The past – future paradox

One of my favorite quotes is attributed to Lincoln – “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”  What a fantastic concept – create your future.  While it is true no one can predict the future with accuracy, why not consciously try?  If you follow your current familiar and well trodden path, what will you get?  More of the same.  Same thoughts, same feelings, same actions, same result.  Same ho-humdrum.

Our brain’s default setting is to focus on the past.  It gathers information and draws all its conclusions from our recollections of the past.  Which, incidentally, may or may not be entirely correct.  The past is familiar, known and predictable – safe.  Don’t forget, our brain loves the familiar and considers anything new lethal.  (Remember the familiar/safe-change/lethal toggle switch?) 

“Oh, no, no, no…  That’s not how we do things.” 

“Don’t be trying something different woman, it’s dangerous, and you will die!” How many times have you set a New Years resolution and started out all gung-ho? 

“This year will be different.  Seriously, it’s time for something new.  Rah, Rah!” 

But by the end of January (if not sooner) you’ve defaulted back to your old routines.  Those old behaviour patterns die hard. 

Trickster brain!  It’s okay, forgive yourself.  You are battling evolution and some deeply entrenched brain biology.  Our brain is hard-wired NOT TO CHANGE.

Hmmm.  Clearly, we HAVE changed.  We are no longer hunter gatherers, living in cold damp caves with bugs and little critters.  We have climate controlled luxury condos and a multitude of conveniences that our ancestors could not possibly imagine.  Hmmm.  It’s a paradox.  Our brain is hard wired not to change, but we thrive when we change. 

When you define your life or abilities by what has occurred in your past, you limit your potential.  You define what is possible (or impossible) based on your previous experiences and results. 

“Of course, weight loss is impossible, you’ve proven it several times over.” 
“Every time you lose weight, it always comes back eventually plus some.” 

Your brain has the evidence to prove it too…

“Remember that time you starved yourself for weeks, eating those dry flavourless, styrofoam rice cakes? Yuck.”
“Or remember that creepy guy at the gym?  You hate working out!” 

When we are past focused, we recycle our thoughts from the past.  I am notorious for that.  Notorious!  As soon as I get a little bit bored, and I ask my brain what to do…

“Study something…”

Forty years and 4 degrees later, it’s still telling me to go back to school…

“Perhaps a PhD in positive psychology is in order.” 
Or, “I know, ACT, get certified in ACT.”  (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for those who have never heard of ACT – it’s a most fascinating topic.)
Or “Oooh… get certified as a stretch therapist.”

If you want to create something new for yourself, you need to shift from past focused to future focused. When I first tried this, I got myself an 11 x 15 sheet of paper and a few coloured pens. Ready?  Go.  Nada. 

“Oh come on!  What would you like to accomplish in the next 5 years? 10 years?  What do you need to do to reach that goal?”

Bah.  Blank brain.

I barely know what I want for lunch tomorrow, let alone for my life in 10 years.  So, I got a smaller piece of paper and a pencil, and I gave myself permission to dream just a little, something many women have forgotten how to do. 

Give yourself permission to dream.

Don’t start with saving the planet and world peace.  Start simple.  If you like to travel, where might you want to explore?  If you want a garden, what flowers might you like?  If you want to downsize, where might you want to live?  If you want to declutter, start with a closet, not the basement and the garage. 

If you cannot think of anything, try something familiar but completely new at the same time.  That’s how I discovered my new found love for cello.  In the past, I played clarinet, a wind instrument.  So I decided to study cello, a string instrument.  And believe me – they are totally different entities! 

Practice dreaming.  Make a point of it every day. While you are washing the dishes or folding laundry, dream.  While you are brushing your teeth, dream.  While you are walking the dog, dream.  Doesn’t that sound like a fun and valuable use of your time?  Way better than mindlessly scrolling Facebook!

Okay – I heard the collective groan. 

“I’m not going to set myself up for disappointment again.” 

That, my friend, is your brain doing what your brain does – sticking to the familiar, keeping you safe in the cave.  Challenge yourself to question what your brain is telling you.  Dare to dream.  Because dreams contain all the magic in life.  And the best part… You can switch up your dream any time you want.  So go ahead, dream in technicolor, surround sound, 3D and high resolution pixels!

Then pull out that piece of paper with coloured pens and start afresh.  Instead of describing your entire life, just pick three words that describe the future you.  Optimistic, focused, curious, adventurous, trustworthy, mischievous etc.  Then pick three activities your futures self does. Travel, exercise, gardening, crafts, antics with grandkids, baking, woodworking etc.  Then pick three skills your future self has that you need to start to develop etc.  Evaluate your career.  Consider your relationships.  

Build your future in your mind, it’s a masterpiece in progress.

Your future self exists only in your imagination.  Why not imagine a future self that inspires you forward?  What will your future self thank your current self for doing today?  Go do it.  Inevitably my future self thanks me for something I know I should do but keep putting off.  Now I try to listen.  What does your future self believe about herself?  What feelings does she experience?  Borrow those beliefs and feelings, then take action to create your future.

What brilliant insights and advice will your future self give you? 

It’s a most intriguing thought experiment.  Well worth pondering.

Buff on my friend,
Dr. Karen

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