Our thoughts often jump ahead to the future and predict the worst-case scenario. We find ourselves catastrophizing about what might happen, assuming how others will react, or imagining how we are going to fail.
Since the mind can’t differentiate imagination from reality, this way of thinking impacts us emotionally and physically.
The worst-case scenario then becomes a reality for us and we forget that the best scenario is just as real, as well as multiple different scenarios between these two edges.
So What Can We Do About It?
The first step is to recognize what our mind is doing and to point it out to ourselves: “I’m imagining the worst-case scenario again.”
When we notice our thoughts, we are no longer one with them, and thus, their power over us weakens.
Then, we can remind ourselves of other options that are potentially available at this point. The intention is not necessarily to convince ourselves that what we fear won’t happen but to question the worst-case scenario and consider different possibilities.
“And what about preparing for what might happen?” you may ask.
There’s a fine line between making the necessary preparations for what might happen and ruminating about the worst-case scenario while making assumptions about the other party’s motives and aspirations (which in our imagination are always against our interests), and what we are going to experience as a result of this conflict of interests (which in our imagination are always devastating).
So after becoming aware of our thought patterns and taking action if it’s needed and possible, we can turn back to the present moment where what we imagine hasn’t happened yet and may never happen the way we fear.
For This Purpose, the Following Exercises May Be Used:
1. Mindful breathing—Focus your attention on your breath. Feel the air moving in and out of the body, notice how it moves inside your body; the expansion of the chest and abdomen, and the flow of air through the nostrils. Focusing on the breath without judging it or trying to change its rhythm creates relaxation and expands inner space. It helps in creating a space between stimulus and response and in falling asleep when thoughts won’t let go at night. It’s a simple action that can be done at any time.
2. Listening—Be still for a few moments and listen to the sounds around you: driving cars, birds singing, a distant talk, or anything else. Sometimes you will hear pleasant sounds; other times, listening without judgment will increase your tolerance for unpleasant sounds.
3. Observation—Look at something carefully. It’s better for it not to be something that triggers thoughts, such as another person, words, or an object that holds memories. When we learn to look at nature in this way, we find the magnificence of even a simple flower. However, since this exercise might create anticipation for a sense of awe, sometimes it’s best to focus on meaningless objects, such as the surface of your desk.
4. Attentive touch—Touch something, no matter what, and feel its texture; when you wake up in the morning pay attention to the feeling of your body on the mattress; when you perform simple actions, such as turning the lights on or off, do it mindfully; while watching television, put your hands on your abdomen or chest and feel their warmth; close your lips gently and feel their softness.
And if you feel you need a more intense practice to break the cycle of your thoughts, you may use the following:
Five Minutes of Stillness
I like to use the following exercise when I want to ground myself and be more present, especially in moments of unease and agitation.
Find a quiet spot—it can be a pleasant room at your home, your garden, or any other place you find comfortable. Set the timer for five minutes and just sit quietly, with your eyes open or closed. Listen to the sounds, look attentively at what’s around you, pay attention to your breathing and your body’s sensations, and if thoughts arise, don’t try to fight them. From time to time bring your attention back from thinking to what’s around you. Feel the life around and inside you.
Like in the previous exercise, first find a quiet and pleasant spot. In this exercise it’s better, but not necessary, to be outdoors.
Sit quietly, in a comfortable position; don’t try to avoid moving or thinking, but stay as present and alert as possible.
This exercise can be done for ten minutes, half an hour, or more. You can determine the duration in advance, or just sit until you feel serenity fills every corner of your body.
There are plenty of YouTube videos and wonderful apps, such as Headspace and Calm, that offer all sorts of meditations and mindfulness exercises for various purposes.
And What about Focusing on What We Do Want?
This can be very useful, however, when we are in the grip of fear, doing so might feel forced. So if it works for you, then do it, but if it’s too much effort, don’t worry about it and focus on the previous steps.