Don't Sweat the Future

Feeling stressed? Need help surviving the new millennium?

Richard Carlson, Ph.D, is the author of the best-selling book, "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff,"

Join Carlson and an array of guests—from spiritual advisor Deepak Chopra to former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Colin Powell to relationship counselor Barbara DeAngelis—for tips on achieving a relaxed, centered and productive mindset in today's hectic world.

A Message from Richard Carlson, Ph.D:

Those of you who are familiar with my work know that I'm a true optimist. I believe in our potential as human beings-for happiness, understanding, kindness, love, success and compassion. I believe anyone can learn to stop sweating the small stuff!

I hope you'll enjoy the series. I was honored to be a part of it and hope it serves you well.

I've prepared a list of what, I believe, are the top ten ways to not sweat the future; ways to be happy now and forever. I hope you'll take a few minutes to read through these ideas and then integrate them into your life. I wish you peace, confidence, success and love.

Treasure the gift of life,

Richard Carlson

Don't Sweat the Future

1. Be Part of the Solution

It's been said that at any given moment, we're either "part of the problem" or "part of the solution." Seems right to me. We're usually either making some sort of a contribution to humanity—we are involved in living an ethical, spiritual life, doing the best we can to raise loving kids, engaged in worthwhile projects—or contributing in some way to the betterment of the world. Or, perhaps without even knowing it, we're contributing to the aggression, greed and other problems of the world with our actions, lack of action or the way we are living our lives.

By making the conscious decision to be part of the solution, whatever that may mean, we are making a statement to ourselves that, when we leave this world, the world will be a slightly better place because of us. This is a comforting decision. When we know we are doing our best to do our part, we free our minds from worry and fear. It gives us confidence and strength and, without a doubt, it keeps us from sweating the future.

Don't Sweat the Future

2. Simplify

We live in a complex world. Most of us live complicated lives. We collect things and we collect achievements. Most of us believe that more is better, bigger is better, and faster is better. Somehow we believe that if we can get more stuff, achieve more often, do bigger and better things, make more money, have more experiences and so forth, that we'll end up happier.

The problem is, when life becomes too complicated and full, it also becomes overwhelming. We have too much going on, too much to keep track of. The result is that we become stressed, irritated and more easily bothered, and anxious. This, in turn, makes us less effective and more prone to mistakes. Our learning curve, as well as our sense of appreciation, plummets.

We have so much "on our plates," and we are so over-extended that we end up not doing anything very well. And even if we did, we certainly would be too busy to notice! Our productivity, as well as our quality of life begins to suffer. Complexity, too much stuff, too much to keep track of, and too much going on, promote worry, anxiety, pessimism and fear.

The question is this: If we can't manage the life we already have, how in the world will we be able to handle the future? After all, we keep hearing about how the world is speeding up. Things will only get worse!

The solution is to make the conscious, voluntary decision to simplify your life. To do so is not "giving up," nor is it a decrease in the quality of your life. To the contrary, it's a powerful, leveraged way to take control of your life and to increase the overall quality of your existence!

Begin in small ways. Learn to say "no" more often, reduce, where appropriate, a few of your obligations, and stop taking on more, unless and until you counter your new obligation by eliminating a different one. Get rid of stuff you don't need.

Consolidate, reduce your consumption, and think in terms of quality of experience, not quantity. Finally, learn to value space in your calendar. If you do manage to create some free time, try not fill it up with something else.

By simplifying your life you'll be creating the confidence you need to live an effective and happy life-and to ensure a nourishing and joyful future.

Don't Sweat the Future

3. Remain Optimistic

Easier said than done, of course, but nonetheless critical! Optimism is contagious and it feeds on itself. It's self-reinforcing. When you're optimistic, you remain hopeful. And while you're at it, you'll be encouraging others to do the same. Rather than spreading fear, you'll be spreading hope.

Being optimistic about the future doesn't mean you bury your head in the sand and pretend there aren't problems to deal with. To the contrary, optimists are usually more equipped and willing to do something about the problems of the world than are pessimists, who are usually too busy complaining about the problems of the world to do anything about them. The energy of optimism goes a long way toward encouraging us to not sweat the future.

Don't Sweat the Future

4. Do Good While Doing Well

There is something so beautiful and magical about individuals and organizations who do well financially but, at the same time, do good for others. More than simply sharing in their success, giving back becomes an integral part of their daily lives. Giving becomes its own reward.

The tides are shifting. More and more people are realizing that life is much more than profit alone. Indeed, success means so much more when it is defined not only in terms of the "bottom line," but also in terms of open arms and giving back.

So go ahead and be successful. Make money, be profitable, achieve your goals, and pursue your dreams. Yet, keep in mind that we are part of a world community, we're all in this together. When you hurt someone else, it's like hurting yourself. Likewise, when you're kind, ethical and generous, it's as if you're being kind to yourself as well.

I guess the real "bottom line" is this: If we can do well-and also do good-there will be less for all of us to worry about. Our collective future will be bright.

Don't Sweat the Future

5. Become More Present-Moment-Oriented

So often our minds are racing forward to "what's next." We get caught in our worries and our plans. We spend less time "living" than we do anticipating. Or, on the flip side, we spend a great deal of energy regretting the past. We review mistakes, feel badly, hold on to grudges and mentally review days gone by.

Being more present-moment-oriented means making today the most important day of your life. It's the recognition that yesterday is over, tomorrow is a dream but today is a "present." This doesn't suggest that yesterday wasn't important or that tomorrow isn't critical, only that today is the day we have some control over. It means that we have the capacity to make today the best day it can be. We can make loving, successful, wise choices today that will become our future tomorrow.

When we become more present-moment-oriented we pave the way to a bright future. It makes sense that if you can make today the best it can be, if you can be attentive and sensitive to what's happening now, make wise and appropriate decisions today, then tomorrow will be fine. So if you don't want to sweat the future, one of the keys is to create a wonderful today, starting with this very moment.

How Not Sweat the Future

6. Stay Grateful

If you look around, you'll notice that the happiest people, those who worry and "sweat" the least, are constantly rejoicing at what they have and what's right about life. Because they are in the habit of seeing life in this way, they are hopeful and optimistic about the future.

Unhappy people, on the other hand, seem to be constantly complaining about what's lacking and what's wrong with life. Sweating about the future is a natural extension of their gloomy outlook.

This is a self-fulfilling prophecy; the more attention we give something, the more it expands. In other words, when you focus on something that irritates you, you'll find more and more things to be irritated about. On the other hand, when you focus on the beauty of life and on that which is good, you'll tend to see plenty of that as well.

This isn't to suggest that we should ignore problems or pretend they don't exist. In fact, just the opposite is true. A bright future requires that we do all we can to solve problems and make the world a better place, yet at the same time learn to acknowledge and appreciate the good that exists as well. A positive, grateful focus encourages more of the same in the future.

Gratitude is a powerful antidote to stress. It keeps us hopeful and our spirits high. It reduces our tendency to worry, which keeps us wise and kind. Gratitude keeps us focused on solutions instead of riveted to problems. It will make our lives happy today, while at the same time insuring a brighter tomorrow.

Don't Sweat the Future

7. Avoid Excessive Worry

Benjamin Franklin once said, "I imagined some horrible things in my life—a few of which actually occurred." Such is the nature of worry. Not always, of course, but often, things don't turn out nearly as badly as we imagined they would.

Although worry is at times, tempting, and it can certainly drain your energy, it usually does very little to produce results. This understanding is quite different from those who equate worrying with being wise and discriminating.

If you think about it, you'll probably agree that when you solve problems you likely do so despite your worry, not because of it. Worry is, in my opinion, vastly overrated!

Many people would go so far as to say when you worry about something too much, you actually increase the likelihood that whatever it is you're worrying about will happen! In other words, your focused energy on the content of your worry draws it toward you instead of keeping it away.

Reminding ourselves that worry is neutral at best, and self-destructive at worst, helps to keep our tendency to worry to a minimum. And absent the worry, we won't be sweating the future. Instead, our futures will be bright and promising.

Don't Sweat the Future

8. Slow Down

We live in a time of hyper-speed. Despite a multitude of time-saving devices and incredible technology at our disposal, it seems that everyone is in an enormous rush most of the time. We keep finding clever ways to "save time," but never actually feel as though we have enough time. (And once you've "saved" all that time, what do you do with it? You can't collect it in a basket somewhere for later.)

Being in a hurry and worrying go hand-in-hand. When you're rushed, frantic, over-committed and constantly behind schedule, your state of mind produces anxiety and fear. Without a doubt, you'll be sweating the small stuff in your day-to-day life, and you'll be sweating your future!

An amazing shift takes place, however, when you make the decision to slow down. You'll feel a sense of relief and peace. You will feel less of a sense of urgency and panic. Worry and insecurity will be replaced by wisdom and perspective.

To slow down effectively, the changes in you must first come from within- acknowledging you are too speeded up and moving too fast, slowing down your thinking, learning to breathe, making a few inner adjustments and so forth..

Those changes, in turn, will likely result in some external changes as well-things like learning to say 'no' more often and without feeling guilty, scaling back your schedule, allowing more time in-between activities, and so forth.

Learning to slow down, even a little bit, pays enormous dividends in the quality of your life. As your confidence and perspective are enhanced, you'll find yourself looking forward to, rather than sweating-your life and your future.

Don't Sweat the Future

9. Do Small Things With Great Love

Mother Teresa said, "We cannot do great things on this earth. We can only do small things with great love." This is one of my favorite quotes and, I believe, one of the surest ways to have a great life, make an important contribution to humanity and, ultimately, to not sweat or worry about your future.

Sadly, many people feel that if they can't make an enormous positive, tangible impact, that their efforts aren't worth anything. This is unfortunate because every single positive effort and action, however small, makes a world of difference.

Can you imagine what would happen to our world-and our future as human beings-if every single one of us made the decision to be just a bit more gentle, more kind, and more generous? The thought alone brings joy to my heart.

The truth is, great satisfaction and inner confidence comes from doing small things with great love. Whether it's allowing someone to be "right," looking the other way when someone makes a mistake, giving someone a second chance, donating some time or money, sharing your love, being kind to a stranger or to someone who is lonely, or any of thousands of other thoughtful and kind gestures.

Being helpful, generous, considerate, patient and kind nourishes your spirit and keeps you hopeful. So, starting right now, think of small things you can do to bring joy to our world. It all adds up to a brighter future for all of us.

Don't Sweat the Future

10. Spread Happiness

I was by myself, in a restaurant, enjoying some quiet, when I began observing two employees, a waiter and a waitress. The implications of what I witnessed were, to me, so powerful that I felt compelled to share it with you.

The man was about my age, late thirties, early forties, something like that. He was abrupt, impatient and had a frown on his face. You could tell he would rather be anywhere but there. I was aware that his sour attitude could have been nothing more than a bad mood, but it seemed much more significant than that. He seemed to have a chip on his shoulder.

The effect he had on his customers was dramatic. It seemed that everyone could feel it. You could see it in their body language and facial expressions. There were frowns and quick decisions. The atmosphere was dark and heavy. You could just feel it. Yuck!

The waitress, on the other hand, was just the opposite. She was friendly, patient, relaxed, and had a beautiful smile. You could tell by watching that, even though she was "working," there was nowhere she would rather have been for that period of time.

It seemed that everyone she approached felt at ease. Her customers were joking with her and amongst themselves. Every person she served was smiling. The atmosphere was light and happy.

Feelings are contagious—happy, sad, anxious, angry, whatever. And obviously, no one is going to bat a thousand, or even close to it. Further, I'm not suggesting you "fake it" when you're not feeling happy.

Yet there is something very powerful about the intent to spread happiness. It goes a long way toward promoting peace, goodwill, and a more positive future for all of us.

Imagine how many people you come into contact with in any given day. Now, multiply that number by the thousands of days you will (hopefully) be alive! The numbers are staggering—and so is your potential to promote a more positive future. So, starting today, begin to spread happiness to everyone you meet. You'll be a lot happier, and so will everyone else!

© 2000 Richard Carlson, Ph.D.