The idea of living in the present moment is a hard concept to grasp.
It sounds great in theory, but if you’re anything like me, it’s challenging to implement in the throes and chaos of everyday life. A lot of people will tell you that in order to live in the present moment, you need to let go of the past. For example, stop fretting over the fact that you chose the wrong major in college, stop losing sleep over how intoxicated you got at your high school reunion, and stop worrying about your latest performance review at work.
I don’t live in the past. I don’t see the point. I’m not a rocket scientist, but I’m pretty sure that it’s impossible for me to travel back in time and change the past. So, my rationale is this: If I can’t physically go back in time to fix things, then why would I spend mental energy trying to do the same thing? Even if I could go back in time, would I really want to? Would I really want to go back to the week before my senior prom when my boyfriend dumped me and I had to go with his older brother?
I think not.
Even my daughter thinks not. Last week, when we were cleaning out the attic, she came across the long, blue sequined dress that I wore to my senior prom. When she remarked that I must have looked “soooooo beautiful” wearing it, I told her that even if I did, I felt like a loser that night so it really didn’t matter what my dress looked like.
Her 9-year-old response was swift and sweet. She said, “Well, if that guy hadn’t broken up with you, then you wouldn’t have met Daddy.” Well done, wise one. Living in the past is not helpful.
My anxiety does not come from living in the past; it comes from living in the future.
A great example of this is the fact that I hate getting myself ready in the morning. It’s so laborious: the washing, brushing, flossing, primping, prepping, plucking, scrunching, picking, dressing, folding, fluffing, and fixing feels like such a waste of time. It’s all so laborious to me because these tasks are standing in the way of all the other things I need to get done. They’re standing in the way of the future.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not capable of simply brushing my teeth. The entire time I’m brushing my teeth, in my head, I’m saying things like, What am I going to wear today? It can’t be too casual because I have an important meeting, but it can’t be too dressy because I have five other things to do today. Speaking of which, I need to get to work on time so I can send those emails before the first meeting. Ugh, why can’t I seem to get to work on time? If I could just wake up earlier, I could get to work earlier, and I could get more done. If only I didn’t have to take a shower and brush my teeth every day, I could be so much more productive.
Know what I mean?
It’s hard for me to live in the present moment because I’m always leaning forward into the future. While I’m convinced that spending mental energy in the past is pointless, I somehow believe that spending time contemplating or figuring out the future will make the future better.
Which it rarely does.
This theory of mine has been proven wrong time and time again. Like when I’m stressed out about being late, only to arrive at my destination and find out I wasn’t even close to being late.
If you’re trying to live in the present moment, my suggestion to you (and to me) is simple.
Get the heck out of the future.
If the advice of living in the present moment feels like airy-fairy pixie dust, don’t subscribe to that advice. Just regularly check yourself when you’re living in the future, and that will naturally bring you back to the present moment.
Mothers are constantly living in the future. And what’s worse is we’re terrified of it. If our kids don’t do their homework, they’re going to end up in jail by the time they’re sixteen. If we don’t spend more time at work, we’re going to lose our job, and if we eat that donut for breakfast, we’re going to be obese by the end of the month.
The next time you find yourself brushing your teeth or driving down the road or walking down the street and you realize your body is in the present, but your mind is in the future, try this little trick: Say to yourself, This is it.
This is the goal. This is the life. This is the end game. Brushing my teeth is the end game.
The truth is, all we have is the present moment. We’re not guaranteed one moment beyond this very moment. And even if we are granted another moment, we ruin the present one by trying to contemplate and figure out the next one.
I tried it yesterday, and it worked. While I was brushing my teeth, I found myself contemplating and calculating if I was going to work out later that same day. In other words, I was living five hours in the future. I caught myself, took a look in the mirror (while brushing), and reminded myself, This is it, this is the goal. This moment is the only thing that’s real.
I must admit, it was incredibly liberating. It got me out of the future and brought me back to the land of the living, immediately. Presto. Chango.
My goal is to keep putting this practice into place. It worked well today. Who knows if it will work tomorrow? I’m trying not to think about it.