“Angie, you’re spending too much time hoping. Hope is in the future. You need to live in the present. In the present, address what you’re afraid of. Focus on confronting your fears today and you will shape your tomorrow.”
This was sage advice offered from a wise friend. He knows I’m a perpetual daydreamer. I spend a lot of time thinking about the future, sometimes to the detriment of my present.
My future holds my hopes, aspirations, and dreams. It’s a great place to spend time. The present can be a bit uncomfortable and, if I’m honest, a bit dull. Yet, it’s the place where I have to address actions that could derail my progress toward the “better” I envision.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s heard the call to live in the present. Maybe you’ve heard similar messages like:
- Be here now
- Live in the moment
- Seize the day
I believe we all see value in these messages. Yet, with all the focus on now, when’s the right time to spend time in the future?
The Future Vs. The Present
Thinking about the future is important. It allows us to build a connection to what we’re doing and what we’re striving for. Our future can be our “why.” If we’re saving money to buy a home, the goal of homeownership can encourage us to skip the Starbucks line. If a road race is in our future, the image of crossing the finishing line can give our daily runs more meaning and purpose.
The challenge, of course, is when we think too much about the future, we run the risk of living for it. When we live for the future, we delay experiences that we could be enjoying now. The idea of “what’s next” can be exhilarating. But stealing joy from today to experience it tomorrow isn’t healthy or helpful.
Your journey in life should be just as rewarding as the destination. How is this possible? By taking a balanced approach to thinking about the future while being present today.
Five Ways to Be Both Present and Focus on Future
#1. Plan for the future. Then, translate your plan into goals and milestones.
There are many things we want to do, many things we can achieve. Life can sometimes seem like a buffet, with so many opportunities that we just don’t know where to start.
A simple plan, or a vision, can be your North Star. It offers you direction while informing your day-to-day activities.
We tend to think of planning as something done on a whiteboard. Your life plan doesn’t have to be polished. It could resemble a vision board with images that represent ideas or concepts you value. Things like being active, having fun as a family, or volunteering in your community.
Once you’ve created this vision, think about the timeline and the goals to get there. Integrate goal-oriented activities into your daily life. Take up an exercise class or schedule a family game night. This may require a little disruption in your current life. But when your actions support your “why,” you’re more likely to welcome the disruption.
Reminder: small actions, over time, produce great things. The behaviors we’d like to build just don’t happen overnight. But if we follow through on small commitments, eventually they become part of our operating system.
#2. End your day with gratitude while creating intention for the next day.
A valuable ritual is to end each day with gratitude for the experiences you had throughout your day. These reflections allow you to recognize the power in the present. Express gratitude for the glimpse of the sun through the clouds or the kind compliment from a stranger. Focusing on the small things reminds you that you don’t need epic adventures in life to be happy and fulfilled. The opportunity for joy abounds … you just have to be present for it.
It’s also important at the end of the day to have awareness of what needs to be accomplished tomorrow. Think about how you want to start your next day. What needs to get done in the morning, and what small actions can you take to advance towards your future goals.
Then, when you wake up, you’ve got a clearer roadmap for what you need to do that’s important and valuable for you. Starting your day with intention allows you to care for your future self while creating opportunities to thrive in the day-to-day.
We’re hard-wired to turn our attention toward what’s next. Pulling our minds out of the future is our greatest challenge. A simple way to stay present is to schedule breathing breaks during the day.
One tactic is to set a mid-morning and mid-afternoon reminder to pull yourself away from your desk and just breathe. You don’t need a cup of tea, incense burning on your desk, or spa music in the background. Just close your eyes and focus on one deep breath in, one deep breath out.
This simple act pulls you into the present and reduces stress and anxiety. Use it to reset your mind to focus on what needs to be done right now versus things that need to be addressed in the future.
#4. Disconnect and go for a walk.
For those of you who love music and podcasts, this one is a tough one. Walking without any noise distraction allows you to free your mind and observe the world around you.
Undistracted walks clear your mind of the clutter you’ve been carrying around – a conversation that went south, a research project that didn’t go well, or tension in a relationship.
Think of a disconnected walk as a factory reset. Use it to focus on your vision and recenter to take action toward it.
#5. Enjoy where you are … and create joy.
I’ve observed an interesting phenomenon among friends who’ve decided to put their homes up for sale. They decided to move because they weren’t happy with their house. But in the process of preparing their homes for sale, they painted and reorganized and suddenly felt happier in their home.
Your space has a tremendous influence on your mood. If you’re unhappy with your environment, change it. Create a space that makes you feel inspired about your future and organized to allow you to enjoy the present. This is especially important now, as more of us are working from home environments than ever before.
Enjoy Where You Are While Consciously Working on Your Future
You can be both present and future-focused. It doesn’t require mental gymnastics. It does, though, require planning and intention. With these disciplines, though, comes the richness and satisfaction of living. We’re humans – we need to feel like we’re progressing, yet we also need to find joy in the here and now. With a small commitment, you’ll find value in staying in the present and motivation to focus on your future.
At Lead Star, we’re here to support your efforts of working on both the present and the future. Check out our Year to Rise program – a goal-oriented coaching program that will help you support balancing both the big and small pictures of life.