How often have you not done something in life because of what you project it might be like in your mind? On the flip side how often have you done something in life that you thought was going to be horrible and yet after doing you said “that wasn’t so bad?” I think all of us can agree that these things happen more often than we’d like. In fact, there’s a clinical term for it: Anticipatory Anxiety. Here’s its definition:
Anticipatory anxiety is where a person experiences increased levels of anxiety by thinking about an event or situation in the future. Rather than being a specific disorder in its own right, anticipatory anxiety is a symptom commonly found in a number of anxiety related conditions, such as generalized anxiety Anticipatory Anxiety can be extremely draining for people as it can last for months prior to an event. The worries people experience specifically focus on what they think might happen, often with catastrophic predictions about an event. The nature of negative predictions about the event will be the difference between an anxiety level that is incapacitating or merely uncomfortable.
Does this sound familiar? I have to think it does. I know that in my own life I’ve had this happen numerous times.
We can all handle reality
Let me give you an extreme example of how we can cope with reality and not with the unknown: a hurricane. If a hurricane comes into your town and destroys your home it’s devastating. There’s no way I’m going to downplay the event. You should be upset if your home is decimated. You should be be crying. You should be thinking “I have no idea what I’m going to do now.” By all means feel the way you should feel. But when the dust settles and you take in the reality, what is your response?
Most people deal with it. And by dealing with it I don’t mean they are hiding their emotions or feeling happy. I mean that they are taking the necessary steps to remedy the situation. They may call insurance to find out if damages are covered. In the immediate term they’ll likely try to clean up any debris. They may call their friends for support to explain what happened. And there are thousands of things people may immediately do in the aftermath of a hurricane.
The point is that these are concrete actions. These are real reactions to a real event. And most times even though the situation is horrible, people can handle it and eventually get over it.
But we can’t handle our projections
Using the same example of a hurricane, you know what we cannot handle? We can’t handle the thought of a hurricane coming into down and destroying our homes. Have you ever found yourself following the news of an impending hurricane and you just don’t know how to feel? You’re thinking that your home might be destroyed. You’re trying to anticipate what you’ll do if your home is damaged. You’re trying to picture your life a year from the event and where you might be. You’re anticipating scenarios that don’t exist yet and that anticipation can be debilitating.
There’s a big difference between planning and projecting. It’s one thing to plan for a disaster and know what your actions will be if said disaster strikes. It’s another thing to create unlimited scenes in your head which have no basis in reality and let those scenes dictate how you feel in the present.
An easier example
I wanted to use a hurricane as an extreme example but let’s apply this to everyday life a bit more. I always like to use the example of cold calling. Back in the day I hated cold calling. In fact I’ll never like cold calling. But here’s the thing. There were some days I would promise myself I’d make 50 calls, make those 50 calls and no matter how badly they went I would feel pretty good about myself. Whereas some days I would promise myself I’d make 50 calls, not make any, and feel horrible. I projected how badly those calls would go and the dread I felt overwhelmed me so much that I couldn’t even muster up the courage to make those calls (even though in reality the calls were never all that bad). That was way worse than making the actual calls and getting rejected.
How do we stay in reality?
That’s the million dollar question. And that’s something each of us has to figure out for ourselves. Some people meditate. Some people take walks. I’m not here to advise you on the steps you need to take in order to be more present in your lives. What I am saying is be careful. Be careful when you anticipate. If you find that anticipating something interferes with your reality, you’ve got to stop, pause, and assess what’s going on.
In terms of what I do? Drop me an email and we’ll talk.