And Then Syndrome

I suffer from something called And Then Syndrome. In case you haven’t heard of it, it’s a nasty disorder of the mind that causes persistent and unyielding thoughts about the future. Its symptoms include anxiety, worry, a lack of focus, an exaggerated illusion of control, and an overwhelming urge to plan ten steps/minutes/hours/days ahead of where I currently am.

For example, when I woke up this morning, I switched off my alarm and completed an immediate mental run-through of my day: First up, work on the manuscript rewrite. Next, social media networking. Then, write a blog post, address that website issue, clean out my inbox. And then, and then, and then. I was already exhausted by all I wanted and needed to accomplish and I hadn’t even gotten out of bed yet.

At the same time that a large part of my attention was consumed by this internal imagining, the rest of me was actually going about the business of my morning routine, so that by the time I sat down at my desk two hours later, I was only half aware of all the actions I’d completed to get there. (If you’ve ever driven to work on autopilot, you know exactly what I mean.) I’d worked out but hadn’t really felt the burn. I’d showered but only partially noticed the water. I’d downed my protein shake without truly tasting it. Historically speaking, I knew that if I continued in this manner, I would lose several precious hours creating nothing but multiple manifestations of the symptoms I listed above.

Is it possible to write while in this mode of future-mindedness? Absolutely. Is it possible to produce anything of worth? Not so much. In my experience, writing (and living in general, really) from any place besides the present moment—whether past or future—causes a sort of disconnect. A lack of focus which in turn leads to unfocused work and unconscious living. You’re there but not really there; doing but not really doing. It’s difficult and time-consuming to harvest anything authentic and whole from such a fractured state of mind.

So how do you break the cycle? How do you cure this disruptive syndrome? It’s not an overnight process. Mindfulness and centeredness are not easy to come by. But one small step, one tiny change that can bring about a certain amount of awareness, is simply to swap out And Then with Right Now. Anytime you find yourself lost down a winding road of And Thens or caught up in a vicious cycle of What Might Have Beens, stop and say the words Right Now. Say them out loud and repeat them as many times as necessary to return your attention to the here and now. Because Right Now is all we get.

You know the adage, “Yesterday is past. Tomorrow is future. Today is a gift, that’s why it’s called the present”? It’s true. This precious moment, this sacred second that we’re currently walking in is truly an amazing gift. We’ll never get it back again. We’ll never get another chance to really immerse ourselves in it, so embrace it. Stop the And Then Syndrome in its tracks with a powerful dose of Right Now.

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