Friday, August 7, 2009

Your inate ability to create the future

The current financial crisis of 2008-9 has hit all over the world. Many people find themselves out of work and in far too many cases out of a place to live. For many this will be a time for rethinking what truly brings meaning to our lives. However you see it, nature, evolution or the higher being of your choice has given us a variety of coping mechanisms for just such occasions. One of these is the capability of our minds to form our behavior in anticipation of future consequences. We can now see these capacities at work with the help of MRI and fMRI. We can anticipate future consequences, plan and monitor the direction of events in relation to how we see ourselves partaking in future activities. While these three are considered executive skills (used by leaders), everyone has the capacity to use them more or less. Everyone can be their own leader. Some need to learn and practice them and others perform them naturally.

The best way to practice is to create a specific event in which we have the roll we desire. It should to be an event that has meaning for our lives. For example, we are receiving acclaim for work we have done that has contributed something of value to others and has had meaning for ourselves. An event in which we are being handed a lot of money for winning a lottery, for which we did nothing may be exciting and come in very handy, but has no meaning unless we use the money for a cause we think contributes to the greater good. Try to picture that situation in as much detail as possible by using all your sense organs. See place, the colors and sounds, smell the smells and the feel the feeling you and others around you have. This is called an episodic future thought.

What does one gain from such an exercise? In the first place, it puts us in a position of thinking about the future, which is one of the first abilities to go when we are depressed. It means you are not deeply depressed or you are able to shake yourself out of depression. That is fantastic news. In the second place, the process of formulating an event in detail strengthens our ability to do that in the future. It is like working out at the gym.

The next step is to think about what consequences might arise from this event, both positive and negative. From there, we can begin to form our current behavior in the direction of strengthening the development of the positive consequences and giving as little energy as possible to consequences that may have negative outcomes. All the way, you can monitor if a given behavior contributes to your episodic future thought. Science tells us that that we have the capability. Wouldn’t now be a good time to nurture it?