I spend a lot of time thinking about the past. I justify this activity as learning from the past or, simply, a reflective person looking back at his life. However, what I am really doing is dwelling on the past. Wishing. Dreaming. Regretting. Remembering. Beating myself up.
When I am not caught up in my past, I am often “day-dreaming.” Oh, how much I like contemplating, thinking of the next steps, re-evaluating, over-analyzing, wondering, imagining, rehearsing conversations, and wishing upon what could be. “One day I will wake up and have tons of motivation and energy.” Or, “I will get to that email or to learning French next month…next year.” Or, “That one Monday morning, someday, I will wake up at 6 and hit the gym.”
The problem is that if Monday morning isn’t today — right now — it may never arrive. And the intellectual exercises of playing the movie of our past or obsessing over the future are pointless.
These imaginary narratives often happen without us even knowing. We are walking down the street and, instead of paying attention to the people, the trees, or even the small architectural details, we catch ourselves in some other place. We are writing a mental to-do list. Calculating our money and the bills we have to pay. Obsessing over a past hurt or what we are going to do should a particular scenario take place.
In other words, we are not present. We are not in the now. And not being present from this very moment means that we are actually absent from our very life. We haven’t shown up. We are still sleeping.
And what happens when we don’t show up?
(Nothing for us, anyway.)
Gravity happens. Inertia happens. Earthquakes happen. Other peoples’ lives happen. But our own human experience–our lives–remain dormant. More importantly, our capacity for joy and happiness remain captured by our dreamy narratives of the past and present. We miss much of our life and the beautiful, amazing people and experiences before us.
The only way we can experience happiness for simply living is if we are actually alive. Otherwise, we are just waiting, worrying, dreaming, and escaping the present moment — the only moment that actually matters and is real.
My resolution this year is to be present. To be more here, in the now.
To put my anxieties and day-dreaming in check.
To be more alive. Awake. Fully present. Right now.
Below are some strategies I have started to employ. I don’t know if they will work. I think they will. I also don’t know if they can help you too. But I think they can. Give all of them, or some of them, a try and tell me what you discover.
- Meditate 5 minutes every day. I don’t need to be a Buddha to do this; sit down, close your eyes, and pay attention to your breath. Just breathe. That’s it.
- Write for 10 minutes every day. About anything. Write a blog post or jot down a dream from the night before; or just some random thoughts that come to mind. Just write.
- Make a conscious effort to listen intently. This one is tough. While someone else is talking, catch yourself preparing an answer…and then stop. Just pay close attention to what the person in front of you is saying. Don’t analyze. Just listen. They’ll be grateful for it, and you’ll be happier because of it.
- Pay attention: while showering — as water comes down your body; while brushing your teeth; while eating — taste the richness of flavors in each bite instead of just inhaling it all; while walking — catch a glimpse of a bird or watch the snowflakes as they fall to the ground.
- Feel your body. Any part of your body. Feel your heartbeat, your toes. It will make you feel alive.
- Write 10 ideas every day — on anything. I learned this exercise from James Altucher — pick a topic every day and write 10 ideas about it. It can be on any topic. It’s like a workout for the brain.
- Forgive yourself when you screw up on all of these, and just do it again tomorrow. Some of this stuff seems simple and easy enough, but for minds that are used to racing some of these exercises can be very tough. So, when you falter, cut yourself some slack. (Most people fail in their resolutions because they quit when they falter; it’s when you falter that you must push ahead in order to push through.)
Life is now. Yet, somehow, most of us manage to live in our past by rehashing past events or in the future by worrying and day-dreaming. We are playing the imaginary, virtual game of life instead of being present in the moment. Instead of living and experiencing our actual life. Without doing so, however, consistent happiness and joy aren’t really possible.
I want joy. I want to be present. That’s what life is all about.
And that’s what I am doing this year.
That’s what I am doing now.
I am present.
Hope you’re too.