by Rick Aster

When you are in a state of suspense, things come to a stop. There is a question in your mind about what is going to happen to resolve the tension in a situation, and it is as if time stops while you wait for the answer.

We readily recognize suspense in dramatic situations — in drama, fiction, sports, and “big” events of all kinds, from hurricanes to elections. But suspense may be just as much of a force in everyday life, where it’s not so easy to recognize. And this everyday suspense, in its various disguises, creates a overall feeling of unresolved tension in your life that can sap your energy, take your attention away from the realities of your situation, and keep you from taking the actions that you would be taking if you were living your life the way you could be.

Suspense takes on many different forms, but these are some of its forms that have the greatest impact on people’s lives:

When suspense carries over from one day to the next, then from one year to the next, it can seem to become the major reality of your life. You know this has happened to you if every day of your life seems like the same old thing, as if nothing new can ever happen for you. In reality, every day is new and different, but lingering suspense distracts you from the reality of your situation to focus your attention on the problems of the past that you think may pop up again at some indefinite time in the future. By making you focus on waiting instead of taking action, suspense robs you of a sense of control of your life, leaving you feeling perpetually worried and anxious. When you are free from suspense, by contrast, you feel content and peaceful, you are alert and creative, and you naturally tend to act in the most effective way you can. Unfortunately, freedom from suspense is so elusive for some people that when they get a glimpse of it they describe it as a peak experience. Freedom of suspense is not really a peak experience, it is just the way you were really meant to live. Suspense is not really the inevitable tribulations of life; it is the collective impact of your decisions to wait rather than take action and take control of your life. If you feel overwhelmed with life, you are really overburdened with suspense, and the solution is to free yourself from the suspense.

Suspense doesn’t just happen to you. Every bit of suspense that you carry is something you once decided to take on. You keep it with you until you take a new look at it and decide to let it go. To reduce the level of suspense in your life, you only need to take on less new suspense and let go of some old suspense. And the good news is that everyone already knows how to do this. Every now and then, or perhaps quite frequently, you reach a breaking point, a point where you say, “I can’t take it anymore!” That moment comes because you suddenly realize what the suspense in your life is costing you. You respond by letting go of a lot of the things you were carrying around in your head — or perhaps by throwing away a lot of the things you were keeping in your home. You might say, “I can’t do it! I can’t do everything!” or “Forget it!” or “Get this junk out of here!”

But nothing forces you to wait till the suspense in your life is more than you can stand. It’s better if you develop a thorough understanding of the cost of suspense so that you don’t unwittingly take it on when you don’t want to. Add up all the costs of all the things you haven’t done “yet,” all the things around your home that you never use, and all the work you have to do before you can have a clear schedule, and you'll have some idea of what suspense costs you on a daily basis. Think about that cost, feel it in your gut, and then remember it the next time some new suspense pops up. Chances are, you'll decline to take on that new suspense.

You may still have to work through all the suspense you've already collected. That means cleaning your office and your home until they no longer contain things that don’t help you, changing the way you schedule your work so that you often don’t have a backlog, and collecting whatever financial resources you need so that a shortage of money no longer rules your life. Eliminating suspense also means mastering the everyday details of your life so that you can handle them easily, finishing worthwhile projects that you left unfinished, and letting go of emotions like guilt and worry that keep you focused on the past and the future rather than the present.

It isn’t easy to free yourself from suspense, but you can do it, and when you do, you life will have changed so much that you won’t recognize it. It may feel as if all your problems have disappeared. In reality, many of the same problems will still be there, but they won’t feel like problems, because you'll be taking effective action to get the things you want.