What are you looking forward to?

person looking forward to a holiday

This sounds like a Coronavirus question, doesn’t it! “After the pandemic, what are you looking foward to doing that you have been unable to do so far?” To some extent that is a valid question, and I would be delighted to hear your answers. However this virus could be around a long time. We don’t quite know what would be possible and what won’t.

I also think that thinking in this way can be unhelpful. Not being able to put a timeframe on thes things means we experience frustration and longing. We may start taking risks just so we can fulfill those needs sooner.

Having something to look forward to in life however, can be very beneficial. I don’t know if that is a universal thing or not. Is it something more common in people who have a ‘towards’ metaprogram for example?

People who suffer anxiety, still tend to look forward a lot. But they look toward negative outcomes and focus on fearful experiences.

Looking forward is about projecting ourselves into a future time, visualising ourselves enjoying that future version of us, and experiencing it now.

It is a bit like the ‘memory jars‘ exercise in reverse. We choose to think into the future in a positive way rather than dwelling on all the bad things that ‘might’ happen. We focus on the good things that we ‘know’ will happen. Of course sometimes they don’t, and I’ll get to that in little while.

I think the best way to manage your state around expectation is to have some things that you look forward to happening soon, and others which you know will happen in the more distant future. Some of this can be tied up with goals too, so it can be quite an effective strategy for achievement.

Looking forward to things in the short term

Having a range of things inserted into your immediate time-line can be very helpful for keeping you active. It can give a sense of structure to your life. Here are a few things that you might typically already be doing that you can look forward to.

  • A regular club meeting for a hobby you enjoy
  • A training, class or lesson in something you enjoy
  • The next episode of your favourite TV show
  • A ‘date-night’ with a loved one or an outing
  • A family ‘zoom‘ get together or a phone call
  • Your significant other coming home
  • A run, walk, swim or other fitness activity
  • Completing a craft or DIY project

Things to look forward to in the long term

Short-term plans give structure and pace to your day-to-day life, having something in the more distant future can help give you a sense of purpose and direction. The longer time-span enables you to build your anticipation. It gives you the opportunity to think about the thing you are looking forward to in greater depth. You can actually spend time visualising or day-dreaming about how it will turn out.

  • A holiday
  • A wedding, engagement party or special birthday celebration
  • A new home
  • A new baby
  • Getting a dog, cat or other pet
  • A loved son or daughter returning from university

In the current crisis it may feel as though some of these things are more difficult to plan. They may seem less likely to happen. A holiday in your own country may hopefully be okay, but will it be possible to travel abroad confidently? Weddings are becoming more possible now, but will they be easier or harder in the future?

There are three ways you can deal with these doubts. The first is to just not plan ahead at all, and I think you will know what I think of that option.

The second is to plan and expect these things for a time when you can be fairly confident that they will happen. Maybe in a couple of years time, when it comes to a holiday or a wedding for example. If you can fix a date in the mind of which you are reasonably confident, that is absolutely enough to give you that positive feeling of expectation.

The third option is to be optimistic but practical. You could book a holiday 6 months ahead, but ensure you book in a way that covers you if it falls through. Many booking companies offer free cancellation up to a certain date. Airlines can offer changes to flight plans if you are willing to pay a little more up front, or an additional fee in the future.

In your mind you consider this holiday as definitely happening, and enjoy the feelings of looking forward to it, and if it gets nearer and you have to change it, you can do so and look forward to that instead.

You might also book that wedding or that special party sooner, but again just be cautious about commiting too much up front. Enjoy the experience of planning and preparing and be flexible nearer the time if you need to be.

The thing to remember is, that just like choosing to enjoy the positive memories of the past can help lift your mood, choosing to focus on the likely positive outcomes in the future can make you feel more purposeful and less anxious.

Robert Sanders is a therapist and life coach, supporting people in their present and helping them create their future.