Tomorrow. Next week. Next month. Next year. When. If. We live in the future. We want to know what happens. We’re anxious to see the result. We have got a lot riding on it. We worry that our plans will fail. We worry what might happen. In times of real stress, our brains run on and on, coming up with the worst-case scenario. We can’t sleep. We are distracted. It is hard to focus.

How can you relax and focus on the now when things seem to be going poorly? How do you get work done when everything is falling apart?

Let go of expectations, focus on the right now, and be confident.

Easier said than done? Not if you practice.

We create stress when we are attached to a particular future. The more things have to go exactly as planned, the more stress there is. We create in our minds the idea that one, and only one, particular future is one in which we can be happy or fulfilled. The future is determined by the clash of 6 billion people all exercising their own free wills. No matter what we may think, we have precious little control over the future. We are not in complete control, even though our experiences may make it seem to us that we are.

To reduce stress, we have to let go of that attachment. The future will take care of itself. No matter what comes, we will have time to deal with it. Being stressed or upset about a potential future disaster will not make it less painful when it comes. Borrowing that trouble from the future and feeling it today only causes us to suffer the event twice: once now and once then.

We think we know what is best for us. We believe we know what is essential to our continued happiness and well-being. The truth is, we just can’t see the future clearly enough to really know. Often, when the result we dreaded comes, we find that the disaster opened an unlooked-for door. Our failure becomes an opportunity we never thought possible. You can’t know the future. Don’t feel so certain that your predicted outcome is so very necessary after all. Leave room to be surprised.

Letting go of an attachment to a particular future frees us to focus on the now. The next time you are stressed or unhappy, stop and take a look around. Is there anything wrong with your particular situation right then, right there? If so, if you are being hurt or threatened in your immediate physical space, take immediate action. Most often, however, the stress or unhappiness does not exist in your present, physical reality. Any stress or pain you are feeling is something you have brought with you into the situation. Worry. Regret. Sorrow. This is your mind causing you pain. You have the power to stop it.

One way that works for some is to bring your mental and temporal focus onto the right here and the right now. Nothing else exists except what is right in front of you. No tasks matter except what you can do in the next minute. You might not be able, you think, to get through the next year, or month, or week, or day, or hour. However, you usually can get through the next minute, and, really, that is all any of us ever have to do.        

Letting go of this attachment to a particular future and focusing on the now in times of extreme stress is easier when we have confidence. I don’t mean confidence that all will turn out as we had hoped or confidence that we are the masters of our fate and can control the future. The confidence you need is a deeper confidence. It is the confidence that you will be fine no matter what the future brings. It is the confidence that you are strong enough to live in any situation.

That kind of confidence generally comes from experience. Most people have to live through a few hard knocks before they know that they can handle life, no matter what comes. The fact is, though, it’s true of all of us. We have the power to overcome our circumstances. We have the power to find joy, even in troubled times. Our ability to have contentment, fulfillment, and happiness is not dependent on external circumstance: we just think it is. Once you have the confidence that you can be ok no matter what the future delivers, you can begin to let go of your attachment to particular future outcomes and accept the moment as it is. That’s when you begin to live.