The Power of Anticipation: Why We All Need Something to Look Forward To


We all need something to look forward to in life.

In fact, a healthy sense of “anticipation” can often help energize our lives, and even help us get through tough times.

While living in the present is a very beneficial thing – sometimes the present can feel a bit annoying, frustrating, tedious, or intolerable.

When we find ourselves in those less-than-ideal present moments, having something to look forward to in the future can give us the motivation and persistence to keep moving forward even during those difficult times.

The most simple and common example of this is having a bad week at work, but you have some fun plans for the weekend and that keeps you focused on fulfilling responsibilities until you can finally reward yourself.

Interestingly, in a recent study published this year in the journal eNeuro, it was found that when pathological gamblers were asked to think about a future experience – such as an upcoming vacation – they were better able to curb their impulses and choose long-term gratification over short-term gratification.

This study illustrates how anticipating a future situation (especially a pleasurable one) can sometimes help us to get through a difficult present situation. By giving us something positive to “look forward to” in the future, we can build up the discipline and motivation to tolerate temporary pain or frustration.

A healthy amount of “anticipation” can be a very powerful emotion that has the potential to improve our lives. In the rest of this article, I will provide some tips and advice to show you how to build “healthy anticipation” in your own life.

How to Build Healthy Anticipation In Your Life

In the most basic sense, “anticipation” implies a future reward – and in general, rewards can be a very powerful motivator in life (especially in behavioral psychology).

For example, if you’ve ever heard of habit loops, then you know that most habits follow a common structure of “Cue → Routine → Reward.” The “cue” is what triggers the “routine,” and that leads to some type of “reward” (or pleasurable experience).

We can often change certain behaviors by either focusing on “cues” (such as avoiding triggers in our environment that lead to certain behaviors) or focusing on “rewards” (such as pursuing a new behavior that leads to a new reward that is just as satisfying).

From the perspective of “anticipation,” we are focusing only on the “rewards” aspect of this habit equation.

The key idea is that by creating new rewards in your life – or by actively looking for things to look forward to – you can build more discipline and motivation in any area of your life where you are lacking.

Common examples of rewards that create anticipation:

  • Looking forward to a lunch break during the day.
  • Looking forward to your favorite TV show that airs once a week.
  • Making fun plans for the weekend to help you get through a tough work week.
  • Treating yourself to a piece of cake after a week of dieting.
  • Planning a vacation for the summer.
  • Treating yourself to a new car at the end of the year.
  • Planning a wedding with your fiancé/fiancée.

As you can see, we can anticipate both “small” and “large” rewards.

Simple things like lunch breaks, having dinner with your family, or watching TV are all tiny rewards that we can anticipate to help us get through each individual day.

Other rewards like vacations, music concerts, or luxury purchases are bigger things that are often spread out over longer periods of time.

Both “small” and “large” rewards can be a healthy way to build anticipation and motivation in our lives. And I’d recommend that we focus on creating a mixture of both.

The Positive Experience of Anticipation

On a fundamental level, anticipation can be a very valuable and positive emotion to experience. It might even be necessary to living a truly happy and satisfying life.

When we have something to look forward to, it makes it easier to get through rough, frustrating, and annoying times. But even more than that, “anticipation” can often be a stepping stone to “hope.”

As human beings, we need things in our future to be excited about and optimistic about.

Imagine if you had nothing at all to look forward to in life. You’d likely be very miserable, upset, and even depressed. It’s very hard to find a “will to live” if you can’t imagine that there’s anything positive waiting for you in the future. What would be the point?

We should always have at least one thing to look forward to.

So take a moment and think about it: “What are you currently looking forward to in your life?” It could be anything “large” or “small,” but it’s important that you find something.

Perhaps you look forward to spending free time with your children at the end of the day, or going to a bar with friends on the weekend, or checking out that new movie that’s coming out soon.

It doesn’t matter if it’s something that is meaningful or trivial, as long as you have something to help give your mind a positive view of the future.

If you find it hard to think of something to look forward to, then why not create something to look forward to? Make plans: get tickets to a local music show, schedule to meet up with an old friend, or start a new hobby on the weekends.

Overall, we all need something to look forward to. Find something to make your future look a little brighter and happier – and relish in the anticipation of good things to come.

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