Moving forward when the future is uncertain or out of your control

Do you ever think that everything will be OK when you get a new job/your crush notices you/you have time/conditions are perfect, etc? I think we daydreamers do this a lot. In our daydream worlds, we can make everything perfect. We can control everything. So when confronted with a real-life situation that’s outside our control, we don’t always know how to handle it.

As human beings, we are programmed to seek out certainty. When the future is certain, we can plan for it; we feel secure. But when things are uncertain, it throws us off balance. Uncertainty is a source of stress, and when we are under stress our fight-or-flight response kicks in. For most daydreamers, flight is the preferred option – we fly away into our daydream worlds in the hope of escaping from the real-world uncertainty. Evolution programmed us to run away from predators. But we can’t run away from our future. We can escape to the daydream world for a while, but the uncertain future is still there waiting for us when we come back to reality.

But fighting uncertainty can be risky too. If a situation is outside our control, then fighting against it can add to the stress without making the bad situation any better. Daydreaming that you can make everything right when you can’t will just make you angry and resentful. So, if you are facing a period of stress or uncertainty, and the outcome is not under your control, how should you approach it?

Accept the situation you’re in

If the situation is not under your control, your best option is to accept that. Accepting the reality of what’s happening, and accepting that uncertainty is stressful, is the first step towards managing your uncomfortable feelings. Acceptance also helps you to be realistic about what you are facing and stops you escalating the problem into something even bigger than it is. Talking about the situation with others who are affected by it can help you to see things from a different perspective. If there is no-one in real life you can talk to, talking to your characters can be helpful – just explaining what’s going on can help you to see things more objectively.

Allow yourself some time to daydream

Chronic stress is not good for us. You need a break from the stressful situation. If daydreaming gives you that break, then indulging your daydream habit in moderation will help you relax and recharge. This is not the time to try to cut down on your daydreaming unless it’s contributing to the problem. But don’t bring the source of your stress into your daydreams. You need a break from whatever is going on, so make sure your plot is completely unconnected to your real-world difficulties. Keep the theme of your daydreams as positive as possible – the point is to bring your stress levels down, not to increase them by daydreaming your worst-case scenario.

Don’t neglect other aspects of self-care

It’s important that you look after yourself now so that when the stressful situation is over you’ll be able to bounce back stronger. You need to keep up whatever good habits you have established in your life around eating healthily, exercising, getting enough sleep, meditating, getting out in nature, etc. Whatever works for you, make sure you keep doing it. Self-care is not an indulgence, a reward or something you have to earn; it’s a necessity. Don’t add to your stress by pressuring yourself to adopt a new habit, but don’t add to your stress by neglecting yourself either. Make time for the things that help.

Focus on what you can control

You don’t achieve anything by waiting for other people to make the decisions you want them to make. In the daydream world, you at least have the luxury of knowing things will work out as you want them to eventually. Real life isn’t like that. That thing you really want might not happen. But, even if someone else is in overall control of the situation, there may still be things you can do to influence the outcome. If nothing else, you can control your thoughts, actions and feelings. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you can only be happy if someone else makes the right choice. Your happiness isn’t under anyone else’s control. Your happiness is a product of how you view the world.

There will always be things about our future that are uncertain. And uncertainty will always be stressful. But, by tuning into the discomfort that uncertainty brings and drawing on our inner resources, including our daydreams, we can survive a period of uncertainty, and come out of it stronger than ever and ready to face the future.