Changing the future

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Ideas about time travel appear in all sorts of sci fi stories I enjoy*.  I recently saw a showerthought** posted online by a user named kai1998 on Reddit.  It said, “When people think about travelling to the past, they worry about accidentally changing the present, but no one in the present really thinks they can radically change the future.

This idea really struck me, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.  Of course, in sci fi, our protagonists are in the past and trying to avoid their present being changed for the worse.  For example, Star Trek: First Contact and The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror V “Time and Punishment”.  It is a given in time travel stories that even the smallest change made in the past will have a devastating effect on the future.  But if you asked someone what small thing they could do today to have a massive impact some years down the line, I expect most people would deny having such power.

The difference, of course, is that we don’t know what the future will look like.  So we don’t know what impact our actions will actually have.  You might feel powerless to make any changes, that your life is being controlled by factors outside you.  Or it might seem frightening to think of having such an impact on the world.  Anxiety might cause you to do nothing at all, for fear of doing something “wrong” or ending up with a bad result.

Perhaps you think it’s too late to make changes, that your life has been set.  You might have lost hope that things can change for the better.

So there are all sorts of reasons you might avoid making changes.  Ask yourself, what exactly is holding you back?  What can you do about that?  Is it a real block that you cannot get past, or fear based on what you fear people might do or say?  What would you do if you need not be afraid of failing?  What would you choose to do, if it were all up to you and no-one else?

Imagine yourself from 10 years in the future, coming to visit the Present You.  What advice might they give you?  What might their life look like, and are you happy at the thought?  How might you improve it?

Or even ask Future You from one week in the future what they think about a decision you are trying to make right now.  Are they likely to be happy or unhappy you have made certain choices?

The future is unwritten.  Pick up a pen!


*  Just don’t ask me to explain the paradoxes in the Terminator series.  I’m not sure anyone can work all those out.

**A showerthought is a casual realisation when you are doing something that doesn’t require your full attention (such as showering), yet seems like a revelation.


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THE FEAR I am talking about today is that terror of getting something done in case you do something wrong, make a mistake, get into trouble…  It’s paralysing, and can occupy your thoughts to the exclusion of all else.

THE FEAR can be very difficult to get a handle on, especially as an adult.  I wondered why that might be.  A friend of mine said that as children, our fears of getting things wrong and into trouble tend to be focussed on a person – for example, a parent or a teacher.  However, as adults, those we can end up answerable to can seem a bit more faceless – HMRC, the police, government agencies.

I thought this was interesting, and it got me thinking about power dynamics.  Something about a faceless threat can seem so much scarier, perhaps because we can’t plan for how to deal with it or because it can have so much more power to impact our lives.  As children, losing our breaktime to a detention might feel devastating, but as adults we are more aware of how much bigger and scarier consequences and punishments can be.  We are also far more aware of the consequences of our actions – knowing that we could make a mistake or choose a path that leads to harm to others or ourselves.

Those “what ifs” are what are so paralysing.  “What if I get my tax return wrong?”  “What if my documentation isn’t correct?”  “What if they find an error when I’m audited?”

The trouble is, not facing and doing these things can also lead to bad consequences.  For example, a fine for a late submission, or even hurrying and ending up making a mistake you otherwise might not have.

My top tips for facing THE FEAR:

  1. Plan ahead.  Set aside a specific time to complete the task.  Not too far in the future, but not in the next 5 minutes either.
  2. Divide the task into smaller steps, and complete them in an order which makes the most sense to you.
  3. Perhaps the most difficult – ask for help.  It’s okay not to know or understand everything at once.  That’s why we have lawyers, accountants, electricians, plumbers…!  If money is an issue, check out free or low-cost sources of help such as ACAS (for work disputes), Shelter (for issues with housing, renting etc), MA (for money advice) or the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (for all sorts of things).
  4. Plan a reward for yourself for afterwards, if you need extra motivation.

Getting the scary things done is an act of self care.  Self care isn’t just bubble baths and scented candles.  It is also completing the things we need to get done, rather than letting them hang over us and potentially causing worse problems.

As Susan Jeffers said, Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway!

Fear, fearlessness and courage

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Mark Twain has been quoted as saying, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”

Fear is one of the most basic emotions.  Some people even think that all emotions can be reduced down to just two, fear and love.  Fear is vitally important, because it tells us there is something wrong or threatening.  It helps us to stay safe from things that might harm us.

However, sometimes we are scared in situations which aren’t life-or-death threatening, and this holds us back from doing the things we want or need to do.  Sometimes fear leads to other emotions which mask it, such as anger.

That is where Mark Twain’s quote comes in.  It’s often implied that courage is the same as fearlessness, but I think that is a mistake (and so, apparently, did Mark Twain!).  Fearlessness would be not feeling afraid at all, and what one person is fearless about could cause terror in someone else.  This might be due to past experiences or traumas, or learning from early caregivers about what is to be feared.  Courage is a quality that emerges when you feel afraid, but move past it to do the thing you want to do anyway.

If “being courageous” isn’t the same thing as not being scared, then it’s possible to feel courage and act bravely while still being scared silly!  You might dismiss compliments on your courage and resilience by saying, “yes, but I was so scared…”.  That is giving you far less credit than you deserve, and overlooks the strength you showed in overcoming your fear.

Often the best way to move past fear is by exposure to the thing which scares you.  You might feel able to do this by yourself, or you might want support and guidance.  For example, graded exposure therapy can be very helpful for phobias and OCD.  Major airlines offer “fear of flying” courses, and London Zoo’s “Friendly Spider Programme” offers an excellent course for arachnophobes.  Please note, these types of therapy are supportive and compassionate.  At no point would you be forced to do anything you’re not yet ready to.

What induces fear in you?  What does it hold you back from?  How would you like to move past it, and are you giving yourself enough credit for how you manage your fear?


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While reading a book recently, a particular section really caught my eye.  It challenged the idea that procrastination is “lazy” – suggesting instead that is is fear holding the person back.

Procrastination is something that a lot of people do – it’s a common experience to the point where there are huge numbers of jokes and memes on the internet (surely humankind’s greatest procrastination tool!) about it.

However, I thought the book made a really good point.  When you find yourself avoiding or holding back from doing something you know you need or want to do, it can be very useful to ask yourself why.  If you do start the task, what is it you think (or fear) might happen?  What will starting, working through, completing the task mean to you?

The book went on to explain the model of procrastination as a form of perfectionism and fear of failure – after all, if you don’t even start a task then you won’t risk not doing as well as you had hoped or wanted to.  The pressure to produce something brilliant, wonderful, perfect first time can cause a paralysing fear…  and procrastination.

The links above might help you work out what is causing your procrastination – and then you might feel more able to tackle it.  Tools such as breaking a task down into a series of goals or to-dos might help make a task seem much more manageable.

The other side of the coin is that it may not be fear of failure that is holding you back, it may also be fear of success.  What might success mean to you?  What do you fear it might mean to the people around you?

If you can understand where your resistance is coming from, you might find it much easier to confront and tackle it.  Counselling can help with these feelings of stuckness if you want to explore them therapeutically.