“We are sleepwalking towards the edge of a cliff.
Even if the destruction were to end now, it would take 5-7 million years for the natural world to recover."
Mental milestones for an authentic life
Live in the present, in the here and now. Forget about the past, move towards a better future. It feels as if our culture developed a cult of time and we can no longer take it for granted.
At a cognitive level, time representations rely on executive skills. It is believed that “All sensory channels support time perception, and it is unclear how far these representations are mediated by common structures and mechanisms.” However, the frontal lobes are responsible for executive control, being the last brain regions to fully develop, and also tend to degenerate rapidly as we reach the old age.
Children are good at thinking about the future starting from the age of four, without even understanding the meaning of time. Once rewards and punishments become clues for learning, they start feeling responsible of their own actions and perceive the future in terms of challenges and opportunities. Suddenly it makes sense to achieve some level of control.
We slowly realise that the most important lessons are the ones we learn on our own. When in doubt, we look for certainty. When dealing with the unknown, we are hoping for the best. When meeting our expectations we feel closer to the ideal, as the mind opens a way forward. Here is how:
Trust your doubts
While a reasonable level of doubt can help you develop critical thinking and be cautious when taking risks, research shows that high levels of self-doubt can be a real threat for your self-esteem. You are more likely to let yourself down if you don’t trust yourself. For this reason, it’s better to anticipate when this is about to happen and create opportunities for taking action on your own.
Consumer and social psychologists have shown that being certain of your beliefs will help to better express your opinions, advocate for meaningful causes, and to persuade others to adopt your views. Certainty is a mature level of decision-making, where threats are kept under control and the action plan can meet the challenge.
Keep your hopes high
When the future is bright, optimism becomes the glowing candle. Ciro Conversano and colleagues have found that, “Optimistic people present a higher quality of life compared to those with low levels of optimism or even pessimists.“. Having a more positive outlook on life will help you engage in various activities and better cope with challenging circumstances that could lead you astray and keep you away from fulfilling your potential.
It’s not difficult to realise why. Optimists expect better things to come, they feel a greater sense of control and so become more hopeful. At the same time, optimism does not rule out pessimism completely, and wellbeing seems to be in charge of deciding what comes first.
Meet your expectations
Expectations are a powerful motivational element which helps the mind anticipate the actions required to fulfil your needs. The most obvious example in the scientific literature comes from the placebo effect. Simply put, when finding a solution (medicine) to your needs (pain relief), the expected effect becomes strong enough to create a relevant belief related to the healing state. In a clinical trial, an injection of salty water would make your back feel less painful. But how does this apply to our day-to-day life?
The meaning of your life doesn’t lie in the distant future but it always joins you along the way. If you already know what drives your development, then you would most likely engage in related actions, broadening your horizon or creating opportunities for others to do the same. However if you are unsure, then you may at least feel happy when taking small steps forward while doing what it takes. Still, unrealistic optimism may become part of the bigger picture and so it is better to start small, focus on existing strengths and learn from experience along the way.
Embrace the ideal
If you want to find hope, change or fulfilment you need to look forward towards a welcoming future, where the self can find a place to thrive. The ideal self leaves no option when it comes to growth and self-improvement.
No matter how self-sufficient you might want to be, there will always be a better version of the self to compare with. This is true across different environments, such as relationships, social media, or sales.
The pressure for self-actualisation relies on an ideal version of the self where you can find authentic proofs for mastery. This way, you may feel more at ease when moving forward. Not being able to fulfil your ideal self would make your mind concentrate excessively on past failures and feel less happy about your achievements. Nurturing the ideal is something you shouldn’t take for granted, as planning for the future is like a promise for living an authentic life.