“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 and hoping about the future and, unfortunately, 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, however, can be a bit uncomfortable and, if I’m to be honest, there are times when it’s a bit dull. Yet, it’s the place where I have to address some behaviors that don’t always serve me, actions I might be taking that could derail my progress towards the “better” I envision, or even exist in the monotony of the day to day (like laundry, chores, meal prep, life admin).
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, it makes me wonder … with all the focus on the here and 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 imagine goals for ourselves and helps build a connection to what we’re doing each day and what we’re striving for. Our future can be our “why” – why we’re doing what we’re doing. If we’re saving money for a down payment on a home, the vision of homeownership can encourage us to skip the Starbucks line or spare us from an online shopping trip. If we’ve got a road race in our future, the image of crossing the finishing line can give our daily runs more meaning and purpose – we might even approach them with a little more enthusiasm.
The challenge, of course, is when we think too much about the future we run the risk of living for it. This seems nuanced, doesn’t it? Let me give you an example.
When we live for the future, we delay or defer experiences that we could be enjoying in the here and now. It’s like going to college and doing everything within the experience to prepare for grad school; then, when you’re in grad school, focusing solely on the career after. Rather than enjoying the moment of time you’re in – like by going to parties, joining a club, taking a class that’s seemingly frivolous or just for fun – you find yourself constantly seeking out “what’s next.”
The idea of “what’s next” can be exhilarating. “What’s next” can always represent a great goal. But stealing joy from today so we can experience it tomorrow isn’t healthy or helpful.
Your journey in life should be just as – if not more – rewarding than the destination, which is why I’m here to offer you a balanced approach of thinking about the big picture (future) while being present in the small picture (being here today).
Five Ways to Be Both Present and Future Focused
#1. Plan for the future. Then, translate your plan into goals and milestones.
There are many things we want to do, many things we’re capable of achieving. Life can seem sometimes 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. Developing plans for your life, career, and family are very valuable as they allow you to know what you’re striving for in the multiple facets of your life.
We tend to think of planning as something done on a whiteboard. Your life plan doesn’t have to be so neat and polished; it could look more like a vision board with images and symbols that represent ideas or concepts that are important to you and you value – being active, having fun as a family, volunteering in your community.
Once you’ve created this vision, spend time thinking about the timeline you’d like to set your goals on and how you can start walking towards those visions of yourself and integrating goal-oriented activities in your daily life, like taking up an exercise class or scheduling family game night. This may require you to disrupt your current life a little; but when you know why you’re doing it, 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 will be 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 micro-experiences you had throughout your day that made you appreciate small moments. These reflections allow you to recognize the power found in the present – that first sip of coffee, that glimpse of the sun that broke through the clouds, that kind compliment from a stranger, the strong presentation you delivered at work. Focusing on the small things that happened during the course of the day reminds you that you don’t need epic adventures in life, like a trip to Disney World, to be happy and fulfilled. The opportunity for joy abounds … you just have to be present for it.
What’s also important at the end of the day is that you have the best awareness for what needs to be done the next day. Do your next-day self a favor by setting them up for success – think about how you want to start your day, what needs to get done in the morning, and what small actions you can take to help you advance towards your vision for you.
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 for you to thrive in the day-to-day.
We’re hard wired to turn our attention towards what’s next. Pulling our minds out of the future is our greatest challenge. A simple way to aid ourselves in being here, in the moment, is to schedule a few breathing moments during the course of our day, even if it’s just for a minute.
A simple tactic is to set a mid-morning and mid-afternoon alarm that serves as a reminder to pull yourself away from your desk and just breathe. You don’t need a cup of tea by your side, 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, which can be helpful in reducing stress or anxiety, reminding yourself you’re capable of the tasks at hand, or even resetting your mind so you can focus on the one thing that needs to be done right now (versus the dozens of things that also need to be addressed).
#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. It’s an activity that allows your mind to both wander, which can have many valuable daydreaming moments, but it also allows you to refocus when you have to choose a direction, or you bump into a stranger that may have a question for you.
Undistracted walks also clear your mind of the clutter that you’ve been carrying around for the day – a conversation that went south, a research project that didn’t go over well for a client, or some tension in a relationship.
Think of a disconnected walk as just one more way to do a factory reset on you. It can be your time to remind you what your vision for you is and help you recenter so that you’re poised to take action today towards it.
#5. Enjoy where you are … and create joy.
I’ve observed an interesting phenomenon among friends who recently have decided to put their homes up for sale. They decided to move because they weren’t happy with their house; through the processing of preparing their homes for sale, they painted their walls a color they loved and organized their home in a manner that, suddenly, makes them happy in their home.
Isn’t it odd that the power to transform our living environment is within us … and we do it for others to enjoy, but sometimes don’t do it for our own selves?
Your space has a tremendous influence over your mood. Just as inspiring quotes placed prominently in front of you can encourage you towards your vision, the right color can set your mood so that you enjoy the day. If you’re not happy with your environment, change it and create a space that makes you feel inspired about your future but is organized in a way that allows you to enjoy the present. This is especially important now as so many of us are working from our home environments more than ever before.
Enjoy Where You Are While Consciously Working on Your Future
You can be both present and future oriented. It doesn’t require mental gymnastics. It does, though, require planning and intention. With these disciplines, though, comes the richness and satisfaction in 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 not only find value in the practice of staying in the present moment, but motivation for stretching for that better you that you envision.
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.