How to Avoid Getting Wrapped Up in the Future
Most of us are so busy chasing the future of our dreams that we overlook the joys of the present.
Even worse, if we don’t get what we think we desperately want, our life might seem ‘ruined’.
Look at all the pressure put on teens to get good grades so they can get into the college of their choice.
If they don’t get in for any reason, they often feel as if they are a failure or as if their life is ruined.
Happily married couples think kids and a home of their own will make their lives perfect
They then discover one of the partners is infertile and the roof starts to fall in due to heavy winter snow.
It’s times like these that test a person’s character, and often make or break even the best relationships.
Outside stresses abound, but we place a lot of stress on ourselves due to all our expectations, thoughts and desires.
We spend so much time chasing after the future we want,
such as money for the down payment on that dream house, we fail to live in the now.
We do what we have to in order to keep our jobs so we can keep on earning in order to pay the mortgage,
but there seems little time for anything other than work and other commitments.
Then we get frustrated and feel like a giant hamster running on a wheel all the time.
This constant doing instead of being,
of living in the future,
instead of living in the now,
can cause anger and frustration to build.
Very few of us are at our best when we are stressed and angry.
It can cause us to do something we will regret;
such as doing or saying something to our partner that might be very hurtful.
Once or twice might not be a deal-breaker,
but if you find yourself arguing about the same issues over and over again,
it’s time to look at your present if you ever intend on having a future with that person.
The #1 cause of divorce is money trouble.
Money can’t buy happiness, it’s true,
but it does give you a lot more choices than being poor.
The important word here is choice.
Do you find yourself just doing the same thing over and over because it is easier than trying something different?
Or ignoring opportunities because they don’t fit in with what you picture your future to be like?
The truth is that your life unfolds moment by moment in the present.
In the time it’s taken you to read that sentence,
about 10 seconds have already passed into the past.
By the time you finish, which might take about another 10 seconds,
those future seconds will become the present, and then the past.
Understanding this can help you realize just how precious your time is,
and how each present moment is the foundation to a happier future if you take time to live in the now.
Let’s look in the next chapter at some of the ways to free yourself to live in the present.
How to Live in the Present
There are many ways you can train yourself to cut links with the past and stop chasing the future so you can live in the present.
This will mean some focus and effort, but the results will be well worth it.
- Try meditation. Meditation takes many forms, but the most popular one in the West, which is ideal for living in the present, is mindfulness meditation. Start with simple breathing meditation, focusing on your breathing and not following any thoughts that arise, until you can count 60 breaths without getting distracted.
- Practice mindfulness. Once you have done this, try being more mindful of what is around you, the thoughts in your mind, the breeze in your hair. Try to push all other thoughts aside that don’t relate to the thing you are focusing on. (More about mindfulness meditation in the next chapter.)
- Don’t follow your thoughts. One of the most important lessons that meditation teaches you is how to distance yourself from your thoughts and simply observe them rather than get caught up in them. You may suddenly recall something that upset you last week or a scary experience from 20 years ago.
What you do with these thoughts is up to you.
Either observe them and think about what lesson you learned from the event at the time,
or simply allow the idea to go back into the vast ocean of your thoughts just like a wave falling back into the sea.
- Give up the myth of multitasking. Multitasking is a dangerous myth that prevents people from practising mindfulness and working effectively and efficiently from moment to moment. The truth is that the brain can’t work on 2 things at once. All it can do is switch back and forth between the 2 or more tasks really rapidly.
However, this means that at the end of an hour,
for example, you’ve got 30 minutes of work done on 2 tasks, and they are likely to be half-finished,
compared with having worked on one thing at a time and completed it,
then turned your full attention to the next chore on your list.
Multitasking is a time-eater, and a time-waster,
that prevents you from living in the moment.
One could even argue that it damages your chances of a better future
because few of us do our best work when we are distracted.
- Don’t follow your fantasies. When you’re at work, don’t spend your time thinking about what you are going to do with friends and family at the weekend. Get the work done. Then spend your free time on meditation and on things you like that recharge your batteries. Treat yourself to a bubble bath before bed, or the latest novel by your favourite author. Take a walk in nature and observe everything, trees, flowers, the sounds of birds and so on.
- Stop thinking the grass is greener. Many people fail to live in the now because they are constantly chasing after the future life they want and not making the most of the present life they have. It’s easy to envy others or try to keep up with the Joneses, but the more you have, the more cluttered your life can become. It gets focused on things rather than people, or your own self-development.
For example, it is nice to have a lovely lawn, but it requires work and ongoing expenses.
And after all your efforts, you might still look over at your neighbour’s lawn and decide that their grass is somehow greener.
It may be, but in the end, it’s all just grass.
Make the most of the life you have, and love the life you live.
It’s unique to you because you are unique.
- Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. If discontented thoughts start to creep in, think of 5 things you are grateful for in your life. You could be happy that your mother is such a difficult person because she helps you practice patience, or thank your boss for showing you how NOT to run a company.
You can also focus on positive things in your life, such as your wonderful spouse or the joys of chocolate ice cream.
- Just do it, and pay attention while you do it. Don’t put off until tomorrow what you really want to do now. Sadly, everyone in the world dies with a to-do list. Carpe diem, as the Ancient Romans said. Seize the day. Grab the opportunity and make the most of it. Feel the fear and do it anyway. Eat the chocolate ice cream and savor every mouthful. Delight in the way it feels so cool on your tongue, and so on. And if you are worried about your weight, walk around the block a few times to burn off the calories.
- Set your intention for the day and for each action. This may sound like goal setting or living in the future, but it is actually a way of focusing the mind to keep it going in the direct you wish. If your intention for the day is to get through it without strangling your boss, great. It’s a start. If your intention is to benefit all living beings by heading off to the nearest soup kitchen to help cook the daily meal, do all your work joyfully.
- Stop judging. Humans tend to slap labels on things, good, bad, black, white, up, down. It is all a question of perspective. If you and your friends are each standing on a different floor in the house, for the person on the top floor, up would be the ceiling or sky, and down would be the next floor. For the person on the bottom floor, down would be the basement or the ground.
Accept that things are neither good nor bad, they just are.
This is particularly important in relation to your thoughts.
Don’t judge, just observe.
There’s no need to feel guilty about how much you detest your aunt.
As long as you aren’t mean to her or say anything nasty, no harm is done.
On the other hand, you could be grateful to her for presenting you with problems that enable you to learn and grow as a person.
- Always begin where you are. The path of self-improvement can be a long and winding one. If you are lacking in self-confidence, you may feel like a complete mess that needs a great deal of work. You might even be told what’s ‘wrong’ with you by (not so) helpful and kind relatives and so-called friends. Choose one area of your life to focus on, being more present and mindful. If you struggle with overeating, for example, studies have shown that eating without the TV on ensures you focus more on the food you are eating, and eating slowly, chewing and really tasting every mouthful, will make each meal more satisfying and leave you less likely to overeat.
- Your best is good enough. Most of us dread public speaking, but the truth is that the only way to get really good at it is to practice, to keep doing it over and over again until you improve. With each opportunity for failure comes a chance for success, and a teaching moment, that is, a time in the present when you can learn valuable lessons and use them as the foundation for doing better next time.
You don’t have to be perfect.
You just have to try your best.
If you procrastinate at work because you are a perfectionist or worry about getting judged, remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be completed by your deadline.
- Stop watching the clock all the time. Of course, we have to stick to our timetables, but we should not be a slave to our schedules and not leave time for things that will rest and rejuvenate us, including things that we love, and savouring those things at the moment.
- Go with the flow. Most people have trouble going with the flow, that is, living life moment by moment and see what will happen. Type-A personalities and real control freaks will actually try to do the opposite. Instead of going with the flow, they will try to re-direct the river. They might succeed up to a certain point, but the effort will be exhausting and the stress of trying to hold everything together so it doesn’t all just wash away can be overwhelming.
As the famous quote by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr says, “…grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.”
- Divorce yourself from media. It is true that cell phones are very convenient, but studies have shown that they eat up a lot of time with talking and texting, checking emails and so on. Cut the calls and cable and try to have a technology-free weekend in which you get away from the computer, mobile, DVDs, video games and so on, and get back to basics.
- Make regular time for loved ones. One of the greatest things you can ever give to a loved one is the gift of yourself through the quality time you spend with them. If you’re all acting more like roommates than a married couple or a family, schedule family time regularly and enjoy it moment by moment.
Dinner is a great time to connect, catch up on each other’s day and discuss a range of interesting topics, which fosters open communication and enjoyment of the present moment.
Studies have shown that families who eat dinner together regularly are a lot closer than those who do not.
They have also shown that the children in those families tend to be a lot less likely to experiment with alcohol, drugs, tobacco, and sex.
There’s really no greater gift we can give a loved one than to be present for them,
listening supportively and relaxing together, even if it just for a few moments each day.
As American cartoonist Bil Keane said, “Yesterday’s the past, tomorrow’s the future, but today is a gift.
That’s why it’s called the present.”
Being present is a gift that will keep on giving,
to your family,
and above all, yourself,
as you discover the power of living in the here and now.