Staying in the moment, but planning for the future

I think there is a delicate balance between being mindful of living in the moment and the more cerebral task of planning for the future. A well-rounded person manages both aspects and combines them into each day, appropriately. The ebb and flow of smelling the roses as one happens by them and remembering to buy some seemingly trivial item for the fridge. How do we manage the tension between these practices and tasks?

We are constantly being bombarded with messages about our emotional well-being. We must guard against the damage we are causing ourselves with too much stress, yet we can’t feel the effect of that on a day-to-day basis. If the kids don’t have milk for their cereal, they may not eat breakfast at all. The cause and effects are very heavy on one side, literally demanding our attention like a crying baby. The rub is, we will pay the cost for ignoring our mental health, down the line. The price will not be accounted for, until a long time after the offence occurred. By then, it is often too late to course correct.

I like to think of this balancing act as I would a dance. There are many elements which make up a great performance. Some of the steps come easily and are the most fun to play around with. Other elements are difficult and no matter how much we practice we don’t see the improvement. In that way, the tough stuff is easy to abandon entirely. Who wants to keep going with something which might take months or even years to master?

As life whizzes by, we double down our efforts on the most urgent priorities. Sometimes that is done under duress. We simply take on only what has to be done in a day, leaving everything else to fall off. We even borrow time from our sleeping schedule, just for now we think, in order to meet the demands of daily life. In effect, we are treating time like a financial transaction, mistakenly thinking we will be able to pay it back later.

We all know the phrase, “time is money”. I’m not sure who cooked that one up, but it is to the detriment of personal health and well-being. Our bodies simply must have the proper amount of fuel and rest to support basic functions. Our minds need a cocktail of many things, in the correct proportions in order to support a life which can thrive. There are a host of studies which contain a plethora of possible solutions, but in the end, there is not a one size fits all prescription.

Back to the conundrum of staying in the moment but planning for the future. How can we best hold these opposing ideas at the same time? The solution is brilliantly simple and can be easily accomplished with no changes to daily life. Nothing needs to be done differently. No meetings or appointments need to be shifted around on the calendar. The future does not need to be borrowed against in order to live more fully in each moment.

Not to say this is going to be an easy thing to do. It should be, but I have found that not to be the case. Making any kind of change is a big deal. Even one which requires less effort than staying the same. Get ready. After reading these points, stop reading and practice. Then go about the next thing on your calendar and in each moment where you can do just one task, practice. After a day of this intentional thinking, see if you notice a small difference. Maybe it is only to think, yeah – I had a good day today and can’t even say why. That is the power of the mind, right there.

  1. Notice what you are doing fully. Sitting on a bus, drinking a cup of coffee, eating a meal, going for a run, cooking a meal, cleaning up – whatever it is, take note of the task at hand without distractions. Turn off any background music, put down the phone, put the newspaper aside. Do just one thing.
  2. Then take notice of everything going on around you as you are doing just one thing. Let your thoughts flow freely, but at the same time steer back to what is happening in the moment. Don’t judge any of your thoughts. Simply try to keep your mind focused on the task at hand. Which might also be simply sitting on a chair to take a rest for 5 minutes.
  3. Finally, let in new ideas which focus on being grateful for this one thing you are doing or experiencing. No matter how wonderful it is or isn’t, be grateful for it.

There are many theories about why this technique works so well. I think the effectiveness is in the simplicity. Eliminate distractions, which are usually of our own creation anyway. Notice the chatter in the mind. Escort all of it, particularly the negative self-talk out of your head. Be truly grateful. Recognize how fortunate you are for this living moment.

When I find myself falling into future worry, which I think can be solved by planning, I regroup and pay attention to the present. I give thanks for this moment. I comment about it, to myself or others. Most of the negativity I usually carry around with me, like a lead weight, floats away.

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Comments: 1

  • reply
    August 11, 2018

    Excellent ideas! Don’t think about what comes next, think about what is right now! Of course, if you are doing something you don’t really want to do, but have to do, then it helps if you have a small but pleasant reward in mind that comes soon after you finish the task.

    “All of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon – instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our windows today.” – Dale Carnegie –

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