A lot of us probably spend some amount of energy wondering about the future. Sometimes, when there is something to look forward to, this exercise leaves us in a happy daze. But more often than not, thinking about the future induces a wave of anxiety. If we are lucky, it might wash over us, causing minimum damage. The other option is a lingering sense of paranoia – a feeling that somewhere, something is going to go wrong.
This is particularly the case if something traumatic has occurred recently. In the aftermath, you begin wondering if things could have turned out differently. Superficial Googling brought forth a term called “counterfactual thinking”. To quote Wikipedia directly – it is the human tendency to create possible alternatives to life events that have already occurred; something that is contrary to what actually happened. This is more of an “infinite yesterdays” scenario. It is easy to negate this thought process and say that the way ahead is forward, no point in crying over spilt milk, what good is obsessing over the past going to do etc (insert any other empty assurance). But counterfactual thinking need not necessarily always be a futile exercise. You can spend a few minutes crying over spilt milk before getting around to cleaning it. You can give your mind some leeway and let these thoughts flow. It may delay the healing process but blocking these thoughts is only going to add to the stress of coping.
And thinking about alternate paths could also lead to a better future wherein you’re a bit more informed and slightly more cautious. You’d probably be more careful about monitoring the pot of boiled milk because you know what the worst-case scenario looks like (okay, enough with the spilt milk analogies!). What I want to put across is that you don’t have to accelerate your healing process by cutting out these thoughts that seem pointless. In a rush to move on, we tend to cling on to the things that give us pleasure/joy and block any reminders of the event we want to forget.
We can take our time. We can take time to heal, time to feel, and time to pull ourselves out of the endless loop of counterfactual thoughts running in our minds. Because while we cannot alter our yesterdays, we still have the possibility of infinite tomorrows. And before someone points out the impossibility of tomorrows being “infinite”, I would like to counter that believing that the future is certain and making any plans is in itself a naïve endeavour. We might not live to see another tomorrow. But our delusion of there being one is what drives us to keep going forward. We have to believe in this delusion and we have to delude ourselves further to believe that tomorrow will be a better day.