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Why You Should Stop Planning and Embrace Uncertainty

Why You Should Stop Planning and Embrace Uncertainty

Let’s face the inevitable: life comes at us fast. In the blink of an eye, change happens and opportunities come and go. We look back and reflect on where all of our time went and how well we spent it. In actuality, it seems like a lot of calloused and brush-burned hands. How can we really control everything that happens?

Reality check: we can’t. Too much stress and energy are placed on our futures, on the ideas and events that we cannot even begin to anticipate or change. Yet, we continue to try to micromanage our experience, without actually living in the moment. In essence, we are slaves to our own devices.

How can we break this vicious cycle? Put that ridiculous color-coded schedule and pencil down so you can begin with yourself.

Start as a “clean slate” and work on how you can shift your perspective and embrace uncertainty with these seven reasons. You’ll start to feel a release of pressure and stress in no time.

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1. It’s Out of Your Control

out of your control

    Easier said than done, right? Just remember, that if you have an idea about how your future will play out, think again. Life never goes according to plan. There are too many factors and elements that can positive or negatively affect our anticipated future. So, why dwell on what we can’t control? Honestly, we can do everything in our power to land a promotion and someone else may just be a better fit. You cannot force that change to happen in your favor.

    2. Now’s the Time to Shift Your Focus

    shift your focus

      Shift your focus from what you can’t control to what you can. Let it go and do whatever you can in the present. If you want a promotion, work hard, learn new skills, take a class, seek advice and do your personal best. Then, the future is out of your hands. Make use of your time wisely, because stressing over what may happen will only give you a headache and a little paranoia.

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      3. You Should Be Comfortable With Discomfort

      discomfort 2

        While that sounds like a lofty contradiction, there is some merit in this idea. Since the future is out of our control, so is everything along the way and you need to be prepared to get a little uncomfortable. Maroon 5 said it so well: “Life isn’t always rainbows and butterflies, it’s compromise that moves us along.” We can’t always have things turn out in our favor. So, how do we deal with this stress? Baby steps.

        Life isn’t easy, so try to train yourself to learn to handle being uncomfortable. Think of what it’s like to exercise. It is hard, but in order to get better, you have to deal with a little pain or discomfort. Over time, things get more manageable. Adopt that idea into your life and your body and mind will start to endure as well.

        4. Accepting Change and Being Flexible Are Soft Skills

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        soft skills

          You want to be successful in your future? Let go of the past and live in the present. Once you let go of control, you’ll be able to understand that change is a part of life and you need to be flexible to have some grasp of what happens in your future. Believe it or not, but these skills are essential for working alongside others and having the best possible outcome for your future.

          5. Life Shouldn’t Be Put on Hold

          life on hold

            Fixating on your future is time consuming and, honestly, a waste of time. Yet, we all fall into this trap. Instead of living in the moment, we are trying our hardest to anticipate the next moment. Let go of the reins and let life take its course. Think of how much you miss when you aren’t really looking.

            For example, say you are vacationing in St. Thomas. You’ve got one day on land before your cruise sets sail again. But instead of smelling the ocean breeze and taking in the glorious sights, you’re running boarding times through your head and what you need in order to leave. You’ve now missed a day of relaxation and luxury.

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            6. You Need to Know Yourself

            know yourself

              Don’t let fear run your life. Be aware of when you begin to lose focus on living in the moment and when you get caught up in something you can’t control. Take a deep breath and think of what you can do to keep your life moving forward. Experience. You’ll be less stressed and able to tackle anything.

              7. When Opportunities Knock, You Need to Answer

              opportunity

                By letting go, you’ll be able to seize the day. With your newfound skills of flexibility and acceptance, you’ll be able to consider more options and paths to take. Don’t let yourself become trapped into one option. Keep an open mind and live in the moment!

                No matter your current career or personal status, these seven tips can apply to your life. Stop stressing and start doing!

                Featured photo credit: Diogo Tavares via unsplash.com

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                Kayla Matthews

                Productivity and self-improvement blogger

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                Last Updated on July 17, 2019

                The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

                The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

                What happens in our heads when we set goals?

                Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

                Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

                According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

                Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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                Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

                Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

                The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

                Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

                So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

                Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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                One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

                Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

                Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

                The Neurology of Ownership

                Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

                In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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                But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

                This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

                Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

                The Upshot for Goal-Setters

                So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

                On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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                It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

                On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

                But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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                Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

                Reference

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