By Jeremy Godwin
Welcome to Let’s Talk About Mental Health; I’m Jeremy Godwin and every week I look at one aspect of better mental health and I share practical and straightforward advice that you can apply immediately to improve your wellbeing.
Today I’m talking about how to create a great future for yourself — so get comfortable, and Let’s Talk About Mental Health…
Listen to the podcast episode now in the Spotify player below (or using your preferred podcast service; see below for links) or continue reading for the full transcript.
Watch Episode 38 of Better Mental Health on YouTube — in this latest episode I’m sharing 5 simple tips for better mental health through embracing simplicity.
Watch the episode below or visit the channel on YouTube:
This podcast episode was originally released on 10 October, 2021.
Hello and welcome to Episode 100, and thanks so much for joining me!
This week I’m talking about the future and I’ll be discussing what the future is (and what it isn’t), why we need to view the future in an objective way, and how to create a healthy future for yourself.
Before I start, two quick things. First, in my latest Better Mental Health video on YouTube I’m sharing five ways to incorporate greater simplicity into your life; my theory on life is pretty much “less drama equals less drama” and the more I double-down on that theory, the more satisfying life feels. Watch the video now on YouTube; you’ll find it linked in the episode description or head to letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au/youtube where you’ll find all of my past videos… and while you’re at it, subscribe to my YouTube channel so you never miss a weekly episode!
Secondly, I just wanted to say a massive thank you to each and every one of you for listening and supporting me over 100 episodes! It’s quite a huge milestone to reach (and I just celebrated two years of this podcast a few days ago), and it’s an even bigger achievement when you consider how many podcasts just do not make it past the first few episodes. I have lots of great content coming over the next year and beyond, and I’m looking forward to talking with all of you a lot more!
So, with all of that covered, on with this week’s episode about the future…
When Fleetwood Mac sang “don’t stop thinking about tomorrow,” who knew everyone would take them so seriously?! Because, in general, we all seem to be so obsessed with what’s next and we lurch from one thing to another; however I cannot help but feel that, by doing that, we’re missing out on the whole point of life: to make the most of the present moment, since it is all we have for certain.
The future is both unknown and unknowable. There’s a great quote by historian John Lewis Gaddis that goes, “The trouble with the future is that it’s so much less knowable than the past” — which is a delightfully-academic way of saying that we have absolutely zero idea of what the future will look like and feel like! I mean, if anyone had said just a few years ago that we’d be spending a massive amount of our time talking to one another on Zoom these days I don’t think anyone would have believed it… and yet here we are!
Our hopes for the future play a big role in what we do and don’t do here in the present, and so too do our fears. I often talk about balance here on this podcast (and I’ve even done two episodes on different aspects of balance; Episode 14 about balance in general, and Episode 49 on finding balance), and the thing is that finding the right balance between hope for the future and living for today takes effort, and that’s what I’m exploring today (along with how to be hopeful and present-focused when there is so much uncertainty about the future).
So let’s begin with some definitions and let’s talk about…
What the future is (and what it isn’t)
And trying to define ‘the future’ could very easily take us down a rabbit-hole of psychology, philosophy and physics, and I’m guessing you didn’t come here for that, so let’s talk about what the future is at its most fundamental: the future is any moment after this one. So if you wait a bit, you’ll be living in the future… look, here it is! Now you’re in the future! Don’t worry, I’m not going to keep going with that (even though I’m tempted), but hopefully you get my point; the future is time that is yet to come.
The part where it gets a bit murky to talk about is when we stop and consider this: the only moment that actually exists is the present moment. The past has passed, and so it only exists in our memories (or in re-runs on television), and the future doesn’t exist yet because it is shaped by what we do and say here in the present. Which means, of course, that you have the opportunity to create any future you want (within the bounds of what is realistic and achievable) simply based on the choices that you make today, and every day. Let me use my podcast as an example: two years ago I made a choice to launch a podcast, and that first week I had a total of four plays (actually, one of those was me checking the audio so it was really only three plays). Last week, I had over 17,000 plays. That result was only created by the choices I made two years ago and the repeated actions I have taken since; in other words, what you do or don’t do is what serves to create your future.
Because the thing about the future is that it is not fixed; you can influence your own future through the choices you make. There’s probably a broader philosophical and spiritual conversation here about whether or not ‘fate’ is a thing, and I’m certainly not here to enforce any specific beliefs on anyone, but what I will say is that regardless of your perspective it’s hard to deny the fact that you can steer your future in any direction you see fit — and that is an exciting prospect, because it means that you can be and do anything you wish (with time, effort and perseverance). If you show up and do the work, you can shape your future into whatever you want it to be.
At the same time, the future is also (mostly) out of your control (which is a pain in the butt, I know!), because the thing is that there are so many variables and external factors that will have an influence on what you do or don’t do, regardless of what you might want to do. I know I use this one a lot as an example, but the ongoing pandemic is not something any of us could have foreseen two years ago and it has had a monumental impact on every single one of us in terms of the choices we have made and the situations we have had to adapt to; there’s a small amount of personal control that we each have, but a lot of that is directly influenced or impacted by what is going on in the wider world.
So that leads me into the next part of this episode…
Why we need to view the future in an objective way
And the reason why is that the future is a weird mixture of the stuff that we can control (to some extent) combined with the stuff that we cannot control (and there I go talking about control again… I covered that topic back in Episode 48 and it’s a good one to check out if you haven’t already, since a lot of our challenges in life link back to trying to manage things that are outside of our control).
When you take the idea of only focusing on what you can directly control on board and use it as a guiding principle in your life, it challenges you to do things here in the present to set yourself up for the best possible future while also accepting and embracing the fact that what you think the future will look like and what it will actually look like are two very different things. That’s where being objective and rational comes in, because when we let our heart lead us (rather than our head) we can often wind up disappointed when things, inevitably, don’t turn out the way we had hoped. Because no amount of planning and preparation can ever fully prepare you for the future, so you need to be flexible and adaptable in order to steer yourself in the general direction that you want or need to go without being too single-minded about the specifics of what it actually looks like (because that’s where it becomes about trying to control the future, which is like trying to herd cats — virtually impossible and very likely to end up with you covered in scratches).
That uncertainty is something that I know a lot of us find troubling, and in general we human beings don’t tend to do that well with uncertainty because we crave knowledge… which makes the unknowability of the future a very bitter pill to swallow! And so we resist, and resistance leads to suffering. You can either keep on resisting, or you can lean into acceptance and truly make your peace with the fact that no amount of worrying about the future or fearing uncertainty is ever going to do anything beyond keeping you trapped in worry and uncertainty.
There is an excellent quote by the English poet John Masefield that I came across while researching this episode; the quote is…
“To most of us the future seems unsure; but then it always has been, and we who have seen great changes must have great hopes.”John Masefield
That ‘hope’ piece is something I want to focus on for a moment, because it’s something I talk about a lot and it goes hand-in-hand with optimism and a positive mindset. I’ve said in a few episodes that we should learn from the past, hope for the future and live for today, and hope is the fuel that makes getting out of bed worthwhile each day. Even in the face of uncertainty, we can still hope for the best and take action to set ourselves up for the best possible future… and I firmly believe in doing both of those things, because the alternative is to just give up and let life happen to you, and I for one refuse to do that. Either way the future will arrive, but the difference is that when you approach the future with hopefulness and considered action you are more likely to have a future that feels aligned with your goals, rather than just letting whatever happens happen.
This is all sounding rather philosophical (which is no real surprise because I do that a lot) and I guess the main point I’m trying to convey here is this: the future will happen however it happens, and you may as well approach it optimistically and set yourself up for the best possible future in spite of whatever may come your way.
How do you do that? Well I’m so glad you asked, because it’s time to get into the how-to part of the podcast! So, let’s talk about…
How to create a healthy future for yourself
And let me start by picking out a few key words that will underpin everything I’m about to say. First, “create”, because you are the one who is making the choices about what you do or don’t do and so that will directly shape how your future unfolds. Secondly, I said “for yourself” because you are in control; nobody can make you do anything you don’t want to do, which is incredibly liberating but also a bit daunting because it means that accountability and responsibility begins and ends with you. And thirdly, I said “a healthy future” because the alternative is an unhealthy one and I’m fairly certain nobody actually wants that! However, that means making the right decisions… and what is right isn’t always easy, so let’s just be clear on that before we go any further! Alright, so with those thoughts in mind, let’s jump into my first piece of advice which is…
Begin with self awareness — we all have to start somewhere, and that ‘somewhere’ should ideally be self knowledge. When you take the time to truly understand who you are, who you are not and who you want to be in the future, you can begin to sift through all of your thoughts and ideas to start to pull together an idea of how you want to approach the future (and more on that in a minute). Knowing yourself means being completely honest with yourself about all aspects of your life; this is not just limited to one aspect of who you are, like ‘at work’ or ‘at home’, but about understanding every part of who you are today and who you want to be. If you’re not sure then stop, look and listen, and get a sense of where things are today for you in terms of what is working well versus what isn’t working so well or could do with some improvement to lead you towards a brighter future. I talk a lot in this show about my belief that the purpose of life is to be the best version of ourselves possible, and so what that looks and feels like for you is probably going to be different to me and to everyone else… and being able to identify what that is for you and really hone in on it enables you to get to the essence of who you are and where you’re heading in the future. We are all unique and so take the time to get to know yourself and really embrace your individuality, because there is nobody else on this planet exactly the same as you and that is your secret ingredient when it comes to shaping your future! So that leads to my next point…
Focus on growth — because if you do not grow then you stagnate. Make it your goal to grow a little each day; growth doesn’t always have to be monumental and in fact you can spend just a few minutes on incremental personal growth each day and that will yield massive results over time thanks to the compounding effect that growth has over time. I talked about growth back in Episode 37, so check that out for more on the subject. Next…
Let go of control — and by that I mean the things that are never going to be in your direct control, like what other people say or do or what happens in the wider world; you can influence people and events, but you cannot control them. The more you accept that fact, the more you are able to give your full energy and attention to the things that you can control: what you do and say. And that’s the stuff that will enable you to create the best possible future for yourself. I bring up these points quite a lot in this podcast, and in fact I talked about control back in Episode 48 and I explored acceptance in Episode 36, and I recommend checking those out if you haven’t already (as always, full transcripts and audio are available for free at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au/episodes). So, my next point is another one I talk about a lot…
Know your priorities and focus on them — and the reason why I’m saying this one yet again is that there is always and will always be so much going on in the world and competing for your attention… but you are the one who is control of where your attention goes. I covered priorities all the way back in Episode 3, and the thing is that you cannot physically do everything; so, you need to understand what truly matters to you and make those things your main focus. There was a piece I just shared in my most recent weekly newsletter that said, “Two ways to simplify life: (1) decide what’s important [and] (2) let go what isn’t” and I think that’s a wonderful reminder that most stuff doesn’t really matter in the big scheme of things! So know what does matter and make that what you focus on, and let everything else just be background noise. And by the way, if you’re not already subscribed to my free weekly newsletter you’ll find a sign-up option on my website at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au or the link is in the episode description.
OK so now I’m going to go through some points that are all related to how to plan for the future, beginning with…
Think big — and this is about not just considering what you want your future to look like, but really being creative with your thinking. I mean, no judgment towards anyone with what I’m about to say, but if your dream for the future is to work hard for 40 plus years so that you can then retire and enjoy your life… ummm, what exactly are you doing to yourself?! Again, no judgement here, but two things; first, don’t put off your happiness for the distant future, and secondly, please think a bit bigger! Look, it’s not for me to tell you how to live your life or what your dreams should be, but if you can be and do anything and your goal is to hopefully find some happiness one day in the distant future while you work your butt off in the meantime… well, you’re selling yourself short. Dream big! Because you can do and be anything you want to. Yes I encourage you to be mindful about those dreams being realistic and achievable (I, for example, will never be an astronaut thanks to my eyesight and I’m OK with that… well, that and all the maths that’s required, given how much I dislike maths!), but in the context of being realistic there are still millions of possible options available to each of us, so dream big! That leads to my next point…
If you’re unsure of what you want, start with what you don’t want — if I had a dollar for every time I had asked someone what they wanted and they had replied with “I don’t know,” I would have a lot of dollars. It’s often easier for us to start with what we don’t want and that can then lead us down a path of exploring alternatives instead; for example, before I decided to start this show, I began with a single thought which was that I didn’t want to go back to working for someone else. Once I worked through that a bit more and considered what else I didn’t want, I was then better able to start thinking about what I did want instead. Next…
Decide on what the best version of you looks like for you — which comes back to what I talked about earlier in terms of knowing yourself, but now this is about taking all of that and turning it into more specific ideas. Why? Because the next step is…
Create a plan — and this is where you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and start coming up with a high-level plan for the future. You’ll notice I said “high level” and I say that because if you try to plan everything down to the last micro-detail, you’ll be in for a very rude shock the next time something happens to throw you off course (because it will happen). I think a simple way to do this is to think about what you broadly hope to achieve or how you want to feel about your life in 1 year, 2 years, 5 years and 10 years. Feel free to also consider big chunks of time beyond that point, but my brain kind of hits maximum capacity at about 10 years! For example, perhaps in two years you want to be your own boss and within 10 years you want to own your house outright; those are broad goals that you can plan for and work towards. Which actually leads nicely into the next point…
Break your plan into smaller actions — because this is about being able to take smaller, more frequent actions that lead you towards your goal. Let’s use that house one I said in the last point as a simple example: if you owe $100,000 on your mortgage (or if it’s 1952, because I don’t think you can own much for that these days!) and you want to have it paid off fully within 10 years, that’s $10,000 a year (and yes, I know about interest accruals — we’re just keeping this example very simple!). So saving $10,000 a year is a very different story than trying to magically find $100,000 all at once and so therefore it feels less daunting and more achievable. And to break that down even further, you’re talking about $834 a month, or about $192 a week — which, again, sounds much more attainable than trying to find $100,000. When you break any goals or actions down into their smallest possible parts, it feels more achievable and you’re better able to see the progress you’re making, so take the time to plan out your big-ticket goals for the future into smaller steps. And that leads to the most important part of this process…
Take action — because you can have all the hopes and dreams you want, but if you don’t do anything about them then they will never be anything other than hopes and dreams. You are the one that is in control of your future, and in the words of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Dennis Gabor; “The future cannot be predicted, but futures can be invented… [it was our] ability to invent which has made human society what it is.” Do something every single day to invest in your future; like I said before, small steps add up over time to deliver big results. So that leads to my next point…
Review and refine — because you can make all the plans you like, but then the future will happen and you’ll need to adjust accordingly. This requires you to embrace uncertainty (which I covered in Episode 25) and be adaptable. Just because things are unpredictable, that doesn’t make them scary; choose to look for the opportunities and adjust your path accordingly. I know this might sound like a funny example, but it’s like the recent changes to Instagram where they’re now focusing more on video; I had to adapt to that and make changes to my content (and I now post Reels every day with tips drawn from my podcast episodes), and do you know what? Best thing I ever did, because it’s helped my account to grow much faster than it was before and that means I’m getting that information out to more people who find it helpful, so it’s a win/win! Adaptability is the key to dealing with uncertainty and there are always opportunities in any new situation, no matter how challenging.
Summary and Close-Out
Because when it comes to the future and mental health, what it all boils down to is this: Your future is both within your control and out of your control, and wrapping your head around that fact can take a bit of getting used to. But the thing is that when you learn to embrace uncertainty and greet it with acceptance, it actually frees you to focus on what you can control: yourself. You can do and be anything you want to, and it’s the thousands of small choices you make each day that add up over time to create your future… which means you can make choices that are going to help you be the best version of yourself possible.
The choice is yours, as it is with all things related to your wellbeing… so, what choice will YOU make today?
Each week I like to finish up by sharing a quote about the week’s topic, and I encourage you to take a few moments to really reflect on it and consider what it means to you. This week’s quote is by Abraham Lincoln, and it is:
“The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time.”Abraham Lincoln
Alright… that’s nearly it for this week. Next week I’ll be talking about the basics of good mental health. Since next week will be my 101st episode and because ‘101’ is often used as a way to describe the foundational knowledge of a subject, I’ve decided to go back to basics next week and explore some of the most fundamental things you can do to improve and maintain your mental health and wellbeing. I’ll be talking about what good mental health is and what it isn’t, why looking after your mental health matters, and the basics of how to manage your mental health every day.
I hope you’ll join me for that episode, which will be released on Sunday the 17th of October, 2021. And on Wednesday, catch the latest episode of Better Mental Health on YouTube or IGTV, or head to letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au where you can also join my free mailing list for podcast transcripts and my weekly newsletter. You’ll also find the link in the episode description on whatever podcast service you’re listening to me on.
Follow me on Instagram at @ltamentalhealth, where I post extra content daily.
Thank you very much for joining me today — look after yourself and make a conscious effort to share positivity and kindness in the world, because you get back what you put out. Take care and talk to you next time.
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Let’s Talk About Mental Health.
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Let’s Talk About Mental Health. © 2021 Jeremy Godwin.