and feeling happier, having more energy. It’s a good way to recharge our batteries. Daydream for too long, though, and you may waste a lot of valuable time. It’s all about balance.
We now know that we tend to think approximately 12% of our time about the future, which is quite a lot considering how busy many of us are. Maybe that’s a reminder for us to stop focusing on the future so much, especially when many of these thoughts are worries and what-ifs , and are not necessary in most cases. Dealing with this issue can help to create some extra real time for ourselves.
And this has just given me an idea to one day write a post about dealing with “what-ifs” more effectively. Please let me know in the comments if this would interest you.