How to plan for the future while living in the present
Be kind. Stay focused. Find your center. Embrace the moment. Aim high. Love yourself…
From kindergarten to adulthood we are fed bite-sized mottos to help calibrate our moral compass.
We store them in our mental piggy banks somewhere between yoga affirmations and advertising jingles. They sound simple enough, but then life hits.
When trying to cut loose from an unhealthy relationship, demand a refund for a faulty product, defend ourselves or others, the lines suddenly blur. Can we be kind but firm, patient and assertive, motivated yet appreciative? And the mother of them all: Can we be goal oriented and present? (Spoiler alert – Yes!)
Savoring the moment while pursuing growth are crucial to living a fulfilled life, and with daily resolve both can come to peacefully coexist.
1) Accept the paradox
As children we learn simplified binaries, but as we grow older we see that life isn’t black and white, so we struggle trying to wrap a 3D gift into a 2D box.
The ability to achieve goals while living in the moment is the doorway to realized potential and fulfillment. But if goals are inherently rooted in the future, outside of the now, then how do you keep an eye on them without sacrificing the moment?
Loving yourself while striving to improve yourself is alternate wording for the same conundrum.
Perceived mutual exclusivity is part of the lie that convinces us we can’t have it all: awareness and ambition, strength and sensitivity, etc. The most successful among us don’t buy it, like famous coach John Wooden who advised, “Be quick, but don’t hurry.”
Step one is to see the catchphrases we have been taught for what they are: catchy phrases. Use them as reminders, drop them into conversations, but remember that the realities of life are rich and multifaceted. Next, recognize that each of us is a complex mosaic of opposite emotions and characteristics, not a flat caricature.
Inspiring people fascinate us because, through self awareness, they are masters of their emotions. Often, they are enigmas with the ability to balance opposing forces: passion and self control; masculinity and femininity; sternness and fairness; creativity and pragmatism.
Exercise: Identify individuals that inspire you — a friend, politician, business person, famous or not, dead or alive, it doesn’t matter. Think about this person. What jumps out at you about the way they control their emotions (i.e. in meetings, interviews, confrontations)? What is special about them and is it related to their ability to balance opposing characteristics? My guess is yes.
2) Set aside time to review your goals
Decide, plan, execute, reevaluate. This process can inform your actions without dominating your thoughts.
Reassessing your life decisions during yoga class won’t do you any favors. Downward dog — don’t forget to send that application — chaturanga — I have so much to do this week — upward dog — what does it all mean!…you know the loop.
Set aside time for decision-making, planning and reevaluating, regularly if need be, but don’t let them become a rampant loop in your mind. Both the quality of your thinking and the quality of your experiences will suffer.
I hear you: “But making decisions, setting goals and devising plans require me to project into the future.” True, but we go wrong by never letting our minds step outside of that decision-making, future-oriented state. We live there constantly. When we’re at a business meeting, when we’re designing a website, when we’re talking to friends.
Analytical thinking is a tool. Use it as such. Then shelve it and follow through. You do not have to be in an analytical state long to get the mental work done and head down the right path.
Busy is fine. Busy you can handle. As long as you’re there to handle it. All of you. Dedicate your energy to the actions that bring you closer to your goals rather than wasting it on endless mental chatter.
If I decide, the dishes need to be washed, I’ll do it now, all that’s left is to follow through. Being fully present during that process will only help, not hurt my effectiveness.
Exercise: Dedicate one hour a month to revisiting your goals. Spend that time assessing, tweaking and planning. Are you heading in the right direction? Knowing that you have an hour every month scheduled for yourself and your goals lets you live in the moment the rest of the time.
3) Create space & welcome the answers
Your mind is suffocating. Without realizing it you are drowning your creativity, divergent thinking and intuition in noise.
Space breeds breakthroughs. Not metaphorically, physiologically. The reticular activating system (RAS) — a primal, survival-oriented portion of your brain — is constantly collecting input. It collects more information than you can use, so it filters for what it thinks you’ll need, like a gateway to your conscious mind.
The RAS makes you aware of information relevant to you, such as your name or solutions to immediate problems. When your mind is not bogged down by unnecessary thoughts, you are more likely to hear what this portion of your brain has to say.
For example, if your name is Charlotte you will notice when it is mentioned in conversation on the the other side of a restaurant, because your RAS knows it is relevant.
Quieting your thoughts lets your subconscious mind do the heavy lifting. It will identify ideas, inspiration and solutions — input that you’ll receive if you create space.
Set your goals with your conscious mind, but achieve them through your subconscious mind.
Exercise: When you wake up in the morning, lay in bed for an extra minute. Observe how you feel. What bothersome thought popped into your mind? Why do you have a knot in your stomach? Take inventory and address these pain points immediately so that you can let them go and continue about your day with awareness. Worried about the pain in your back? Make a doctor’s appointment. Annoyed with a friend? Text her and propose a day to grab a coffee.
4) Let go of what’s next
We’ve all been guilty of focusing so hard on the next step that we wake up one morning and realize the past year (or years) has been a blur.
If you live obsessed with “what’s next” you might find yourself highly successful, wealthy and accomplished, but wildly unfulfilled…and can you really call that success? What’s next will come based on your actions. In fact, being present instead of distracted, helps you better identify and achieve what you need by altering your energy level, comprehension and peace of mind.
Planting the seed is enough. Committing fully to an undertaking is enough. Now stop obsessing. Ask the right questions and your RAS will answer. No matter how much you envision the future, it will always be an unknown. Controlling it is fruitless, but reining in your thoughts is invaluable.
Emotionally letting go of what’s next — your upcoming mortgage payment, surgery or interview — can feel like standing at the foot of Everest and pretending it is not there. You are human after all. You won’t wake up one morning and suddenly live a life of complete awareness — you probably never will. But the pursuit is enough.
Exercise: Gratitude exercises are one way to drag yourself into the now. It prioritizes realities ahead of wishes. Even if you don’t feel gratitude at first, tell yourself your grateful. Deep down you know you are. List what you can be grateful for — the big things or the mundane (your daughter’s health, your peaceful neighborhood, a glass of clean drinking water, a sense of safety). Gift yourself a few moments free of what’s to come.
You can’t give 100% to anything if you’re not 100% there, whether you’re an entrepreneur competing for a major contract or a young mom trying to balance it all. Being busy is no excuse for being absent — that’s the fault of your monkey mind lost in the jungles of irrelevant thought.