Thinking About Forever

A common theme has cropped up recently in discussions with a couple of my friends. One friend is trying to quit smoking; another recently stopped drinking. They both made statements that were nearly identical:

“I just can’t imagine never [smoking|drinking] again!”

It got me to thinking about how we humans are so good at defeating ourselves by how we think about things. Forever is such a long, long time, and is so much more to deal with than we could possibly have the strength for right now. No wonder it’s so hard to stop those behaviors — we’re beaten before we even begin!

If you’re trying to change your life, use your strength for the tasks you have to accomplish today. Tomorrow is another day, and so are all the tomorrows after that. Deal with them when they get here. Trying to deal with imaginary future problems today is fruitless; it just uses up all of the energy that you could otherwise have used for getting through today.

Take smoking, for example. When you started smoking (if you smoke), did you spend any time thinking about how you would manage to keep smoking for the rest of your life? Did you think about how many millions of cigarettes it meant you would have to smoke, and mentally add up how many thousands of hours you would have to spend doing it? Did you worry about the staggering amounts of money you’d be spending on cigarettes, matches, lighters, air fresheners, breath mints, and smoker’s toothpaste, and how you would be able to afford it all?

Of course you didn’t. You didn’t think any long-ranging, overwhelming thoughts of what it would mean to you in terms of forever. You just smoked a cigarette. And then later you smoked another one. And in between, you did other stuff.

So quit smoking the same way. Don’t add up all the difficulties it’s going to create over your lifetime and fret about what an overwhelming total it all adds up to. Just don’t smoke the next cigarette. And when the time comes, don’t smoke the next one. And in between, do the in between stuff.

Forget forever. Just get through today. One step at a time, one day at a time.

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