4 months ago, my quarter life crisis hit. The nagging feeling of not knowing the future brought me anxiety: I was concerned if I was doing the wrong thing every day; I felt demoralized and drained.
As I sat down this afternoon and tuned into my worries for the future, I arrived at the insight that there is no point worrying about the outcome of an event. The only thing I can worry about is whether I am acting to my best ability in the moment. This seems to be all there is that I can control. It follows that my responsibility for myself lies only in that I try my best each moment, nothing beyond that.
How is an outcome determined
If you believe in determinism, as much as my understanding goes, a future outcome is determined by three ingredients in each present moment: pre-existing conditions, the actor, and the environment. Let me explain what each of these means.
The pre-existing conditions include both internal and external conditions: internal being the way our body and our mind are constructed as of today; external being the state of the world. The actor is us: people who are able to feel, think, and act. The environment consists of external factors in the present moment that might affect the outcome, whether it’s another person’s action or simply the weather.
Let’s use the example of choosing what to eat for dinner tonight. The pre-existing conditions include the state of my body and mind (feeling hungry, brain functioning normally), and the food available in the fridge. The environment includes the fact that no one is using the kitchen and I am not time pressured. The actor, myself, enters into this situation. I am able to collect information that’s necessary to make a decision — identifying the ingredients available in the fridge and looking up a few recipes are suitable for the ingredients. If I have leftovers and determine that it might go bad or I was too hungry to cook an elaborate dish, I heat up the leftover.
Our control over the outcome
In the present moment, we do not have control over the pre-existing conditions and the environment. The only thing we do have control over is ourselves as the actor. What matters is that we act according to our best judgement at the moment. It follows that all we can do at each moment is to gather information and integrate these information to make a certain choice or act in a certain way.
What worrying does
We tend to label “worry” as a negative emotion, but, in fact, this emotion exists for a reason. It helps motivate us to act in the present towards a more desirable future. Therefore, a healthy level of worry pushes us in a positive direction. However, when the amount we experience gets off-balance, it overpowers our ability to act at all.
I think this understanding has the potential to completely change my relationship with “worrying”: from treating it with annoyance and avoidance to awareness and acceptance. I could recognize my worries and welcome it as a force to action but be aware of its negative impact if I obsess over the outcome.
Going back to my quarter life crisis. My future is unknown and the only thing I can control is to take actions that help me navigate in each present moment. Every one step I take can help me uncover more information for the next step. Therefore, it’s important that I stay active. Being overpowered by worrying and sitting around will not get me anywhere. This way of thinking takes the pressure of controlling the outcome of my future away and puts the control of trying my best in each moment back in my hands.
Life truly is a dance in each present. There is no destination, no mysterious future to be uncovered. Taking the responsibility for ourselves to act with our best judgement seems to be the least and the most we can do.