If you’ve been reading this blog one thing should be fairly clear by now: most (if not all) of our Comfort Zone fears stem from one simple source – our tendency to extrapolate the future based on negative or fearful assumptions, then start acting as if that hypothetical future was already true.  The Worry Engine (the Flight or Fight response to project possible dangers and ways to avoid those dangers, when faced with real, physical, right-on dangers) starts the litany of possible disasters/failures, and off we go, living as if we KNEW the future. 

And of course it isn’t like we project mildly uncomfortable futures.  No – we project things spiraling into darkness.  The economy is bad, so we start worrying about losing our job.  Which will of course mean we will lose our house.  Which will mean of course that we’ll wind up living on the street and eating from garbage cans.  We’re having a hard time in our relationship, so we begin to worry that things will always be bad in this relationship, until the other person walks away, and then we’ll be alone forever… you know the litany.

This wouldn’t matter as much if the result of these projected fears was something other than us slowing down, then freezing into immobility – or running as fast as we can in the opposite direction.  In either case the one thing we are not doing is treating this problem (difficult economy, rocky relationship) AS a problem – nope, we’re treating it like a crisis.  Except of course that the crisis is only a crisis in the future – not here in the present.  And as long as we’re in the future, worrying and panicking about what might be, we are generating all the responses of the Comfort Zone – physical (nausea, sweats, racing heart, you name it), emotional (anxiety, fear, anger, you name it) and mental (confusion, difficulty focusing, racing thoughts, you name it.)  And we all know how useful all of THAT can be…

Given this issue one of the most useful things we can do is move our thinking out of the future and back into the present.  When we’re in the present moment, caught up in whatever is in front of us, working to make life work for ourselves, it is much harder to spin up into the worry and anxiety that obsessing over the future creates in us.  Let me be very clear here: it is slow-going at the start of this practicing living in the present moment.  Most of us have become VERY skillful at leaping quickly from this present problem to a future disaster.  Often we’ve begun the process and are well into it before we’re even conscious (especially at the start of this rethinking our response) of the jump.  It will be slow-going at the start.  But that’s exactly what it takes – practice.  Practice unplugging the habit, the reflex, of projecting out what might be, and instead practicing being where we are – that’s what this needs.  

And of course our Comfort Zone is going to push back on us VERY hard.  We’ve trained it up, after all, to warn us if we are approaching danger (ready for the irony?) and not living in the future feels scary/risky/dangerous to us.  Isn’t ignoring the future and living only in the present a short-sighted, even stupid way to manage life?  Sure – if you’re not working to make the future better than your concerns about it then yes, that’s crazy talk.  But living in the present moment doesn’t mean you’re not attending to the future.  It means you’re not LIVING in the worry about the future you’re busy conjuring.  It means you’ve put your focus back on what is actually real, here and now, and working to create the kind of future you want. 

What can make this even harder is that it can feel like you’re doing something when you’re worrying.  It FEELS like you’re doing something.  We know better, intellectually, but that doesn’t change how it can feel.  The acid test is, when does worrying result in useful outcomes?  As opposed to working to change things, or improve things?

The key to this yet again is turning a problem we’ve turned into a crisis BACK into a problem.  When it is a problem, when we’re even partly free of the Flight or Fight response and the resulting turmoil that creates in us, then we have a much better chance of resolving things in ways that work well for us.  Pulling ourselves out of the hypothetical future and back into the real and living present is key to powering down crisis mode into problem-solving mode.  At the core of that practice is refusing, even if only for a little while, to conjure the future in our thinking.  It is practicing, even if only for a little while, to insist on being where we are, and dealing with it as it presents itself, while thinking through how we can improve things or take them in a direction we’d like to go.

As for techniques on how to be in the present moment, well, that’s a whole other blog post (the next one, in fact.)  But to get you started here are some ideas:   Take a walk.  Take a shower.  Prepare a meal.  Call someone and refuse to talk about the future.  Go for a drive.   Put on some music and dance around the room (probably alone is best, but by all means invite the neighbors if you’re cool with that.)    Whatever you decide to do, practice really being present for the activity and the experience you’re doing.  You can really do anything that requires you focusing on the moment you’re in.  So many of us are longing for a better future, a future that’s something we look forward to.  And that’s only possible if WE commit to working towards that, by working here in the now…

Don’t take my word for any of this!  So much of freeing ourselves from the tyranny of fear and anxiety is climbing out of our heads and involving ourselves in our life in an active way, a present-moment way.  More on living here in the now in my next post.