Here is my weekly email with some insights and ideas pulled from conversations I had on my podcast.
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Don't Fret Over What You Can't Control
“We come into this world with nothing, and we'll leave with nothing on it. What will you be remembered for in your window of time?”
I appreciated this reminder from Eszylfie Taylor, financial advisor to Hollywood stars, when he came onto my show at the tail-end of 2022. It was a timely reminder – especially with the new year just around the corner. What really matters? Or what should matter above everything else?
When you're working toward something as precious as starting your own business, or deepening a relationship, or perhaps beginning a new career, you're totally fixated on the potential outcomes. Your hopes and fears pervade every thought. Will you get the girl? Will you land the job? Will your business take off?
The harsh reality – and one I've been forced to reckon with many times – is that life twists and turns to its own tune. It doesn't really take our wants into consideration. No matter how hard or how often we might ruminate on the outcomes we desire, they won't be drawn any closer to us.
In reality, obsessing over the outcomes we want is a waste of valuable time. So what's the alternative?
Our Unhealthy Obsession With What's To Come
Whether you believe in astrology or not, there's no doubt we overuse things like horoscopes and tarot readings to satisfy our need for certainty. It seems we're so desperate for a hint of the future that we'll take it from any source.
The more you think about it, the more you notice all the little ways we try to control outcomes and put the future in a box.
We obsess over the weather forecast, even if our local weatherman is usually wrong. We take personality tests and quizzes to see what job we'll have, who we'll be with, and how successful we'll be. We religiously follow the word of talking heads and 'experts' at election time.
Unsurprisingly, we are most persistent in predicting the future when it comes to high-stakes situations. For example – have you ever come across those 'breakup doctors' on YouTube? They claim to be able to predict whether or not your ex will come back to you, based on certain actions they've taken or words they've said.
And then, of course, there are the 'overnight millionaire' gurus who tap into our desire for financial security. We buy into business schemes that are absolutely covered in red flags, hoping we'll make millions by joining their program. After all, they do guarantee a six-figure income after the first three months!
What I'm trying to get across here is that we are overly obsessive about the future. We want to control it, even though – regardless of how we might feel – we can't.
Why We Obsess Over Outcomes
If you've been reading my articles for a while now, you know I don't take things at face value. There's always a deeper meaning behind human behavior. And those meanings give us a better understanding of how to improve ourselves.
At face value, it's obvious why we obsess about the future: we want something to happen, so it captures our attention. But what's at the heart of it?
According to psychotherapist Jenny Maenpaa (via CNBC), there's a condition that many people experience called 'anticipatory anxiety.' It's where you bleed before you're cut, so to speak – you worry so much about what could happen in the future that it affects you today.
While anticipatory anxiety is a diagnosed condition, meaning not everyone has it, I do feel like most people experience similar sensations. Perhaps we just feel them to different degrees.
But here's the thing – in trying to avoid future pain or disappointment, we risk our present happiness. We become less efficient as people; we're paralyzed by fear.
Creating the Future
Obsessing over future outcomes is wrapped up in anxiety, but it's also a cultural and societal trend. We're fixated on reading the future like a book – but that's not all. We want to create the future so as to control it.
I first heard about this concept in Hal Niedzviecki's book, 'Trees on Mars: Our Obsession with the Future.' Niedzviecki is fascinated by cultural shifts; he did a bunch of extensive research for this book, and in it, he explores the way we attempt to 'own' the future.
“We’re extending the idea that human beings should have provenance over all aspects of life – we’re extending that idea to include knowledge of and control of the future, and that doesn’t seem like a good idea given what we’ve done with the present.”
I can see this observation so clearly in our world today – and I can't decide whether it's going to hurt us or harm us. But there's something unsettling about trying to 'own' the future; it's like expecting to have some kind of godlike control.
Planning vs. Controlling
There's definitely a distinction to be made between planning for the future and trying to control it. I think it's silly to live recklessly – most people do. Looking ahead can save you from making bad decisions in the present.
But I'm sure you'll agree that there's a line. Saving money for a rainy day is wise; depriving yourself of the essentials to save a bit extra is not. Being particular about your relationships is important; withdrawing from people preemptively (in case they hurt you later on) causes more harm than good.
So, where should we draw the line? Here's how I figure it out. If you can influence the outcome without causing harm in the present, it's usually a good move. If you can't, it's not worth your time, energy, or stress.
For instance – imagine you're pitching your company to an investor. It's wise to prepare as much as possible, because you can absolutely influence the outcome by how much effort you put in. Once the pitch has been made, though, you literally can't do anything else to control the outcome. Obsessing over it and staying up all night worrying can only harm you.
What You Lose By Fixating on the Future
I couldn't believe this when I read it at first. Apparently, 'fortune-telling addiction' has been recognized as a potential behavioral addiction. I read about this in a study on the increased use of astrology – it's been observed and researched many times.
But why are researchers interested? What are the possible ramifications of being fixated on the future?
Missing Out On Now
We spend roughly 46 percent of our time thinking about something other than what we're doing. Scientists discovered this by using EEG to track our thought patterns. Almost half of the time, we're off in fairyland.
I think there are times when this is ok, and occasions when it really detracts from our lives. For example:
You might think about the day ahead as you're driving to work. It helps you prepare for the day's events, and you're not really missing out on anything important in the present.
Perhaps you're stressed about a relationship problem or trouble at work, and so you zone out of conversations with people you care about. That's a different story – you're losing out on the present moment (and the stress doesn't help your situation at all!)
Losing focus on the present is a tragedy that often goes unnoticed. It's a silent illness and a killer of joy. We don't have a lot of time on the clock – and it certainly doesn't stop ticking when we're dreaming about the future.
Stress-Induced Chronic Illness
According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA), ongoing anticipatory anxiety can cause horrible problems both physically and mentally. At best, you carry residual stress with you wherever you go; at worst, you develop chronic hyperventilation, gastrointestinal problems, and other ongoing illnesses.
It's crazy to think we could cause so much damage to ourselves just by ruminating on future events. But this is reality. Stress builds and builds over time, until eventually, it has to manifest in other ways.
Delayed Personal and Professional Growth
When we're constantly worrying about outcomes, we don't take risks or explore new opportunities that could lead to success. We simply stay put – in a comfort zone of sorts – waiting for something concrete to happen before taking action.
This reluctance to move forward can cause serious stagnation in our lives. If you want to advance professionally, you need to be willing to stretch yourself outside your usual boundaries and take calculated risks (like getting involved with new projects). Without this kind of 'growth mindset' mentality, you'll remain in the same place you're at today.
Breaking The Cycle of Obsession
I've written about living in the present before, and the strategies for that are pretty simple – meditation, gratitude journaling, etcetera. But in this newsletter, I'm specifically talking about stress, obsession, and rumination cycles. To me, the only way you can really break those cycles is through analysis.
Have you ever heard someone say, 'take every thought captive'? It's a simple phrase for a difficult task. But if you really want to stop yourself from obsessing about the future, it's a skill you need to take seriously.
Here's the process I follow:
In the morning, I sit down with a piece of paper or a notebook. I spend five minutes listening to my thoughts to see what future events I'm thinking or stressing about.
Once I've identified a few scenarios, I write them down and ask myself: Is there any way I can influence this outcome? If so, I write down the action steps I need to take. (For example – preparing for an investor pitch by running through talking points).
For any scenarios that I can't influence or control, like whether I'll get blue skies for an outdoor networking event I'm running – I ask myself: What's the worst-case scenario here? I can't control the weather, so my best bet is to mentally prepare.
I cross each item off the list after dealing with it. It's a simple mental cue that helps me dismiss it from my thoughts and move on with my day.
At the end of this exercise, I'm left feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the day. It's a great way to center yourself when you feel overwhelmed or stuck in an endless loop of rumination and worry.
Believe it or not, the process becomes second nature after a while. It's difficult at first, which makes sense... you're literally re-wiring your brain to think differently. But it's an essential practice if you really want to make the most of your life.
If you enjoyed this article, I’d love to hear from you.
What's your experience with tackling future obsession?
Do you have any techniques or rituals that help keep you focused on the present?
Reply to this email or tweet at me @ScottDClary and I'll do my best to get back to everyone!
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