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Mental milestones for an authentic life

Thursday 28 September 2023, 16:53pm

Live in the present, in the here and now. Forget about the past, look forward 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 feel responsible of their own actions and perceive the future in terms of challenge and opportunity. Suddenly it makes sense to achieve some level of control. They slowly realize that the most important lessons are the ones they are capable of learning by themselves.

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 creates 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 allow you to better express your opinions, to 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. Researchers 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 understand why. Optimists expect better things to come, they have a greater sense of control and so feel more hopeful. At the same time, is worth mentioning that 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 most 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 positive 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 believing you are doing what it takes. Still, unrealistic optimism may become part of the bigger picture, 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 applies to all contexts, beginning from as relationships to social media, or sales.

The pressure for self-actualization 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 fulfill 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 a commitment for the authentic life.