I’m going to tell you a big secret: I’m a time traveler from the future. I’m from five, ten, maybe twenty years from now—you know, far enough ahead that we’ve actually invented time travel. I’ve come back to here and now to relive some of my favorite memories. The “good old days,” so to speak.
I’ve blocked my memories about how things are going to turn out (yes, we can do that in the future too). After all, where’s the fun in re-experiencing something if I already know what’s going to happen? But I know that it’s going to turn out well, in the end. How? Well, that’s easy. Because I chose to be here, and not anywhere else.
Alright, I’ll admit it: I’m not actually from the future. My real secret is that I suck at positive thinking.
You guys know me: I’m a worrier. If something can go wrong, I will come up with the most improbable and horrific thing that could happen. I’m the kind of person that gets on a boat and worries that I will get seasick, and also that the boat will sink, because it has caught fire.
So you can imagine that positive thinking is a bit of a challenge for me. I’m especially bad at visualizing good things happening. Of course, that means I spend a lot of time thinking about what the worst thing could be. I don't want to go through all that stress, but it seems necessary. I mean, I don’t actually know things are going to turn out well.
But what if I did know for sure? Well, it’d be a lot easier to think positively then. So I came up with the time traveling story to tell myself. I use it whenever I’m not really enjoying the moment because I’m too busy worrying. If I came back from the future and wanted to be here, then things must have worked out well. It’s just a matter of finding out how it happens.
You could argue that I’m just lying to myself, but think about it this way: I bet that if you did go back in time to relive one of your favorite experiences, there would be worries you didn’t remember. Worries that were so huge, they took up most of your thoughts at the time. But because they didn’t happen, you forgot about them after the fact. They didn’t become part of the narrative that you told yourself.
If you ask me what my favorite life experience has been so far, I would tell you without hesitation about my Great American Road Trip. My best friend and I piled into her car and drove across the country for a month. We covered over 7,000 miles, exploring the tiny towns and remote places of the South and Midwest. We lived out of the car, camped at night, got rained on, got stuck in the mud, and even drove through a tornado.
What I don’t think about when I remember that trip was that my period was late by a few days, probably from stressing about packing and getting ready to go. But for the entire first week, I was convinced I was going to end up at some picketed free clinic in Mississippi or Alabama. I was terrified.
Of course, I wasn’t actually pregnant—just stressed. As soon as I realized that, I stopped thinking about it. It didn’t make it into any of my stories about our adventures, because it wasn’t relevant. All of that worrying amounted to nothing. But if I went back and experienced it all over again, this useless fear would be there in the forefront, waiting for me.
Time and time again, the thing I’m worried about doesn’t come to pass. It’s been the same story for every first date, big photo shoot, trip, writing submission…basically every time I take a risk. If something goes wrong (and it’s rare when it does), it’s almost always something that I never thought to worry about in the first place. Trust me, I wish that I had thought to worry about unexpected tornadoes on that road trip instead. They’re scarier.
In that light, any narrative that makes you worry less seems like a good idea. Even if that narrative is a little silly, or patently false. If it tricks you out of unhelpful worries, it’s a net gain.
So the next time you want to work on thinking positively about the future, maybe being a time traveler will help you too. If you catch yourself worrying, take a deep breath and remind yourself to be present instead. Enjoy this moment, because you’re certain it’s going to be a good memory. How do you know? That’s easy to answer. After all, you chose to be here.