Live in The Present Moment is sometimes really good advice.
And sometimes it actually really isn’t.
Be Present! I don’t just hear this a lot, it’s something I say a lot, and write about a lot myself: The Now is where our joy lives! That’s the only place we can experience happiness from, so learning to be more present is a valuable and worthwhile life skill. Which is true.
It’s not the answer though to every situation. Sometimes reflection is really valuable – it allows us to look back, see what’s worked, what hasn’t, and adjust our boundaries and expectations accordingly. And sometimes projecting forward to how we will feel when we have accomplished a particular thing is a really helpful way of creating momentum and motivation.
We all have a pattern. Some people are predominantly past-focused. About that break up that’s years past. The thing their mother should have said but didn’t. The career path that just didn’t work out. When we spend the majority of our time in the past we tend to have prevailing emotions of sadness, anger, regret. It’s heavy work being past-focused, and it makes it hard to connect to the good that might be present right now if we looked hard enough.
Many more people are excessively future-focused. What’s got to be sorted out next? What’s next on the list? Can’t relax until x, y and z are done. Once a, b and c are in place, then everything will be plain sailing. Just got to do that thing, can’t relax ‘til it’s done. When we are obsessively future-focused our mood is characterised by anxiety, worry, agitation. We are literally Future-Tense. We have a hard time relaxing and enjoying the joy that we could connect with right now, if only we would sit still for long enough to sense it.
If we are housed almost exclusively in the present, then we might have a lot of connected and fun-filled now moments, but we don’t perhaps have the drive or the direction to make the big leaps of which we are capable. We can underestimate what we can accomplish medium to long term, and be overly passive with our life’s direction.
There’s always a balance to be struck. Past. Present. Future. Creating an individual combination of focus that works best for us to power our optimum life.
When the alarm goes off for a run or a class before the day begins, I have to be honest, the Stay In The Present Moment mantra seems like a very good one, as it translates seamlessly to Stay In The Nice Warm Toasty Bed. Ha! Hard to argue with. But. That’s a decision way better weighed up by the Future Me. The one that will enjoy the present moment much more when my jeans fit and I feel comfortable in my own skin. Future Me wants me to get up. Invest in a whole series of future present moments where I feel fit, strong and healthy. In this instance, Future Me wins.
Feeling upset and wondering if I could have handled a situation better? A bit of past focus is really healthy. To look at what unfolded, the patterns of thought and action, and to determine lessons to be learned for next time. To process it and move forwards, rather than to obsess and to get stuck. But to learn and to release. To not spend a small amount of time reflecting is to discard the gold that our life experiences have to teach us for a better tomorrow.
Meeting with a friend. Playing with children. Eating great food. Running through the bush. Listening, really listening to a client. These are all moments to devote to being as present as I can possibly be. Connecting to the present, turning the phone on silent. Engaging all 5 senses fully. Maximising the present moment for all it has.
Our past feelings can serve as great lessons.
Our future feelings can serve as great sources of motivation.
Our present self can absorb all the joy that is inherent in that moment.
As human beings, our minds are capable of juggling between all three modes of focus. Each has its value. Find a blend that serves you best.