Someone once said that being worried is simply a profound lack of imagination.

That rings true to me. Simply put, stress and anxiety are “given life” through the narrowing of one’s perspective. Think about this concept. When your perspective narrows, it becomes much more difficult to see that the future holds a myriad of potential outcomes (while some of us simply fixate on the worst one or two possible outcomes, others see the potential and hope).

To complicate matters, the energy and focus we expend on worry and anxiety bring our narrowed focus exclusively into a future state, so our performance in the present is compromised and quickly deteriorates. And, as our performance in the present deteriorates, our declining performance (input) and continued anxiety about a specific future state increases the likelihood of the future state with which we are most worried.

Often, this cycle is repeated in individuals’ lives to the point that the near constant re-enforcing of the cycle creates a habitual response to any variable that might signal a disruption in the future. In some cases, the power of these cycles (perpetuated by what I call our “bad code”) becomes so pervasive that the anxiety about a future state creates a shadowy perspective about all future states across all contexts and all time (everything is bad, everyone is bad, nothing will go right, etc.). The power of the cycle becomes all encompassing, and the cycle ends in the collapse of perspective and optimism.

Staying present, focusing on the objective at hand, working effectively towards the future, and recognizing that the future hasn’t been written yet are great starts in moving past worry and anxiety. This concept starts with self awareness and moves into the self management process. Without self awareness, we are doomed to continue the cycles that inhibit us from moving forward. Ask yourself, “Is this me”? What should I do about it? What resources are available to support me? Do I want something different for myself? If you do want something different, it’s time to take action.

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  1. Scott Mather

    It may not be so much a failure of imagination as its misuse.

    “Staying present, focusing on the objective at hand, working effectively towards the future, and recognizing that the future hasn’t been written yet are great starts in moving past worry and anxiety.”

    Indeed, but how to practically realize these goals? One way is to intentionally and repeatedly focus on specific and vividly imagined future success. We are all inevitably affected by our experiences, but not only our real experiences, but by our vividly imagined experiences as well. By worrying repeatedly and in detail (“oh, what if I fail…I can just see myself losing, etc….”) we increase the likelihood that we will indeed fail. But if we intentionally and repeatedly visualize specific positive outcomes in great detail, using all the senses (“I can see myself succeeding, I can taste the air, feel the heat on my skin, hear the sounds of those shouting encouragement to me, etc. etc. etc. etc.”) we are able to use that same “experience” mechanism to program ourselves for success. Maxwell Maltz wrote a book on this back in the 50’s, called PsychoCybernetics. The title reflects his belief that the mind can be programmed similarly to a guided missile. It’s a fascinating read.

    • Chief Kirk

      Scott – yes – what you are describing is visualization; often called mental rehearsal. The brain cannot discern the difference between an actual experience and a potent visualization exercise.

      The failure of imagination I’m describing is one where our imagined future states do not include resolutions to our current state that are positive and/or beneficial. This failure to “see” that not all roads lead to disaster is not only an issue of perspective but a substantial impediment to productive visualization (and the authenticity of attempts to be intentional about future, positive resolutions).

      First, we must all concede and firmly recognize that there can, indeed, be positive future states borne from the morass of the present and the many changing variables at work around us. Without this, the mantras and intention quickly fall victim to our default settings (worry, anxiety, etc.).

      What we all need is more perspective, starting with the admission that the future is still unfolding (and all that comes with this realization). This will lead to more productive self-help practices.