Past, present, future
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 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 — the break up that is years past; the thing Mother should have said but didn’t; the career path that didn’t work out. When we spend the majority of our time in the past we tend to have prevailing emotions of sadness, anger and 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 look 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 until it’s done.
When we are obsessively future-focused our mood is characterised by anxiety, worry and agitation. We are literally “Future Tense”. We have a hard time relaxing and enjoying the joy we could connect with right now, if only we would sit still long enough to sense it.
If we are housed almost exclusively in the present, 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 morning run, I have to be honest that the Stay In The Present Moment mantra seems like a very good one, as it translates seamlessly to Stay In The Nice Warm Bed. Hah! Hard to argue with.
But. That’s a decision better weighed up by the Future Me. The me who 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 whether 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 forward, rather than obsess and get stuck. But to learn and to release. Not to 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 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 five 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 mind is capable of juggling between all three modes of focus. Each has its value. Find a blend that serves you best.
Through her online Happiness programme “Wellbeing Warriors”, life coach Louise Thompson helps people unlock their happiest and healthiest life. Sign up at louisethompson.com and find more from Louise at bite.co.nz/wellbeing