Do you worry about the future? Are you often distracted? Find yourself thinking of the next thing before finishing what you’re doing? If so, most likely you’re not present in your own life.
So here we are together, you and I, in the present moment. In the instant you read the word “present” it becomes your “present” moment, neat huh?
Already we have a past (from when you started reading this blog) and a future (where you either continue reading or decide to google “Blogs more interesting than Sobre La Vida”). But we now have a timeline together: a past, present and future.
We can only exist physically in the present moment we are in. At least until those NASA scientists finally invent a time machine. Come on, Doc invented the time-travelling DeLorean back in the 80’s!!
Our minds however, can occupy themselves with whatever takes their fancy. And quite often our minds are occupied with matters that have nothing to do with the present moment.
When our minds are occupied with other matters, this prevents us from being present in the moment.
What Is “Being Present”?
Being present means living fully in the present moment.
It means enjoying and paying your full attention to where you are and what you are doing, without being distracted by the constant chatter in your head.
Why Should We Be Present?
If you miss your chance to experience the moment you are in, unfortunately you do not get another:
So unless you find yourself like Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day”, there is no opportunity to repeat moments of your life.
The moment you are living now is your only chance to experience it. For this, it is important to be present during it.
What You Miss By Not Being Present
By not being present, you are missing the opportunity to meaningfully connect with people. Further, you are living in your head (which is the source of worry and anxiety) instead of enjoying the real world.
Connecting with people:
Consider your daily interactions with loved ones and whether you are truly present with them.
While “listening” to your friend recounting her latest dating disaster, your kid’s story of what happened at school, or your grand-dad describing his latest medical ailment – what were you also doing?
Were you sneakily eyeing your phone to check your work emails or Facebook feed? Were you thinking about something from the past or worrying about the future?
Being present is the only way to truly listen to and understand someone. By not being present in your interactions with people, you are missing an opportunity to meaningfully connect with them.
Living fully in the moment without worry
Spending too much time “in your head” is the reason for feeling worried, insecure and anxious, generally because of something to do with the past or future. These feelings disappear when you instead just live in the present moment.
The present moment is the only real one you have – the past and the future exist only in your head. The past is over and cannot be changed and the future never arrives.
“For there is never anything but the present. And if one cannot live there, one cannot live anywhere.”Alan Watts
Why You Are Not Present
Here are the three key reasons why you are not present.
1) Distractions in the present
Our minds can easily become distracted from the present moment. Digital technology and having an overactive mind are often responsible for our distraction.
Nowadays you can be sitting with a friend while chatting online with your latest Tinder prospect (who lives in a country you haven’t heard of and promises that s/he only needs a small amount of money to fly over and visit you).
You may be physically present but your mind is elsewhere. In reality, you have stood your friend up for your virtual date.
Often we get caught up in the inner dialogue in our heads and lose our focus on living in the moment. Our minds never stop, despite the fact our thoughts are often repetitive, self-deprecating or unproductive.
Being present means being able to simply be in the moment without needing to analyze, judge or think about that moment. It means the ability to quieten an overactive mind and have moments of stillness without the need to constantly be busy.
That is, being present means being able to spend time at peace with yourself.
Being present doesn’t mean you need to move to Tibet to seek a life of tranquility seated in lotus pose on top of a mountain. But having moments of peace and stillness is important.
2) The past – the thief of your present
“Don’t let the past rob you of your present”
Learning from and taking time to reflect on the past is an important and healthy part of growing and maturing.
Further, where we have had painful experiences in our past, these will take time to heal. It is normal that these experiences will affect us in our present.
What is not healthy however, is letting the past rob us of our present.
Thieves from the past:
- Regret – self castigation and wishing you’d done things differently.
- Bitterness – the unfairness of what has happened in the past, the unjustness of other people’s actions
- Shame & Guilt – feeling you are a bad or unworthy person for what has happened in the past
- Reinventions – the past reimagined through “but what-if” and “if only” scenarios:
- “If only I’d tried harder and bought a 2.0 carat diamond ring instead of a measly 1.5 carats, she would have stayed and we’d be happy together.”
- Nostalgia – repainting the past into a golden perfection that wipes out all flaws and reality
- With excessive nostalgia, the present can never measure up to the past, often causing unhappiness
- We are especially good at doing this with past relationships – “Mr / Ms. Average” becomes “Mr / Ms. I Can’t Live Without Him / Her” after a few months of loneliness (spent in sweatpants consuming large quantities of beer and icecream)
Emotions and events from the past are important. They should be recognized and processed. However, the key point is that the “past” is just that – PAST. It cannot be changed.
Each moment you spend lost in bitterness or regret for something in the past cannot and will not ever be able to change what has already happened. But yes, it will affect your present.
“The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.”Eckhart Tolle
Therefore it is important to maintain the perspective that past is something to process, resolve, integrate and learn from.
The past can also be something nostalgic to look back and reminisce fondly upon. Remembering good times, important events and the people we were with can be an important part of feeling good in our present.
However, the past is not something that should prevent us from living fully in our present.
3) The future – projecting your present
Oh the future, the wonderful, scary, unknown future. We humans just looove uncertainty. We sit back, relax and wait for things to happen.
Hmmm.. no. I mean the opposite of that.
Human beings tend to feel very uncomfortable with uncertainty. Our main coping mechanism is to try and “control” the unknowable by imagining what might possibly happen.
Imagining the future
There are two main types of imaginary scenarios:
- (i) Dreaming of a great future:
- A new partner that is finally worthy of you!
- When your current partner magically becomes better looking / nicer to you / earns more (you’re soo shallow)!
- You get promoted and your annoying colleague quits!
- (ii) Worrying about a bad future: imagining all the things that could possibly go wrong, even if we know:
- It is unlikely these scenarios will play out;
- Imagining them all ahead of time only leads to stress in the present and doesn’t change what is going happen.
We tend to be very bad at predicting the future. Not just because it is unknowable, but because we usually overestimate the amount of potential happiness we would feel in future good events and the amount of unhappiness we would feel in future bad events.
Despite our inability to control or accurately predict the future, we typically spend a lot of time imagining it. Time which could be spent living in our present.
“It is not uncommon for people to spend their whole lives waiting to start living.”Eckhart Tolle
Planning the future
Thinking about the future is useful in that, although it is unknowable, we can still make some assumptions and plans for it. That is, it is good to think about the future in order to be able to take action in our present.
Dreaming of a better future is also a good activity. We often need to first imagine how things could or should be before being able to make them into a reality. Some of the greatest developments in history would not have been possible if someone hadn’t dreamed of them first.
*Please, no offence intended to anyone who has made the legitimate life decision to work with your aunty on a llama farm – respect to you.
Living in the present
“No valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now.”Alan Watts
While thinking about the future is good at times, what is not healthy is being unhappy in our present due to either: worrying about the future or comparing our present to an imaginary, better future.
Unless thinking about the future is leading to action or change in your present, you are sacrificing your happiness based on something that exists only in your imagination.
It can be difficult to stop worrying about the future. But this only creates unhappiness for something that has not yet happened.
And if you’re comparing your present to a better future, even if it somehow came true, you would then only focus on the new future (such as what if your new, rich, handsome husband decides to leave you?).
The future never arrives. So you never get to enjoy your life if you do not know how to live in the present.
In addition, while planning is a necessary part of life, it should be done only in the appropriate time and place. If your best friend is opening up to you, it is not an appropriate time to be mentally planning the logistics of next week’s vacation.
Being present is not easy. The present is not easy because life is not easy. Reminiscing about the past or dreaming about the future is healthy and also a fabulous way to spend a Sunday morning.
But we should be conscious of the amount of time we spend not being present.
And if you want to be more present but struggle to, you can find ways to become better at it (including meditation, mindfulness etc).
Because at the end of the day, whatever your past was and your future may be, you are here now. And the only moment you have is now. Live in it. Enjoy it.