We have all felt it at some point in our lives: Something is going to happen to you soon. You’re going to have to do something difficult and you don’t know whether you will succeed or fail. But for now, all you can do is just sit and wait, stress and wait, toss and turn and wait. You’re going through that A-word experience that can make it seem as if time stood still just to make you suffer. You’re going through anticipation.
A little bit of it can help sometimes: If you stress a little about the marathon you have to run soon, you’ll release the hormones than make you perform better. But there are times that we become so stressed with anticipation about the challenges we’re going to face that we become completely paralyzed. So we decide to procrastinate on our responsibilities, and at times we even decide to quit altogether.
You can’t stop thinking about how difficult your next assignment will be so you put it off until right before the deadline. You’re so stressed about how difficult your next gym session will be, so you decide to not show up at all. You’re so worried about how difficult it will be to keep a spouse at your side and to raise an entire family so you decide to remain single for the rest of your life.
Certainly, there are many times in our lives where a tip or two on dealing with the distress of anticipation can go a long way. So how can you learn to conquer this horrid A-word?
I believe part of the answer is practice, mental practice to be specific. The reason we’re often so stressed about future challenges is because we’re not sure of what exactly will happen and how we will personally handle it. You have to soon give a speech and you’re wondering, “Will I be able to say all the words smoothly? Will I stutter? Will I freeze? Will I forget all I have to say?” And because you’re so uncertain of what will happen, you wind yourself up into a ball of nerves.
At times like that, it’s wise to take a deep breath and to try and mentally imagine in detail the best version of what is going to happen, and to mentally practice how you will act at each stage of the process. Then, you have to go ahead and imagine the worst thing that could happen, and prepare yourself for how you will act in that situation as well. And with that balanced and realistic mental preparation, you reduce your level of uncertainty.
In the example of the speech, you might say, “Okay, I will walk up to the podium, I will smile at the audience, I will greet them, I will pause and make eye-contact with them for three seconds, then I will start my the speech that I have memorized and I will occasionally look at my notes to refresh my memory. And I will go through the entire speech in this smooth tone until I reach the end. But I will be calm throughout and make my audience have a good time.” Then you go ahead to think of the kind of obstacles that may get in your way, “If I happen to forget my words at any point, I will just recap on what I have already said but in different words and in a different tone, as I try to remember where I was. If I stutter or mispronounce my words, I will just make a joke out it.” And with practice like that, you may feel much better about your near future.
You can do this type of mental practice in different ways with any challenge that is stressing you out, whether it’s a marathon or a family. In addition to reducing the stress of anticipation, mentally preparing yourself for what will happen will motivate you to actually start doing whatever it is you have to do. That’s because we as humans always try to make our mental world similar to our physical world. So thinking about what you have to do will make you want to have it happen already just as you picture it in your mind and you might go ahead and do it confidently. Always try to focus on the best version of what could happen, and that version will be more likely to be the one that takes place and to make you feel calmer about the future.
With all that said, you must remember in whatever challenge you face to make two very important promises to yourself: That you will always do your best, and that you will always be yourself. And if you can trust yourself to do both of those things, then you need not worry about how your challenges will turn out, because things will always turn out fine.
And as always, cheers to life!