You are alive right now. Everything that came before this moment has already happened. Can you change anything you have already done? Or anything that has happened to you? Of course not. It’s in the past. In fact, as soon as something happens, it’s already too late to change it. When we get worked up or annoyed about something we can’t change, it robs us of the energy to deal with it in a healthy way.
What about the future? Can you change that? Well, in a way you can. Your actions will play a large part in deciding your future but, as we’ve talked about before, you just don’t know when something big might happen to you that changes everything. (And note that any changing of the future you plan to do actually happens in the continuous present anyway.)
We can easily spend all our time worrying about possible future outcomes that may never happen. Worry takes all the pain of a future event and brings it to you right now. (some people call it ‘praying for what you don’t want to happen’). And then, if that event never actually arrives, you’ve gone through all that pain for no reason.
Another way we fixate on the future is to assume that our lives will be better once certain things are different, and we can’t be happy until then. The problem is, what if this amazing new future of yours doesn’t happen? How long are you willing to be unhappy waiting for it to come true?
You can’t live in the future. And you can’t go back to the past. You can only take any action right now. And now. And now.
This is one thing we mean by being present – being in the present. If your mind is elsewhere, in regret or nostalgia, plans or worries – your life is happening without you. And one day it will stop happening, and you will have missed it.
Something that gets in the way of actualy experiencing a moment is trying to do two things at once. This is a very common occurrence nowadays, made easier by the presence of handheld devices. You’re doing something, but you’re also trying to do something else, and you’re not really engaging with either of them. For example, when you work on your phone at your child’s sports game or performance, this is a way of being physically present but not being really present. You’ll get no enjoyment from the performance, your kid will know you’re not really paying attention, and chances are you won’t do your best work either.
You don’t have to live that way. When you’re doing something, focus your attention on it, and don’t dilute it by cramming in other stuff. Be where you are, and live it fully. Notice it. Engage with it. And hopefully find that your life is more enjoyable.
(Check out zenhabits.net for a lot more on being present, and plenty more besides.)