By Jimmy Warden
There’s really only one construct of time that is truly present. That is this present moment. Right here, right now. Each moment that occurs as you read this is the only time that exists. The past is what it is. The past. It no longer exists. Sure, we have memories, but the past is no longer a physical, tangible space of existence. A similar story can be told about the future. The future also does not physically exist. The stories that are told about the future are just stories. They are merely potential, but they are not set in stone facts because it has not occurred. The troublesome fact of this matter of time, is the fact that people dwell a lot in the past and future, and they think themselves into despair. This is why it is important to try to make a conscious effort to genuinely experience as much as we can in the present.
Thinking About The Past
When we are thinking about the past, there several different challenges that get brought forward. The first is the “could have, would have, should have” thought process. When events have undesireable outcomes, we tend to think of what “could have” or “should have” done, so that the outcome “would have” been better. The challenge of this process is that we cannot arrive at what we “should have” done until we take some type of action and have the ability to reflect on the outcome. However, at the time of the decision, we don’t always have enough information to make that decision that we “should have” made. We more than likely tried to do the best we could have done in that moment. This is why “hindsight is always 20/20”.
This way of thinking also has a way of making false narratives within our conscious thinking throughout the day. If these thoughts are not handled appropriately, they can turn into feelings of disappointment, frustration, anger, guilt, regret, and even self-loathing. We often have these thoughts when we don’t take the time to reflect on a past decision that we made that sparked “would have, could have, should have” thinking. If we are stuck in past failures and mistakes, it makes it hard to believe in ourselves and other people. We predict that the outcome will not be in our favor because of our past outcomes, so effort in the here and now is rendered useless. This can be a challenge because in order to make things happen in our favor, we need to believe that it can happen first. This gives us a model or a blueprint for success. This pattern of negative thinking regarding the past can lead one down to a path of potential depression if their hoplessness gets significant enough. This can lead to stagnation in life because the person who is depressed or stuck in the time loop of the past has an outlook that if something great was going to happen then it already should have happened.
Thinking About the Future
When it comes to the thinking about the future, there are also several challenges that are attached to this way of thinking. First, is thinking of potential outcomes. Considering the future has yet to occur, potential is essentially endless because any idea that we come up with as a future outcome has potential to occur. We often think of many scenarios to create the best possible outcome, but over time, this process of weighing out every single option, of every single decision, every single day, can get very exhausting to the point of decision fatigure. We literally get tired because of all the options we have run over in our minds. If some of these scenarios that we are running are not realistic, but we try them out anyway, we set ourselves up or failure and disappointment. This is due to the fact that our outcome was not created with a realistic framework and it ends up being unattainable.
When we think about the future there is also a lot of F.E.A.R. that coincides with it. I use fear as an acronym here to inform you that F.E.A.R. = False Evidence Appearing Real. When we have a fear of a potential outcome, it is often over perceived, meaning we perceive more danger than what manifests. This is a challenge because we think ourselves into a state of anxiousness to the point where we may freeze up and not take action towards that future outcome. The outcome could benefit us, but if we’re too busy worrying about the outcome that we perceive as a threat, there won’t be any action taken. The only way to realize whether or not our F.E.A.R. is valid, is to see our vision through, and take the necessary action. The challenge is that the more F.E.A.R. we perceive with a problem, the less likely it is that we take the necessary action. This stagnation doesn’t allow for any dreams or goals to be met, which is why we need to try to rise above, and take action, knowing what we want is probably waiting on the other side.
Benefits of Living Present
Living in the present is something that we do with our physical bodies, but we have a challenge doing it with our minds. When we do, our focus intensifies because our attention is locked in on what is in front of us at that very moment. Focused attention allows us to make better decisions because our focus is on the “here and now”, so we try to engage with what is of utmost importance. The best part too is that there is much less distraction when we are focused on something singular, rather than worrying about several events from the past, or several potential outcomes of our future. The more that we can genuinely focus our attention in the present, the more likely it is that we can actually complete any future goals that we might want to achieve. This is because we are merely focused on the work to do during that time frame, rather than the end result. This is why people say, “trust the process”. That process is every present moment that eventually builds to create an ideal outcome.
When we are living, both mind and body, in the present, we tend to have a greater sense of joy and appreciation. We have the ability to enjoy what we have because we are focused on what is directly in front of us and nothing else. We aren’t caught up in “would have, should have, could have” thinking nor are we caught up in “if I had ‘x’ then I’d be more happy or content”. We aren’t worried about “what could be”, rather we are appreciative of “what is”. This helps us see how far we’ve come in our respective journies because we’ll have a better understanding of our efforts and more appreciation for our efforts. We won’t have any judgements about the journey, instead there will be acceptance. This is a true reflection that can only take place in the present. When we are truly reflecting, we are seeing the past merely for what it is, not what we wanted it to be. This opens the door to have more clarity in our mind.
The more clarity that we have in our mind, the better decisions we can make, and the more that we can be at peace. With clarity of mind, it is more clear to us what we need to do in the given moment because we won’t be caught up in the chatter about the past or the future. This will allow us to handle problems that arise in our environment or our mind with more presence and understanding rather than chaos and confusion because the chaos and confusion usually comes with thinking that is past or future oriented. Being more at peace with the present is also quite invigorating because it connects back to that idea of appreciating the here and now for what it is, rather than what we think it should be. This approach of gratitude goes a long way with one’s mental health because appreciation is a key component to cultivating more joy in one’s life.
Considering the only realm of time that genuinely exists is here and now, it’s important to try to spend as much “thinking time” in that moment. Thinking of how the past “could have” or “should have” been better de-values the present and everything that is associated with it. This can lead to devaluing yourself and others, which could lead to hopelessness and depression. Thinking in the past also makes it harder to believe in yourself and others because you’ll be thinking of all the mistakes that were made in the past. This makes it harder to take on or complete any current, challenging tasks or projects because in order to see it through, we have to believe it can be completed.
Thinking purely of the future is quite exhausting. There is endless potential with the future and thinking of all that potential drains us of energy at a rapid pace. If we think of a future that is unrealistic, we’ll set ourselves up for failure, because what we want to reach is too difficult to attain. The future can also be quite frightening depending on how we think of it. If we think of the future and become fearful, that is the manifestation of False Evidence Appearing Real (F.E.A.R.). If we are afraid of what could be, this could potentially lead to stagnation, unfulfilled goals, and a loss of meaning in life.
The more that we’re present, the more attention we can place on its important items, and do something with them in that moment. We’ll have more clarity of mind and we’ll be able to enjoy each moment as it arises with presence, calm, and focus.