The Examined Life in Practice, Step 5: Let Yourself Imagine a Better Tomorrow
We are not motivated by our analysis or even by our goals and plans. Those things give the front part of our brain something to think about, but they do not make us wake up with joy or wake up with fear or depression. Our motivations (and procrastinations and fears) are based on neurochemistry that we cannot control with our cognitive processes alone. For instance, you cannot make yourself snap out of depression by telling yourself that depression is unwarranted in your current circumstances.
The reason that this step follows the steps about your social life and your inner perceptions of your current reality and your daily habits is because those things are the primary shapers of your ability to imagine a better tomorrow with your heart rather than with your head. They will not necessarily heal PTSD or your genetically-driven mood disorders; but without them, you are unlikely to make any progress on those anxieties and struggles. So start by reading those earlier posts, if you have not yet, or if you cannot recall their content.
After you have a foundation of some healthy relationships and some real understanding of who you are now and some progress in healthy daily habits, there are 6 main tools I use and recommend that you use to allow you to live in a space where you have an increasing measure of peace and hope and enthusiasm about your future:
- Wake up without an alarm and early enough to lie bed and consider the way you feel and what the day ahead of you holds.
- Fill your life with the music and art that bring you joy.
- Plan the solitude that you want to have.
- Give yourself permission to get to know God.
- Plan the time you want with people who energize you.
- Pay attention to your emotional reactions all the time, as if you are someone else watching you to see what brings you joy and pain -- and plan small changes in response to what you see so that you experience increasing joy and peace and decreasing pain, to the extent it is within your control.
So, after you have been practicing daily habits that are conscious rather than either just a repetition of what your were taught or what you rebelled against doing, you can add to them these ways to allow yourself to imagine a better tomorrow:
- Wake up without an alarm and early enough to lie bed and consider the way you feel and what the day ahead of you holds. This requires going to bed early enough that you can sleep until you wake up naturally and long enough ahead of an alarm that you can luxuriate in bed and consider your life for as long as you want. (If you doubt the power of this practice, I recommend the book Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker PhD.)
- Fill your life with the music and art that bring you joy. As you spend time driving or sitting at the computer or walking or sitting on your sofa in the evening, stop giving your time to websites or programming that sucks you in but gives you no energy to walk away and do something that matters to your vision of tomorrow. Give yourself permission to go sleep 2 hours early or go for a walk as you listen to music or an encouraging or important book or podcast, rather than to sit and watch 3 hours of news or sitcoms that are fine but not as good as you deserve emotionally and intellectually and spiritually.
- Plan the solitude that you want to have. If you are energized by 8 hours of solitude a day and several days of solitude a month, then find ways to change your life to allow for that solitude. On the other hand, if you are an extrovert and you only need and want tiny tastes of solitude in your life, still pay attention to your need for that much solitude, and make sure you schedule it and get it. We all need to periodically detach from all the voices around us in order to hear our own voice in silence, let alone the voice of God.
- Give yourself permission to get to know God. I am a Christian and so my practices and beliefs let me dance with the 3-fold God who is creator and who became human and who inhabits me now, but I believe that all of our practices and beliefs will be used by the God-Who-Is-Reality to pull each one of us out of our ideologies and religions and into communion with TRUTH itself. Spend time pursuing the God Who is pursuing you! Healthy faith gives us greater peace and hope and joy.
- Plan the time you want with people who energize you. Find ways to schedule time where you are present to the key people in your life who bring you peace and joy and hope. Find ways to bring that presence to them as well, and give them back a store of energy. As I said in Step Two - community: make small changes in your workplace and relationships that move them toward something healthier, and give yourself permission to honor your own desires in your plans for your career and your family commitments. When you have committed yourself to hard situations (with sick parents, demanding children, or a difficult spouse, for instance), make sure you do all you can to balance that time with tastes of healthy friendships or family relationships that feed you emotionally and spiritually.
- Pay attention to your emotional reactions all the time, as if you are someone else watching you to see what brings you joy and pain -- and plan small changes in response to what you see so that you experience increasing joy and peace and decreasing pain, to the extent it is within your control. Parents learn to take care of their children in this way, and friends and partners learn to care for their companions in this way. We each deserve that same kind of patient care from ourselves that we believe parents should extend to their children.