Psychologists like Sigmund Freud and Carl Rogers kept people’s attention on the past for more than a century. Consequently, Mary holds her former boyfriends responsible for her inability to sustain romantic relationships. Chris explores the memories from his early years when he first experienced humiliation while he struggles with addiction. Saoirse also says that being the youngest child in her family is the reason she does not want to settle down.
What if these psychologists were mistaken, though? What if what’s holding us back from being the finest versions of ourselves isn’t the past but rather how we see the future?
Finding the root causes of mental illness has become the focus of psychological research. However, a growing body of studies indicates that looking ahead may shield us from depression and improve our ability to handle stress. Sometimes we need to concentrate on getting a better grasp of how we see the future rather than analysing the unpleasant recollections.
Many veterans, immigrants, and others with traumatic experiences and mental health problems don’t spend much time contemplating the future. Instead, they are fixated solely on the bad parts of the past.
However, compared to individuals who have a negative future perspective, those who have suffered trauma and gained a good perspective on the future report being better at coping with life, having fewer unpleasant thoughts about the past, and sleeping better. People who have experienced trauma should therefore be encouraged to look about the future and set goals that help them grow hope for a good life rather than obsessing on the past.
Considering the future
Thinking about a bright future can make us more receptive to life’s prospects and help us form good relationships with the days that lie ahead. In light of this, Julie Round (a qualitative researcher) and I conducted an experiment with a small group of recently retired women, some of whom experienced anxiety when considering the future.
They pondered their future plans for their lives. Some even began to wonder what purpose they served in this world, which made them feel worse about themselves. They had conflicting feelings when we asked them how they felt about making goals.
We started out subtly by assisting them in envisioning a better future. They wrote for 20 minutes each day for four days on their “best retired selves.” They visualised realising their goals. They then looked at the foundational elements (such home, family, and leisure) that would help them become their best selves in the future. They encouraged them to consider how their lives might be in five years from now and encouraged them to pretend that everything went as planned.
On the final day of the study, they used their senses to anticipate what their 80th birthday would be like and who would be there, including persons they had never met before. After that, we asked them to make goals for the future.
They still felt conflicted feelings a week after the event. They required time to consider their future, including all the things they feared and anticipated. Three months later, they reported more tranquilly and zeal for the future, signalling a good improvement. They wanted to make sure they made the kind of contribution to their friends, family, and society they had envisioned for themselves when they were 80 years old.
improving the future
You may do a lot of things to help you create a more promising future to look forward to, like being your “best-retired self” or, to use a more general term, your “best potential self.” Other pursuits comprise:
- Anticipate savouring: Consider the minor and important events that will occur in the near or distant future as you prepare to savour them. Think about how life would be if everything went right for you. Enjoy the good vibes that come after.
- Create hope: Hope is the ability to find the will and the path to achieving our goals in life. Think about your desired future and the steps necessary to get there. Without a path, you could feel helpless in your predicament.
- Imagine that all of your troubles have been resolved: Visualize a moment when all of the problems you are currently facing have been resolved. Now go into further detail about how you did this.
- Develop goals: Create a list of the objectives you would like to accomplish. Finish the Values in Action character strengths survey to determine how your strengths can assist you in achieving your important objectives.
Focusing on the future gives us options and recognises that we have free will and are not only the result of our upbringing or other unfortunate occurrences in our lives. Our history is beyond our control, but if we choose to face it head-on and step into it with confidence, we can forge a brighter future.
We should not, however, live in denial as a result. In actuality, the reverse is true. While we realise that unfortunate events have occurred, we also chose to concentrate our efforts on building a bright future for ourselves. Making it happen begins with recognising it.