I had an entirely different article written for this letter, but I had a thought today that was way more important:
You’re spending too much time envisioning your future.
Now, you obviously have to have goals. You need a compelling vision to work towards, and you must have a future state to strive towards.
However, the human body can overdose on anything—even water. Likewise, excessive future planning can do significant damage to your mind and spirit.
The idea of having millions of dollars, a successful business, a big house and fast cards can be straight intoxicating. But I promise you, if you look closely at what actually happens when you create these compelling visions, you might find that it’s paralyzing you.
You languish in fantasy of a wonderful future, which placates you and prevents you from leaving your uncomfortable present.
Fantasy is a drug more potent and insidious than any narcotic.
Don’t get me wrong—having a compelling vision for your future is critical to your mission. It’s the north star you follow when you lose your way, and it is the foundation of your other guiding principles such as your values and your specific goals.
But if you work on your vision and feel satisfied afterwards, you’re doing it wrong. This is what fantasy does to you. It’s a painkiller that blinds you to the discomfort of your present situation. Why feel anxious about the present when the future will be so much better?
It gets even worse.
As time goes on, the medication wears off and the anxiety returns. And just like any narcotic, it comes back even worse. This requires an even heavier dose of the drug to keep you feeling comfortable.
This insidious cycle of stress and relief will hold you hostage for years if you let it. I’ve seen it happen, and you probably have too.
The solution? You have to unbalance the equation.
You feel anxious. You indulge in fantasy to reduce the anxiety and return to baseline. The anxiety returns with greater intensity, and you indulge in fantasy to a greater degree. The waveform grows in amplitude, but the baseline doesn’t shift. This is where the damage is done.
You fix it by resisting the urge to numb your anxiety. Adapt to your existential dread. Incorporate it into your personality and let it become a part of you, because believe it or not, it’s there for a reason.
This is what you need in addition to an alluring goal to pull you forward: a healthy dissatisfied anxiety to push you forward.
The GPS you key into your phone is the destination that you’re going to, but it’s not what makes your car move. Your car moves because of the controlled explosions going on under the hood from the moment you start the car. Violent chemical reactions are taking place that provide the energy you use to move forward. The GPS is only there to keep you on course.
You need to be dissatisfied with where you are if you want to be somewhere else. Humans have an unhealthy tendency to stagnate when they’re comfortable. That’s why we’re so good at making things uncomfortable for ourselves.
Have you ever met someone who just has to have a problem to complain about? That’s because their brain paradoxically feels better when it has a problem to work on. They have no goals of their own, so they choose articles of idle gossip to complain about.
But despite the petty nature of their problem, it’s still a problem that they engage with. Because our brains simply need to. We humans are the best problem solvers that evolution ever produced. But if you take away our problems, we stagnate and rot in place.
That’s why drugs, including fantasy, are so destructive. They take away our primal need to tinker with problems and figure out how to fix them. They silence a core part of what makes our species great, and when that happens, it’s not just you that loses.
It’s all of us.
Don’t take away your problems by indulging in fantasy for too long. Look to your future from time to time, but spend the majority of your efforts embracing the discontent of your present. Hold it close and let it burn you until the urge to move forward is too powerful to resist.
Then put one foot in front of the other. Then do it again. And again. And never stop for too long.
Now quit fantasizing and go be excellent, friend.