How The Past And The Future Can Rob You Of The Present

“Remember then: there is only one time that is important and it is now! The present moment is the only time when we have any power.” ~Tolstoy

Stop for a second and tell me: What were you thinking about just now? Chances are very good that you were thinking about something either in the past or in the future.

Of course, some of that thinking is necessary. For instance, we think about what we need to get at the store to make dinner tonight, or what we saw on the news yesterday to consider where we stand and what to do about it.

Sometimes, thinking about the past or future is also a pleasure: remembering happy times or anticipating something exciting in the near future. But often—usually—we end up dwelling instead on things we can do nothing about, because the past and the future exist only in our heads.

We allow our present moments to be filled with negative emotions caused by something that is not even happening right now—and may never happen!

Caught in a mental sand trap of our own making, we miss out on real life—what is happening in front of us in this very moment.

These are the thoughts that rob you of the present. They call up very distinctive emotions: usually regret, anger, and sadness (the past), or fear and dissatisfaction/longing (the future). Although we all indulge in both past and future thinking, I think most of us have a tendency to concentrate on one or the other.

My tendency has usually been to focus on the future. I used to worry a lot, which is a technique many people use to try to control what is essentially uncontrollable—the future—by imagining all possible outcomes and how they might respond in each case.

The extreme version of this future-based thinking is a crippling anxiety that robs the here and now of any possibility for joy. You can’t live your current life when all of your energy is spent worrying about what might happen in the future!

We future-thinkers also tend to be obsessive planners and goal-setters. Rarely pausing to enjoy what we’ve achieved, we’re already focused on the next step in the plan. That (often unconscious) feeling of dissatisfaction with the present and the longing for something different can also take the form of daydreaming about the future.

What we have right now is never enough—there’s always something “out there” in the future that’s missing, the magic ingredient that will finally make us really and truly happy.

Unfortunately, that mythical something we’re…

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