How to Save for Your Future Self: Confront the Demons Under the Bed

By Amy Klein

We tend to think of fear as something to avoid. Walking alone in a dark forest? No thank you. Riding shotgun in a race car going 250 km/hour? We'll leave that to the experts.

Yet, the thing about fear is that while it can be something designed to alert us to impending danger, it is also opportunistic. When humans confront something scary, is it often times also an opportunity for growth.

It can be anxiety provoking to move across the country, start the first day at a new job or head out on a deep sea adventure — but chances are, these moments are also the most exhilarating and rewarding of a person's life. In fact, we're willing to bet that the scarier something seems, the more rewarding the payoff.

Acceptance and running free

According to Dr. Jelena KecmanovicDr. Jelena Kecmanovic. Opens a new window in your browser, a clinical psychologist at the Behavior Therapy Institute in Arlington, VA, many people consume themselves in the present to avoid fear of the future.

"The very idea of thinking about something unpleasant, like not having money or retiring, can be anxiety provoking," Kecmanovic explained. "We avoid it so we don't have to feel [that fear]."

A man and woman wearing backpacks and jogging

“The problem, as we all know too well, is that running away from the future doesn't make it go away. To combat this societal fear, Kecmanovic and her team have focused their work around a central question: How can people face their future in order to improve it?”

In her practice, Kecmanovic has introduce a type of therapy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which helps patients become more comfortable with feelings, memories, thoughts, and physical sensations that previously made them queasy. Instead of eliminating difficult feelings, ACT therapy invites people to be open to unpleasant feelings and thoughts, learning how not to overreact or avoid them.

“We ask patients to be mindful of negative feelings," she explained. "How does it make them feel in their body? Is their stomach clenched, heart pounding or throat going dry?" 

With Kecmanovic, patients learn to sit with these physical expressions of anxiety without placing judgment on them. The more patients sit with their anxiety, the more comfortable they become.

In the end, patients learn that embracing this initial anxiety is both safe and tolerable. For many, ACT is not just a psychological tool, but a badge of bravery to wear into their next adventure — and it's accessible to you, too.

A couple staring into a mirror while the woman holds a flower

A rose is as sweet

A specific tactic Kecmanovic calls upon in ACT training is to encourage patients to make thoughts and feelings less intimidating.

Let's say, for example, the word “aging," “retirement," or “saving" makes a patient anxious. Kecmanovic asks the person to say those words hundreds of times out loud. Sometimes, she'll have them sing the words, or utter them in a funny voice. In addition to bringing humour to a formerly spooky concept, the practice works to soften the negative association.

“We want patients to look at [these words], have scary thoughts, see what they are, and approach them," she explained. Suddenly, the demon under the bed becomes something that more closely resembles a friend with whom you can share your wildest dreams.

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