Crystal Ball Thinking
Try this sometime: Make a list of the top ten things in life that you worry about. How many things on your list involve events that happened in the past? If you are still stressed about things that happened in your past, have you ever wondered why they still bother you? Until someone invents a time machine, none of us can go back and change the past.
It may be true that many, if not all, of us have been hurt or stressed by events that have happened in our own past. There may still be emotional wounds, and grieving that needs to take place, but the actual events that led to these wounds cannot be changed if they're in the past. So if you find yourself ruminating about the past, ask yourself what it would take to be able to let it go. Would you need to forgive someone? Would someone need to forgive you? Who needs to make amends, and how? The first step in letting go of the past is to figure out what it is you're letting go of.
Now take a look at that list, and see how many things on it involve events that may or may not happen in the future. For each item on the list that involves the future, ask yourself, on a scale of 1 to 10, how stressed or worried you are about the event coming to pass. Call this score the 'Stress Score.' Now, ask yourself, on a scale of 1 to 10, how likely you think it is that the event you're stressed about will happen. Call this score the 'Outcome Score.' Compare these two numbers. How close are they? If the Stress Score is higher than the Outcome Score, that means that you realize that you may be stressing yourself out over something that even you don't think is very likely to occur. On the other hand, if your Outcome Score is higher than your Stress Score, then you've learned not to stress too much over events that are likely to happen.
If both scores are fairly close, then your worry is probably realistic, but that doesn't mean that you can't take steps to reduce your stress. The secret to reducing stress about future events is to do all you can to manage the events you're worried about, then let go of the anxiety. If you've done all you can to solve the problem, then any further worry is counterproductive. This may sound impossible at first, but letting go of worry is a skill that can be learned like any other. It takes practice, but the more you practice the easier it gets.
In my therapy practice, I refer to obsessive thoughts about the past or about the future as 'Crystal Ball Thinking.'
None of us can predict the future, nor can any of us change the past. We don't have a crystal ball that allows us to see what's coming, so there's no need to stress about events that lie in the future. Next time you find yourself stressing about future events, ask yourself if you might not be worrying about something that may not happen at all.
Charlton Hall is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy Intern in private practice at the Family Therapy Teaching Clinic in Boiling Springs, South Carolina. You may contact him at: email@example.com or visit his website at: www.forestmoonfamilytherapy.com.
The Mindful Family
Crystal Ball Thinking