Staying in the Present

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SoCS Badge by Doobster of MindfulDigressions.com

This week’s thought-provoking Stream of Consciousness Saturday prompt, planned and organized by Helen Espinosa of This Thing Called Life One Word at a Time while LindaGHill is traveling, is “present.”

I love this choice, as the word can be used in so many different ways. I’ve chosen to use it to refer to staying in the present moment.

I was inspired to interpret the prompt this way after recently seeing a quote about this concept online which immediately resonated with me. I couldn’t remember it exactly now, so I quickly looked it up so I could share it with you here:

“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength.”
— Corrie Ten Boom  

Beautifully said, and so true. Yet how often don’t we all persist in ruminating on the past or obsessing over the future? We know this rarely produces any positive results, but we do it anyway. And all it does is ruin the present day.

I know I do this. I’ve obsessed over decisions I’ve made (could I have done something different, and better?) or concerns about what lies ahead (will there be layoffs at my job?)…the list goes on and on.

But what do these thoughts really accomplish, short of scaring and/or depressing me?

Nothing.

In fact, this all reminds me of something else I recently read, the book Choose Yourself! by James Altucher (which is an interesting read that I recommend, by the way). In it, he stresses that this way of thinking is pointless. I decided to briefly stop my stream-of-consciousness writing one more time to look up his point on my Kindle and share it with you word-for-word in order to do it the justice it deserves. Altucher writes:

“Most people obsess on regrets in their past or anxieties in their future. I call this ‘time traveling.’ The past and future don’t exist. They are memories and speculation, neither of which you have any control over. You don’t need to time travel anymore. You can live right now.”

I had never thought of it this way, in terms of it being worthless time traveling, and immediately found this perspective so brilliantly simple. That’s exactly what this is, and who wants to spend their days focused on “memories and speculation?”

Not me.

Anything not happening now is not the present, and therefore there’s nothing you can do about it. So stop trying! It’s an exercise in futility!

Of course, this isn’t to say you should just give up on planning for the future and working to achieve your life’s goals — that’s all well and good. But once your thinking gets to a point of lying awake at night in fear of events you can’t control, that’s when it has to end.

For example, what if there are layoffs at your job, as I mentioned worrying about before? Can you control that? Not likely — and certainly not by worrying about it.

What you can do is stay up-to-date with your marketable skills and keep performing to the best of your ability on your current job so that if there are layoffs that affect you, you’re in the best position possible to find new employment, prepared with good references and abilities. Or maybe your employer will see how hard you’ve been working and you’ll be spared. Either way is win-win.

Plus, many times our worst fears never end up happening anyway, as I found out firsthand years ago when faced with this worry about layoffs. I’d heard rumors of cutbacks at my job, but as it turned out, no layoffs ever occurred, luckily — so I went through weeks of self-imposed stress and anxiety for no reason at all.

And when it comes to questioning your past, particularly decisions you’ve made and now regret, someone I worked with once shared a good perspective on this. He told us that we’ve made the best possible decision every single time we’ve had to make one.

Every single time.

Sounds a bit simplistic and overly positive, doesn’t it? But it makes sense. See, while you may now see a way that might have been better, you made your choice based on what you knew at the time, so it was in fact the best decision you could make.

For instance, let’s say you were offered two comparable jobs at similar companies and went with job A, which offered a better salary and shorter commute. However, you’re no longer happy there because your company is struggling, resulting in a tense environment and severe budget restrictions. You may wish you had gone with job B, which is at a company that has since experienced lots of rapid expansion and success. Sure, it’s easy to feel some regret, but you have to brush that off and certainly not blame yourself — you need to recognize that you made the best possible decision you could have at the time, given the information available to you at that present moment. There’s no value in thinking, “That was so dumb of me, why did I do that?” There’s likely no way you could have known otherwise back then. In other words, everything only looks so clear in hindsight.

Or, as “they” say, it’s easy to be a Monday morning quarterback!

Plus, who’s to say with 100% certainty that job B would have worked out better for you personally anyway? Perhaps your colleagues wouldn’t be as easy to work with as your current ones, or your direct supervisor wouldn’t be as reasonable as the one you have now. All of these are just simple scenarios, but I’m trying to point out that you never truly know how another route would have worked out, so there’s no point in worrying about it now.

Besides, even when we have made a mistake, that’s part of life — and nothing is a lost cause. You’re in a less-than-fulfilling job? Start looking now for a new one. You moved to a bad apartment? You can always move again. I’m not saying it’s a snap to make these changes, but they’re always possible.

In moments like these, whether I’m questioning past decisions or getting stressed thinking about the future, it helps me to remember that doing so isn’t worth it. I should just stay in the present moment. I hope this is a helpful reminder for you too!

25 comments

  1. LOVED this! I try to live my life exactly like this, although it isn’t easy. Another book that inspired this in me is “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle. I haven’t read the one you quoted, but I’m putting it on my TBR list. Thank you for sharing this with us! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words and for the great prompt you chose. 🙂 Oh, and I haven’t read that Tolle book but keep crossing paths with it over the years in some way, so I think your comment is confirmation that I’ll have to add that to my own TBR list!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Very helpful post: I waste a lot of time agonizing about past decisions, but we all know the line from “Let It Go” by now. You give great quotes and examples to back up your argument for living in the present.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, yes, “Let It Go,” sung by the great Adele Dazeem…I mean, Idina Menzel. 🙂 (Forgive me, but I still get a kick out of that!) But seriously, yes — we just have to let all that go. Thanks for your kind words on my post, and good luck letting go of past decisions; it’s an ongoing process, I find…!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I have several of James Altucher’s books, am on his mailing list, and read his blog whenever he has something new on it. I’m quite the fan. He says the same things over and over, but every time he finds some other angle to present it from. Seems like the kind of person I’d like to have as a friend. (I’d email him, but he never reads his email. Maybe I should tweet at him.)

    This is exactly the kind of stuff he talks about. He talks quite a bit about idea generation, too (those waiter’s pads he’s always taking about). I use Evernote for that kind of stuff…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I agree that it would be cool to know someone like him personally! Good idea to Tweet him; he’s very responsive that way. I like his points on idea generation too and have thought about writing a future post about my efforts to follow that advice of his. Nice to hear from someone like you who knows his work too!

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  4. I had a similar take with this prompt. I think we do spend too much time concerned over past mistakes and experiences and instead miss so much of what is happening in front of us. Living is about the moment you are in, not tomorrow or yesterday. Excellent thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great minds think alike. 🙂 Yes, and the craziest aspect of not staying in the present is looking back to these very moments and reminiscing over them, without ever having fully appreciated them at the time! That’ll happen to me when I think about my college years, for example — yet back then, I spent a lot of my time stressed out and not enjoying the moment! Such a weird phenomenon…

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  5. Great post! You’re right- the great thing about reflection on the past and future is that it can reveal what we really want out of life. As you said, we really don’t know if the outcome of another path or decision was better in the long-run for us. I like to think that everything works out exactly as it should and that we have to go with the flow 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! Yes, I like to think things happen for a reason too. I love your statement that what we reflect on reveals what we want in life. Well said; I never thought of that but it makes so much sense, and it’s good to recognize that so we can harness those thoughts in a productive way. Great point!

      Liked by 1 person

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