Have you ever watched your pet dog or cat throughout the day? They definitely live in the present moment.
Your cat sees a sunny spot so she wanders over to it and takes a nap. She doesn’t worry about how long that sunny spot will last or if it’s as warm as the sun spot three days ago.
You pull out the leash and your dog leaps in wild joy. He doesn’t sulk because you neglected to take him walking yesterday or hesitate because he’s not sure if he’ll like the route. Our pets simply stay in the present.
We human animals tend to live in either the past or the present.
Our bodies are located in the present moment (where else could they go?!?) but our thoughts and emotions are often focused elsewhere. Where are you located right now? Physically, you might be at the office or maybe at home. But when you’re feeling stuck, you are mentally and emotionally absent to all things present.
It’s like crossing a busy street before the signal tells you to go: if you’re not paying attention, you’re likely to get hurt. And when we focus in the past or the future, we’re often creating fear, doubt, and anxiety for ourselves, right?
Stuck In The Past
As Tony Robbins said, “Everybody’s got a past. The past does not equal the future unless you live there.” Despite that, many of us mistakenly use the past as a measure of what could be in the present and future. Just because your meeting, plan, or [fill in the blank] didn’t go the way you want, you think the next *blank* is going to happen the same way. We start to tell ourselves a story; a story that always ends the same way.
One of the many things I admire about Michelle, my business partner, is she always catches herself when she’s telling herself a past-based story. The reason might be that day after day she tells our clients’ stories to the media and she foresees the plot of her own story. When this happens she usually just shakes it off. But if she finds herself engaging in a story that doesn’t empower her and appears truthful to her and she needs help rewriting the narrative, she picks up the phone.
We talk until we conclude the obvious; what happened is just what happened and it doesn’t have any relevance on how will take place next time.
When thinking in the past, we usually end up recollecting our highest and lowest moments in life.
You’d expect the only sources to all your troubles are your lowest moments, but even your past accomplishments can wrack up a lot of anxiety. In either case, we become too preoccupied with what has happened. We get stuck replaying our bad experiences either to ourselves or (even worse) out loud to others. We re-run it and re-experience it in all its painful detail, instead of learning the lesson and moving on. We assume (wrongly) that if we were unsuccessful in the past, we are likely to be unsuccessful in the future.
Fixating on a past success can make you obsess on how to get it back, and that can also cause stuckness.
“How come I’m not as successful/fit/wealthy/creative as I was before?”
Everything is always changing; nothing stays the same. You were a different person probably fulfilling the things that were important to you then, but maybe those same things are not important as they were. If you find that remained the same, search for clues as to what is different in the present that can be helpful.
In most cases we’re just using our successful past to beat ourselves up in the present. Instead of actually taking action and making progress, our mindset keeps us drifting into the past.
Stuck In The Future
If you thought you can’t get stuck in the future, you’re wrong.
There are a couple of ways we can get stuck in the future. One is what I call “the someday, one day syndrome.” It occurs when you postpone doing something or being something until you have enough of the right ingredients to achieve that; money, get that degree, have enough time, wait until the economy is right, or – get the drift? We’re wasting our time sitting on the dock, waiting for our boat to come in. Most entrepreneurs know you’ve got to jump in and swim toward that boat!
You may have heard the story of a guy who kept praying to God, “Please let me win the lottery.” Day after day he would pray, until finally, one day, God answered back, “Buy a lottery ticket.”
In the PR game, I see a lot of people who don’t buy lottery tickets. I listen intently as they outline for me all their elaborate plans of how they’re going to write a book, have their own TV show, and ultimately change the world. It’s easy to see they’ve spent a great amount of time fantasizing about their aspirations. I’m hooked, so I ask them, “What’s in play to achieve that?” Usually there’s a long awkward pause until they reply, “Well, as soon as I have the [fill in the blank], I’ll get started.”
Stop waiting around for opportunities. You must go out and create them yourself.
Don’t deceive yourself into thinking that success, like a shining prince on a white horse, will come your way if you wait long enough. Change your mindset and take action; that’s what will lead you to achieve your desired goals. This way, you’re creating your own future rather than crossing your fingers and hoping for the best.
Another way we can get stuck in the future is the “what if” trap. I have OCD, so this cycle is painfully familiar to me. I’ve seen firsthand how it knocks me out of the present. When I’m dealing with my obsessive thoughts, I know I’m not living in the present moment. I’m busy worrying about some future catastrophic event that may or may not happen, playing out all the worst-case scenarios. And honestly, it isn’t any fun!
Many entrepreneurs let these persistent, negative thoughts get them stuck. While they’re worrying about the future, in the present the fear and doubt takes over their mind. They don’t take the risks they know they should take because they’re fixating on that worst-case scenario.
If you project into the future that you might fail, you’ll become frozen by inaction.
The Value of Living In The Present
Recently I had an experience, what we might call “a bad day.” One morning I came into the office early to shoot a video. First, the video camera didn’t work. Then we got it working, but the delivery guy showed up to deliver my new computer right in the middle of the shoot. Then my computer sound didn’t work. The list went on and on and on. A twenty-minute project took up most of the day. You’ve had those days, right?
If I had been stuck in the past or future, my internal dialogue would have gone something like this: “This always happens to me! Just like last time, nobody bothered to check the equipment. Why can’t the delivery guy ever come when he says he will? (I’m not sure when that is, but it’s not when I’m shooting a video.) Now that everything’s off-kilter, it will probably be a disaster, just like that video we made last year. And now how will I ever get the rest of my work done? And . . . and . . . and . . .” Sound familiar?
The good news is I wasn’t stuck this time. I stayed in the present moment and experienced the freedom and flow there. I felt a little “Grrr,” but it was mild and didn’t have a lot of internal chatter with it. I was able to make rational decisions about what to do in the situation and everything came out fine with no stress or hassle. Had I been stuck in past or future, it would have been a completely different scenario.
Don’t let past rejection or failure dictate what will happen to you in the present or even the future.
The value of the past is to learn its lessons and grow from them. Unless you truly are looking to the past to help yourself, you’re giving in to a terrible cycle by constantly replaying it. If something in your past needs to be healed or fixed or reconciled, the only place you can do it is in the present, right? So if there is some action you need to take about the past, take it and be done with it. If not, put the past where it belongs.
As for the future, when you spend your time fearing the worst, it’s like you’ve got your foot on the brakes while driving 45 miles an hour down the freeway… while all the good opportunities pass you in the fast lane.
Use future thinking in a positive way. Most successful people look at the future and have a very powerful interpretation or vision of what they need to do and how to accomplish their goals. At the same time they’re in the flow of it, feeling empowered by where they’re heading, yet living life fully in the present moment. Unstuck.