With so many things about the near future cloaked in uncertainty, I sometimes feel a nagging sense that while things are pretty good right now, things could get pretty bad in the future. Of course, it’s always true that things could get bad in the future, but right now the possibility of trouble seems more real than at other times, which causes my mind to work overtime on defending against a variety of seemingly logical concerns. Wisdom endorses preparing for future trouble, and at the same time, playing mental defense all the time is exhausting. What can we do to prepare well for the uncertain future while lowering anxiety and stress?
I notice that when practicing my guitar to learn a new song or refine a certain technique, I’m often relaxed and filled with a sense of internal joy despite the same external circumstances. The stressors seem to almost disappear. Something similar often happens when I spend intentional time reaching out to connect with other people by making phone calls or knocking on doors in the neighborhood. What is it about those times that causes the stress to dissipate? I found a helpful explanation in Thomas Sterner’s book, The Practicing Mind: Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Life.
He contends that we experience stress, anxiety, and a variety of other joy killers when our mental focus shifts from our present activity to something in the past or something in the future. Conversely, if we maintain our focus completely in the present, we will generally experience a sense of calm and joy in what we’re doing. Practicing the guitar or practicing connecting with others naturally occupies all my attention in the moment, which is why I experience that calm and joy. In contrast, if I’m eating dinner with my family but all I can think about is how I messed up earlier in the day or how COVI D might make it harder to earn a living, I’m much more likely to feel stressed and annoyed as my kids try to talk with me, and I won’t be able to enjoy the food. If we can team to intentionally direct our focus back to the present moment, we’ll be able to enjoy life more and actually accomplish more too. I think it’s an invaluable skill for this season and whatever is ahead.
To learn about more strategies for developing present-minded focus, check out the book: https://www.amazon.com/Practicing-Mind-Developing-Discipline-ChallengUp/1608680908