How England will win by living in the present.
We are each at the centre of our own universe. Right now, at this moment, there is you, right here (wherever “here” is for you), reading these words. In life, there are only three locations that matter:
Living in the now is a much less stressful place to be. Operating from the present and seeking to constantly pull ourselves back to the present gives us power, awareness, energy and clarity. It is much easier to access our very best in the present, because we gain access to our “higher self” in this space. Prophecies of accessing our higher selves may seem farfetched, or little more than New Age, airy-fairy nonsense, but it’s logical and biological. Right here, right now, is the only moment we have complete control over in any given moment of any given day, regardless of the ups and downs that are occurring in our life. And those moments are hugely influenced by our interior biology and what we choose to focus on.
For most of us, the past consists of reliving or identifying ourselves with negative things or experiences, such as, “I failed at that before, so I'm not going to try it again,” or “I made such a mess of that; if only I’d said . . .” or “If it wasn’t for [insert name of person we blame] none of this would have happened . . .” Too often, the past is a super-highway to negative experiences, memories or interpretations that can easily trigger challenging emotions such as guilt, regret, anger, blame or sadness. All those emotions which have been associated with previous English penalty shoot-outs.
But, we can’t change the past, so constantly looping into reruns of old conversations or experiences is actually a form of self-harm. It’s also a pointless waste of time. So, what if you’ve finally thought of the perfect comeback to an argument with your partner three months after the divorce?! The moment has gone. Reliving the conversation and getting to say your killer line in front of the mirror, or in your imagination, won’t alter the reality of the original conversation.
The past’s power lies in its ability to teach us. The past allows us to fine tune the way we behave and connect the dots, so we don’t keep repeating the same lesson over and over again. It helps us avoid situations we want to avoid in the future or find better ways of handling tricky situations. The past helps us to develop the mental and emotional resilience we need to embrace the present and create a meaningful future. It allows us to shine some much-needed light on the negative patterns and unhelpful conditioning that can often keep us trapped in negative thinking and negative habits. That’s its only purpose. As the adage goes: “If we don’t learn from the past we are destined to repeat it.” .
The future, on the other hand, is equally mercurial. For most of us, the future consists of fantasies, assumptions, hopes or fears around what might happen or what could happen if such and such a person just does 'X', tying ourselves in knots trying to predict the unpredictable. At least when we get lost in reverie about the past we are thinking about what happened (although our interpretation of those events can be wildly inaccurate). In the future, everything we come up with is a fantasy or illusion created by our imagination, based on little or no evidence! And yet, those stories create fast-track access to a whole raft of (usually) negative emotional states, such as anxiety, worry, uncertainty or fear. It’s amazing how brilliantly we are able to manufacture a future that fits snugly around our fears and insecurities, all because we like to be proven right, so we can say, “See, my life sucks. I told you so!” Perversely, we feel comforted by our ability to predict a negative outcome before it’s even happened. At least that way we get to learn how to live with the disappointment or failure, right? And it is a uniquely British quality to talk down our chances when it comes to penalty shoot outs!
Clearly, our present influences our future, and the choices we make in each moment will impact that future – positively or negatively. But, jumping forward in time into some fantasy re-creation of what life might be like, or how a situation could play out, is not always helpful; although it can be extremely helpful in preparing for certain situations. For example, jumping into a future interview and imagining all the questions you might be asked can be useful in helping you prepare; but living there is as pointless and futile as living in the past.
This is the nature of the human condition. We may see each other going about our day, but inside most of us are not operating authentically “in the moment”. We are either living in the past or hypothesising about the future. We look like we are interacting with each other, but each of us is presenting a visible avatar that is “interacting” on autopilot, while the real us is stewing over some past event or possible future scenario!
It’s ironic, but as human beings we have two contradictory tendencies: when there isn’t that much going on in our lives in the present, or when there is too much going on, we tend to disappear into the future or the past. It is here that we get to make up stories.
Quiet often, when those stories are negative, we look to these places to justify our feelings about something or someone or ourselves. Worse still, we can very easily build false identifies about who we are from these stories and pull the past or potential future into our present (or now). These stories can keep us stuck in limiting or destructive situations, or make us fearful of pursuing what we want to do. Something called “confirmation bias” invades our brain and pollutes our thinking. Confirmation bias, also known as “myside bias” is the tendency to search for, interpret, favour and recall information in a way that confirms our pre-existing beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities. In other words: we look for and find “evidence” that supports what we already believe to be true about ourselves, others, events etc., and will frequently dismiss or ignore contrary “evidence” that negates or refutes that initial perception or belief.
This negative storytelling from the past or future also has a physical impact on our bodies and brains, because it changes the physiological make-up of our internal system. This is an incredibly impressive party trick if you stop and think about it: we are able to conjure up an image of something that either did or didn’t happen and turn on emotional responses to this figment of our imagination. So, we get to feel something very real, usually negative, in the present, based on what we created from our imagination about the future or the past. I am sure you know at least one person in your life who is very good at this. .
Taking the time to think about what you want to achieve and where you want your life to take you is a sensible and smart approach; but disappearing into endless fantasy scenarios without getting into action and making decisions today that support those dreams, is equally futile. Use the future to road test your dreams and work backwards to figure out what you need to do in order to make it a reality. But beyond that, stay present (see my blog on “Quo V Go” for a little more on how to move in to action!)
When we come back to the moment and live each one as it arises, life is just easier. I’m not saying we are always going to sail through our challenges, but when we stay with those issues and the tough emotions they can stir up, and lean into them, they are rarely as bad as the stories we create from the past or future that keep us stuck, afraid and unhappy.
If something in your life isn’t working, or you are aware of changes you need to make, don’t be the person who waits for something to break, or something to improve as if by magic. Don’t be the person who waits for someone else to change or someone else to see the error of their ways. Don’t be the person who tolerates the drama and angst in their life for an “easy life”. There is nothing “easy” about that life, and you know it! Maintaining the status quo, putting on a brave face, smiling for the camera when you want to weep, is no way to live, and it is robbing you of the love, joy, accomplishment and happiness you deserve. If something in your life isn’t working, it’s time for action.
Go on. Score that penalty.
("Living Life in the Present" is an excerpt from Paula's latest book - "Your Life, Your Way - A Practical Guide To Getting Your S**t Together" - Grab your copy now.)
Paula Meir is an executive coach, clinical hypnotherapist, speaker, and author of the book “Your Life, Your Way – A Practical Guide To Getting Your S**t Together”