Too many people struggle with depression and anxiety on a daily basis—and I’m one of those people. One approach that I have used from time to time to help eliminate my worry and anxiety over the future is to completely reframe my thinking regarding it and the past.
By nature, I have always held onto the past. It’s where I’m most comfortable because it’s a known. The future is unknown of course. By thinking about the past and dwelling on the past I’m able to keep my mind in a more comfortable, secure place.
However, we don’t live in the past. We only live in the here-and-now, with the future to look forward to. So, by living in the past in my mind, I’m actually creating more anxiety for myself. What happens now is that I see my “true” life as that which I had before I left home for college. That’s the point at which one major phase of my life ended and another began.
Therefore, in my mind, all the events that have happened since I left home are cataloged as leading away from that anchor point.
Let me explain it this way. It’s as if I’m wading into the ocean backwards with my eye on the shoreline that is getting ever farther away. My childhood is represented as my walk down the beach until I reach the edge of the water.
Everything after that (adulthood) is represented by my wading into the water. The longer I live, the farther I get away from the shore with its supposed safety and the more treacherous my journey becomes.
Slowly but surely, I’m wading backward out into deeper waters, getting closer to the point where I’m completely underwater. My focus is not on the direction I’m headed, but rather it’s always on the shore.
Each day of my adult life is seen as a crisis—it’s not my real life because that ended at childhood when I began wading into the water. The crisis is heightening day by day as I get deeper and deeper. There is no real living in this scenario—just survival for as long as Ican.
As you can imagine, this way of thinking makes for a very anxious kind of life.
However, by reframing my way of thinking, I can see my life in a whole different light. If I create a different schema to catalog my experience, then everything is flipped 180 degrees. If I see each new day as the beginning of the rest of my life, and all the events that come afterward as just a long extension of my real life, then a great deal of worry, fear, and anxiety is eliminated.
I have to tell myself, “My life is here and now. Everything else is in the past. This is my life, along with everything that I experience from this point on.”
But the real key is to see my life this way. I have to keep in mind the image that the past is all behind me and that the future is a great, wide road in front of me, representing all the potential that life holds.
Creating this image in my head helps me see my life completely differently. Instead of ruminating on the past and fretting because each day takes me further away from its “safety,” I’m instead focused on the future and making each day count for something. I can look forward to each day instead of being anxious because life has taken me so far from my past.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul tells his readers that he uses that same approach:
“…forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.”Phil. 3:13b
It’s good to learn from the past, but not so good if you live in the past. As the motivational saying goes, “Remember the lesson, but forget the details.”
Living in the past cripples you and makes you totally ineffective for you present life. Plus, you end up fearing the future because your mind is conditioned to crave the apparent security of the past.
That security is all a lie, however. The past has no real power, only that which you allow it to have. The present and the future are where life is truly lived.