How often do you foreclose future thinking?

Today is August 1 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you foreclose future thinking?” In an April 2, 2012 New York Times editorial David Brooks wrote:

"The fact is, we are all terrible at imagining how we will feel in the future. We exaggerate how much the future will be like the present. We underestimate the power of temperament to gradually pull us up from the lowest lows. And if our capacities for imagining the future are bad in normal times, they are horrible in moments of stress and suffering. Given these weaknesses, it seems wrong to make a decision that will foreclose future thinking. It seems wrong to imagine that you have mastery over everything you will feel and believe. It's better to respect the future, to remain humbly open to your own unfolding."

Today’s reflection question and exercise challenges us to dissect Brooks quote, one of my favorites in the Navigate the Chaos series. Consider the following set of questions related to each thought expressed in his quote.

“The fact is, we are all terrible at imagining how we will feel in the future.”


How often do you project how you will feel in the future?

  • Why are you doing this?

  • Have you ever estimated your future feelings and then, upon reaching that moment realized your feelings are completely different than what you expected?

  • Did you even remember those feelings you had about that present moment (what used to be the future) all those days ago?

“We exaggerate how much the future will be like the present.”

  • Why must the future be like the present?

  • Are you so out of touch with reality that you lack the capacity to understand change is a constant?

  • Do you catch yourself longing for this consistent feeling?

  • Are you afraid that the future will make you feel worse than the present? Why?

  • Could the future not be better than the present?

  • Does the unknown of the future make you so paralyzed that you are frozen in the present moment?

“We underestimate the power of temperament to gradually pull us up from the lowest lows.”

  • Why do you underestimate yourself?

  • Why do you lack the capacity to trust your ability to stand upon falling?

  • How often in your life have you underestimated yourself?

  • Who in your life has made you underestimate yourself?

  • Perhaps the question should be ‘why have you allowed others to underestimate yourself?’

“And if our capacities for imagining the future are bad in normal times, they are horrible in moments of stress and suffering.”

  • At your darkest moments why are you spending energy needed for recovery trying to predict the future?

  • What good does that do? Instead of thinking about the future, some indeterminate amount of time, why not concentrate on your next step; after all it is the only one you can see in the dark?

  • How often do you catch yourself predicting the future when you are stressed?

  • Do you understand doing so limits your capacity to grow?

“Given these weaknesses, it seems wrong to make a decision that will foreclose future thinking.”

  • How often do you make decisions that foreclose future thinking?

  • Do you understand that making a decision in the present moment regarding the future has implications that may very well limit your potential?

  • Have you thought about your responsibility to your future self?

  • Do you acknowledge you have a responsibility to your future self?

“It seems wrong to imagine that you have mastery over everything you will feel and believe.”

  • How often do you believe you have control over everything?

  • How often do you accept your inability to control your feelings and beliefs?

  • Are you so consumed by controlling every aspect of life you forget to live?

  • Why must you cling to control so tightly?

  • Do you believe that having less control makes you weak?

  • If so, why is that and where does that thinking come from?

“It's better to respect the future, to remain humbly open to your own unfolding."

  • Do you remain humble to your own development?

  • Do believe you have more to offer?

  • Do you understand that even in your darkest moments you have the potential to unfold, to grow, and to blossom in the future?

Aron Lee Ralston is an American outdoorsman, mechanical engineer and motivational speaker known for surviving a canyoneering accident by cutting off his own arm. During a solo descent of Bluejohn Canyon in southeastern Utah he dislodged a boulder, pinning his right wrist to the side of the canyon wall.


After five days he was able to amputate his arm with a dull pocketknife, make his way through the rest of the canyon, rappel down a 65-foot (20 m) drop, and hike 7 miles (11 km) to safety. The incident is documented in Ralston's autobiography Between a Rock and a Hard Place and is the subject of the 2010 film 127 Hours where he is portrayed by James Franco.

Ralston wrote on his book:

“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”

Ralston did not foreclose future thinking. How often do you?