Updated: Aug 17, 2021
We are all (or at least most) alternately involved in thinking about the past and focussing on the future. The past may contain some regrets as well as joy and the future some realistic as well as some improbable fantasies. The future can be about what will/may/might/could happen, imagining awful and negative outcomes or else fantastical positive ones. The past is joyous nostalgia at times and painful horror at others. These ruminations and projections are not always helpful to us for managing feelings of anxiety. There is of course a difference between pleasant nostalgia and ‘over-rumination’ and again a difference between clear goal setting and our pointless fantasizing. The good news is that we can, at least potentially, assess how much of our forward/backward thinking is helpful in relation to anxiety and then adjust our thinking accordingly.
‘yesterday is history tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift… that’s why they call it the present…’
Grand Master Oogway
Maybe some past events for you were negative, and you wished they could have gone differently (who doesn’t). We also often cringe to think of our younger selves: ‘did I really say/do that…’ and I cringe doubly to think this is not just me thinking back to my teens, in my 30’s, but also me thinking back to my 30’s in my 50’s! And ok there is the potential to learn from my past mistakes, maybe I won’t treat someone like that again now that I know better... I may note the recurring regret I have and tell myself it was not a good idea and not to repeat such behaviour again (sorry Sarah Mickelhurst) and inwardly thank (probably best not to do this out loud) the voice/memory/image which keeps recurring, for reminding me what not to do. If it Is not a behaviour you regret, but rather, a loss or a painful, difficult memory; it may be that although it does not really serve us well to keep thinking of it, the memory nontheless insists on being some sort of reminder to tell us not to ‘let’ that happen again. In terms of future thinking, unhelpful thoughts include imagining incredible (often unrealistic) revenge on those who have hurt us or ‘what if’ scenarios that we know will never actually be… again it is natural, and understandable for the mind to work in this way, but not helpful when the thoughts tie us in knots and get in the way of us moving forward and functioning in day to day life.
Part of the solution can be, even briefly, moving ourselves into the present moment. This is a good idea as we become ‘centred’ or ‘grounded’ in the present moment and refocus on the here and now and not some other time. You would have to be living under a rock nowadays not to have heard about the notion of mindfulness and its purported benefits. Mindfulness has perhaps become a type of antidote to all this ruminating and fantasizing. I find even when it’s not working at maximum capacity, when I am most distracted, that I still get a benefit from as little as a 3-minute ‘dose’ of mindfulness medication.
I attach below a brief mindfulness mp3 recording, one for the bathroom or else any quiet/private space you can get to when you need to move away from anxiety and only have a few minutes. Give it a go once a day or as often as needed and let me know how it goes .
‘you are too concerned with what was and what will be…’ Grand Master Oogway