Inna Post, Ph.D.
The Importance of Having Something To Look Forward To
Be honest with yourself — do you have any exciting plans on the horizon? I’m not talking about a Zoom cocktail hour or a visit to your favorite museum. I’m talking about a trip to a country you’ve never been to before or a big celebration with friends and family.
My guess is that even the thought of a grand plan might be anxiety-producing and overwhelming right now. And that’s okay! The global COVID-19 pandemic abruptly stopped travel and large gatherings, two of our most important social and cultural activities. However, now that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, we must get back into the habit of making big plans to break out of the shells we’ve receded into during the pandemic.
Many of us are dealing with stress and anxiety at this point in the pandemic and have been for some time. These feelings can introduce a whole host of problems to our day-to-day lives, including a lack of motivation. Having something to look forward to can help us feel more excited and motivated, but it can also take up space in our brains that would otherwise be vulnerable to stress and anxiety.
When you’re not working towards a future goal during stressful times, your brain is generally agitated and anxious about something. On the surface, you have no way of knowing if it’s positive or negative agitation. Your thoughts are labeling the feelings, but excitement is excitement — the physiological reaction is the same. Planning for something helps prevent stress and anxiety by using that energy towards something productive and exciting.
You may also find it helpful to verbalize your stress. While this is a different process, it works in a similar way. Neuroscience studies have shown that verbalizing our stress moves us away from limbic reactivity and into a more mindful space. The agitation we feel is funneled away from a “fight or flight” space and into a place of productivity. Having something to look forward to works in a similar way. You have fuel in your tank, but it’s up to you where you take the vehicle.
Planning might cause anxiety in and of itself (anyone who has ever planned a wedding knows what I’m talking about!). Try breaking your goals down into smaller steps to make your plan feel more manageable. Nobody decides they want to climb Mount Everest and reaches its pinnacle on the same day. The bigger your goals, the more diligent and dedicated you’ll have to be. Take small steps towards your dream no matter how far away it feels. Before you know it, that goal that once seemed like it was miles away will be much closer.
As travel restrictions lift, why not look into planning a small group trip with your vaccinated friends and family to a tropical paradise? We can also work towards bigger goals and aspirations now that real estate markets are bouncing back and most industries are slowly picking up momentum. Many of us have used this time to reflect on our career and life choices and think about our capabilities in a new light. With all that you’ve learned, what goals can you set for yourself in a post-pandemic world?
Now more than ever, we need to plan for the future, set new goals, and always try to have something positive to look forward to within our sight. Keep your head in the game, and remember it’s always a good idea to talk about your goals with a loved one, a trusted friend, or a coach!