Fear of the future

The future is the realm of uncertainty and the unknown, but it is also the only place of potential and opportunity.

In the 18th century, travelling on the open ocean in a small sailing ship was an extremely dangerous thing to do.

Accurate maps of the ocean obviously didn't exist and the ships in those days were fragile wooden constructions with flimsy fabric sails and no modern electricity for proper lighting and food refrigeration.

Being a sailor was extremely dangerous, because there were so many unknowns that came with the job. Probably as a direct result of the fear associated with the task, seamen developed entire libraries of superstitions, myths, legends and sailing folklore.

For example, it was considered extremely unlucky to set sail on a Friday, along with the very idea of killing an albatross. Bananas are apparently still not the ideal fruit to have on board a yacht and whistling is strongly discouraged on a ship, because it is said to be considered a 'challenge to the wind'.

Superstitions like these were born out of the fear of the unknown and the uncertainty of purposefully setting out to sea.

Fear of the future

When faced with uncertainty and the unknown we can often default to a mindset of fear.

All sorts of dire stories and projections of disaster can fill our minds and overwhelm our emotional state. We can become engulfed with worry; paralysed by a feeling of being out of control and finding ourselves in a miserable place of insecurity.

This can be how our mind's react to the future when it is looking more uncertain than usual to us. When we mentally forecast that tough times lie ahead - we tend to zoom in on just that one negative narrative of the future and set up a 'misery camp' there, (this is probably why today we have a global epidemic of people gravitating towards unfounded conspiracy theories, drawing comfort from the knowing that modern monsters are indeed to blame for the woes that they future has brought).

QAnon supporters at a Trump rally

But the future is not pre-determined.

Destiny certainly does not control the future, which is why you simply cannot predict the future.

At any point in time there are multiple alternative futures available to us - our journey towards any of them (seen and unseen) is determined by the decisions that we make in the present, our agency to act on those decisions and luck (or forces outside on our control).

In truth the only real agency that you have is in the outcome of the future. It's when we fail to recognise that, that fear of the future seeps slowly back into our minds.

"Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and of vigour has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days." - Franklin D. Roosevelt

Choosing to go backwards

Fear of the future then is futile and trying to regress back to a space that feel more controllable is just one option available from a selection of many.

The past might seem like a safe bet, because it looks and feels familiar to us; that's why very often when faced with a heightened sense of 'future uncertainty' many companies will choose to retrench their staff or downsize there operations to a point where they feel more in control of things.

Retreat however is unimaginative and is a clear indication of a lack of leadership, creativity and self confidence.

What to do instead

The future is the realm of uncertainty and the unknown, but it is also the only place of potential and opportunity.

Embrace the fact that any control your thought you had of the future was an illusion all along; set your mind at ease in the knowing that the future is uncertain.

Then spend time exploring the many possible futures that are available. Make plans ahead of time for the futures that are undesirable and put steps in place to journey towards the future that is preferred.

Step away from the idea that you are a victim of the future and towards the mindset that you have agency over the time yet to come.