How to Think About the Future Again

And why making plans feels so good

Annaliese Griffin
Forge
Published in
3 min readJun 16, 2021

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Photo: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

We are all everyday time travelers. The human brain is wired to function in the moment and deal with daily life, while simultaneously sorting through the past and imagining the future. This process isn’t just cool—it’s fundamental to understanding ourselves and forming identity.

The pandemic upended our normal sense of time. For me, this winter seemed to stretch on forever in a string of formless, sludgy days that felt endless, and frustratingly unproductive. But then one week this spring, I realized that I felt energetic and hopeful. That I had accomplished a lot in a single day. That the future felt real again.

Traumatic events often change our perception of time. “When trauma hits…this continuity from past, into present, into future that holds us up, is shattered for many people,” says Alison Holman, a researcher at the University of California, Irvine, who studies the effects of trauma and stress on health. Returning to what psychologists call “future orientation” feels amazing because it is part of the recovery process of healing from the trauma of the pandemic. It’s why imagining what I’ll be doing, and what I hope to have accomplished a year from now, feels like the most luxurious and hopeful thing in the world.

The pandemic has been unusual, says Holman, because most traumatic events happen fairly quickly — a hurricane or a car accident are terrifying and destructive in the moment, and then the moment is over. The intensity of the trauma can put us in a place that is hype focused on the present, and that can linger. When the trauma is severe, we can get stuck in that state of mind.

The past 16 months have been different. “The pandemic—it went on, and it went on, and it went on,” Holman says. “And it got worse and got better, got worse and got better, got really bad, then got better. That’s a very different type of stress and trauma than what we’re used to seeing and what I’ve studied before.”

As we ease back into our lives and reintegrate our “before selves” with what we have experienced, collectively and individually, here are some ways to embrace the future again.

Get vaccinated

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Annaliese Griffin
Forge
Writer for

Annaliese Griffin is a writer and editor who most recently led the Quartz Daily Obsession, an award-winning newsletter. She lives in Vermont with her family.