Asked by Ish
Thank you for your message and sharing.
Reading your words I am also sensing a great fear that you have towards the unknown future. It is our tendency when we face the unknown, that we tend to think of the worst-case scenarios in order to protect ourselves from disappointments (and the emotional pain that might come with it). This is a natural defense mechanism that we have developed as humans, however, the side-effect is that our thinking and perspectives might not be accurately reflecting reality. We might have downplayed all the possible positive opportunities and outcomes because we choose to focus on the risks, the danger, and the negative potential outcome.
This fear is something that we need to address, otherwise whatever our decisions may be, they might backfire at us because we have not properly evaluated the situation when we make them in fear.
I also share with you absolutely the fear over the unknown. That is something humans will continue to learn to either fight/flow until we leave this world.
Therefore, there’s no rush. Remember that we are all in this together.
Let’s keep floating, walking, and tackle this fear.
Fear of an uncertain future: it can stop us from doing great things, and it can keep us holding onto things that are hurting us.
For example you might be holding onto clutter for reasons of comfort and security, even if the clutter gives you anxiety and costs a lot of money.
And: you might be staying in a job you don’t like because you’re afraid of taking the plunge because you’re afraid of failing.
And again: you might not travel to a country that feels very unfamiliar because you don’t know what will happen — and miss out on an amazing life-changing experience.
Ultimately we all fear about our lives, how and when will it end. What does the process looks like, and by being preoccupied with these thoughts, do we miss out on the present moment?
If we become comfortable with change, it’s not scary. We can then embrace it, find joy in it. You can see this in people who we call “adventurous” — they seek new experiences, because they know they’ll be fine, and that it can be amazing. (Note that this is different than the “adventure-seeker” types who have turned excitement into their form of comfort — when the excitement is taken away, then they feel the pain and loss of this change.)
So how do we get good at change? Some suggestions that are working for me (I’m still learning):
Try something new, but small and safe. New things can be scary because we’re afraid we’re going to fall on our faces. But if it’s something small — learning to juggle beanbags in our living room, learning to balance on a rope that’s close to the ground, listening to a language-learning podcast, for example — it’s not as scary. There’s no real risk of getting hurt. And the more we do this, in small, non-scary steps, the more confidence we’ll gain that new things are not painful.
When you mess up, don’t see it as a painful failure. When you’re doing new things, there will be times when you make mistakes, mess up, “fail”. But these words are associated with negative things, like pain … instead, start to look at mistakes and “messing up” as something positive — it’s the only way to learn. Messing up is a way to get better at something, to grow, to get stronger.
See the wonder and opportunity in change. Change might mean leaving a comfort zone and losing something (or someone) you love, but there’s much more: it’s the bringing of something new and amazing, a new opportunity to explore and learn and meet new people and reinvent yourself. When change happens, look for the wonder in it, the new doors that have opened.
Ask “what’s the worst-case scenario”? If you’re exposing yourself, getting out of your comfortable environment, leaving behind security … it can be scary, but when you think about what is the worst thing that is likely to happen, usually it’s not that bad. If you lost all your possessions today in a disaster, how bad would that be? How would you cope? What opportunities would there be? What new things could you invent from this blank slate?
Develop a change toolset. Learn how to cope with changes, no matter what they are. Have a fall-back plan if things collapse. Have friends and family you can call on. Develop some skills where you can get a job or start a new business no matter what happens with your current job or the economy. Learn ways of making friends with strangers, finding your way around a strange city, surviving on little. With a toolset like this, you can feel confident that you can handle just about anything that comes.
Become aware of your clinging. Watch yourself clinging to something when you feel fear and pain. What are you clinging to? Often it’s just an idea — the idea of you and a romantic partner, an image of who you are. Become aware of what’s going on.
See the downsides of clinging. Once you see you're clinging more clearly, see the pain that results from it. If you’re clinging to your stuff, see the space it takes up, and the extra rent that costs you … see the mental energy it takes to live with all the stuff, the money you’ve spent on it, the lack of space you have to live. Anything you cling to has a downside — we only see the good side of it, and so we want to cling to it.
Experience the joy in the unknown. When something new happens, when you don’t know — we often see this as bad. But can we re-frame it so that it’s something joyful? Not knowing means we are free — the possibilities are limitless. We can invent a new path, a new identity, a new existence. This can be joyful.
Meanwhile, one practical tool to practice in tackling this fear is to challenge our own perspective and see if we are indeed overly focusing on the negatives and the risks, ignoring the positive potential and the opportunities. By doing this we are able to lower our anxiety and probably make decisions that are more logical and sensible as well.
Remember, all of our guts and logic at the moment might be telling us a distorted/exaggerated version of our future, it takes practice to bring our senses back and to focus on the positive possibilities rather than the negative possibilities because at the end of the day, we just don't know. Since we don't know, might as well give the positive possibilities a chance, shouldn't we?
I'll look forward to talking with you more.
Let’s keep doing this together,
(MSW, LICSW, LMHC)