Why you should focus on the future.
This article will help show you the reasons why we’re so conditioned to live in the boundaries of our past. It’ll also provide insight as to how you can rewire your brain to focus on the beautifully blank canvas that we call the future.
You’ll find that by using these tactics, it’ll quickly become easier to dictate and live the life you want rather than be controlled by emotions and reactions that the past has trained you to feel.
When you wake up, what’s the first few things that go through your head? Perhaps you try to grab onto bits of the dream you just had, maybe you have a brief moment where you reorient yourself as reality sets in.
If you’re like many others, you’ll begin remembering the past.
Our brains like to automatically jump to the previous day’s experience and sometimes end up doing an emotional recap of the entire previous few weeks. Why? Because it helps us remember who we are and what our situation in life is. Emotions are the language of the body, so if we wake up feeling anxious, our mind goes back and remembers the events that caused our anxiety.
As you can probably see, this is an extremely limiting way to begin your day!
You see, when we wake up and start our day based on the emotions and experiences of the past, we set the tone that our future is bound to the past as well. If yesterday was a bad day, we feel like today will be a continuation of that past experience.
On a psychological level, this is not good nor helpful to us.
Our brains remember past experiences through emotions. It’s easier to remember that we felt sad or angered by something than it is to remember exactly what happened. Because of this, if we wake up and feel anxious, our minds try to generate thoughts and pull up memories to match and confirm that anxiety [i.e. you’ll first have a feeling, which your mind pairs with events to recreate it as a memory].
Maybe you got bad news at work the day before, and it upset you. First, when you wake up and think about the past, you remember being upset. Then your mind goes to work trying to remember the actual event that made you upset. This happens very quickly. The catch here is that our minds are actually not very good at it. Due to the many experiences we have and the rate that our thoughts can change and grow on a daily basis, it ends up that around 50% of what we remember about the past is actually not accurate.
Your brain will leave out certain details and embellish upon other ones simply to confirm that your emotion is valid. This is similar to something in psychology called confirmation bias: “the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses” [Thanks, Wikipedia!]
So, not only are you inaccurately remembering why you felt upset, you’re also setting the tone for your day based off of wrong information.
How do you fix this?
The trick is to rewire your brain to be more future-oriented. It does require effort and consciousness, but like anything, with practice and repetition, it can become a habit!
We don’t like thinking about the future too much because we’ve been conditioned to dislike the unknown. But if you learn to think in a future-oriented manner, what you actually allow yourself to do is create the future you want. You don’t have to tie yourself to what’s happened in your past, you don’t have to let the past dictate what can or cannot happen in the future.
Mindfulness is especially helpful in this case because it’s not realistic to wake up and simply act as if the past hasn’t happened. The importance here is learning how to deal with the emotions from the past and how to not let them define you or your future.
When you feel a negative emotion from the past:
- acknowledge it
- accept it
- let it move on
It’s good to be in tune with our emotions rather than trying to stamp them out and bury them inside of us. Understanding what made us feel a certain way can also help us know which aspects of our thoughts we need to work on shifting.
So how do you work on shifting your emotions?
A helpful mind exercise includes closing your eyes, taking a few deep breaths, and then really feeling the emotion you wish to release. What causes it? Where in your body do you feel it most? What kind of thoughts does this emotion bring?
Now really focus on thinking about why this emotion consumes you so much. Did something happen further in the past that turned this emotion into a personality trait of yours? Do you have limiting beliefs that your future will never be free of this emotion? Have you accepted it as a part of who you are?
Once you’ve spent a few minutes getting familiar with how this emotion feels in your body and why it bothers you so much, let go of it. Imagine it floating up, out of your body, to whatever higher power you might believe in. Know that you have the ability to control your reactions in the future to help be more conscious of what triggers this emotion and be able to deal with it in the moment rather than squashing it down.
Learn to let emotions flow through you so you can have more conscious control over them.
When you wake up in the morning, focus more on setting intentions for the day in front of you. Mentally [or physically!] list what you’re grateful for to help start off the day in a positive mindset. Also list what goals you have or what future you are working towards to make sure that your emotions are in line with the future reality you want to experience. If you want your future to be more joyful, focus on feeling and doing things that bring you joy.
Stretch when you get out of bed, drink some water, give yourself time to enter a positive mindset.
Something that will help you tremendously in your journey of learning to think towards the future is a morning habit that you can learn more about in my article, The Half Hour Hack. This habit essentially teaches you to not touch your phone or technology for the first 30 minutes after you wake up. When we wake up and immediately get bombarded with social media notifications, emails, text messages, etc., we end up placing our minds in the past right away. When we do this, there’s no room to breathe and set intentions for a fresh morning start.
This topic could take up an endless amount of pages because our minds are so incredibly complex. We are only beginning to truly scratch the surface of the benefits of metacognition [thinking about our thoughts] and the huge benefits it can have for us.
As always, start off small! Don’t feel bad if you get caught thinking about the past, use it as a reminder to be more conscious in the future. Learn to be present, don’t dwell on memories too much, and understand that you have the power to create your future depending on which emotions you let dictate your life.