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The Problem with ‘Living in the Present’


The problem with ‘living in the present’ is that it’s often misunderstood.

We’re told to seize the day and relish every moment. And there’s a certain allure to this mantra.

But here’s the kicker…

When taken too literally, living in the present can lead us astray. It might even make us reckless or dismissive of our future selves and their needs.

Sure, embracing now-ness has its perks: less stress, more joy. It’s like sipping from the chalice of contentment, an elixir that seems too good to be true. Sounds like a dream state, right?

Yet sometimes, we get so caught up in chasing these fleeting moments of happiness that we forget about tomorrow’s consequences… until they smack us right in the face.

In this article, I will explore the problem with living in the present, the power and pitfalls of present-moment awareness, and how time thinking affects our lives. The true mastery lies in striking equilibrium — gracefully dancing on the tightrope that bridges the past, present, and future. This equilibrium fuels growth and nurtures self-understanding. Along the way, we’ll unravel the tug-of-war between instant pleasure and delayed gratification, unmasking the choices that shape the narratives of our lives.

As our compass, I’ll unveil five transformative strategies that empower you to bask in the present while honoring the past and guarding your future. Each strategy serves as a cornerstone, grounding you in the reality of ‘now’ without sacrificing the wisdom of hindsight or the prudence of foresight.

Let’s begin by delving into the delicate art of balance, where the challenge lies in embracing the present without forsaking the future.

The Art of Balance: Embracing the Present Without Neglecting the Future

In modern achievement culture, an intriguing tension often surfaces — the challenge of living fully in the present while also considering the implications of the future. This dichotomy is exemplified not only by celebrated figures like Steve Jobs but also by everyday individuals striving to strike a harmonious balance between immediate gratification and responsible planning.

Consider the life of Maria, an ambitious young professional with dreams of building her own business empire. Her unrelenting dedication to her goals leads her to spend countless hours working, strategizing, and networking. While this drive is commendable, it comes with a caveat: Maria’s intense focus on her future aspirations sometimes leaves her disconnected from the joys of the present.

Maria’s story reflects a common narrative in our fast-paced society: pursuing success often values extrinsic motivations over savoring life’s intrinsic satisfaction. The modern world bombards us with messages that champion seizing the day and living for the moment, which can sometimes encourage impulsive decisions without considering what lies ahead.

Yet, it’s crucial to recognize that complete immersion in the present, devoid of thought for the future, can have its pitfalls. Just as a chef might hastily create a dish without adhering to the recipe’s proportions, an excessively present-focused individual could grapple with unforeseen challenges due to a lack of future-oriented planning.

Imagine Jack, who decides to embark on a spontaneous road trip with friends without considering the financial repercussions. While the trip may be a blast, the burden of credit card debt that follows can quickly turn the carefree memories into sources of stress.

The Problem with Living in the Present

Living in the present moment, or what’s fancily called ‘present moment awareness,’ is often sold as a magic pill for all your stress and dissatisfaction. It isn’t so straightforward.

Sure, being fully immersed in the now can feel like a breath of fresh air. No worries about tomorrow; no regrets from yesterday — sounds pretty damn liberating, right? Until it starts to look less like liberation and more like recklessness. You’re living so much ‘in-the-now’ that future consequences become an afterthought.

Picture the scenario: an individual engrossed in the pursuit of their ideal life suddenly quits their job on a whim, believing it’s the path to ultimate happiness. In the short run, it might offer an intoxicating rush of satisfaction. However, without foresight and planning, they could unwittingly stumble into a future of financial instability.

This isn’t an isolated trap; it’s a common pitfall. An excessive focus on present experiences can blind us to future consequences. Our quest for short-lived joy can imperil the realization of long-held dreams.

Furthermore, a relentless focus on the present can hinder progress toward ambitious goals. Such aspirations demand a blend of foresight, planning, and the ability to endure less glamorous phases. The essence of equilibrium lies in harmonizing the enjoyment of current pleasures with the pursuit of future dreams.

This equilibrium isn’t a binary choice; it’s an intricate dance. Just as bike riding requires riders to adjust their posture to maintain balance, we must navigate between impulsive indulgence and overzealous planning. Each present moment thread weaves into the fabric of the future, shaping a life enriched by both experiences and foresight.

The Mind’s Natural Bias: The Unwanted Sidekick

Adding another layer to the puzzle, let’s meet the brain’s constant companion — the natural negativity bias. This innate aspect of our psyche tends to spotlight negative experiences, harking back to our survival instincts. While once advantageous, this bias now collides with the pursuit of present-moment experiences, heightening our sensitivity to negativity and reshaping our perceptions.

Mastering Time: The Influence of Past, Present, and Future Thinking

You know how your mind is always on a time travel trip? Bouncing between the past, present, and future like it’s got some kind of temporal ADHD. Yup, that’s what we call “time musing.” It has a greater sway on our lives than you might imagine.

The problem isn’t just getting lost in thought; it’s where those thoughts lead us. Studies show people spend almost half their waking hours actually not living fully in the present moment. That means less time enjoying the good things happening right now because we’re too busy playing mental ping-pong with yesterday and tomorrow.

Reflection’s Dilemma: Drowning in Nostalgia

Ruminating on old memories is like savoring aged whiskey, but overindulgence is intoxicating. When reflection becomes a habit, trouble brews; happiness takes a back seat to regret, guilt, or sorrow.

No one suggests abandoning nostalgia entirely; just ensure you return to reality before sunset. Your current circumstances deserve attention, too.

Obsession with the Horizon: The Woes of Overthinking Tomorrow

A dash of forward-thinking helps weather storms, but obsessing over clear skies leads to anxietyville. While planning aids goals, excessive worry about uncontrollable uncertainties speeds up wrinkles — not ideal. High-stress hormones from such fretting don’t favor sleep quality or mental well-being.

Spoiler: Maintaining awareness of the past, present, and future is pivotal for fulfillment.

So what are we supposed to do if we’re not focused on the present or spending too much time drowning in nostalgia or overthinking tomorrow?

Juggling Life: The Vitality of Balance

A healthy life goes beyond green smoothies and yoga — it’s about balancing present awareness with future goals, informed by past experiences.

Obsessing with ‘in-the-now’ might breed future regrets. Conversely, too much retrospection or futuristic thinking overlooks fleeting moments begging for present attention.

Avoid pitfalls of zealously embracing ‘living-in-the-now’ by acknowledging the importance of equilibrium. It’s a delicate recipe for a fulfilling life, where both present joy and future preparedness coexist.

Exploring the Dimensions of Present-Moment Awareness: Insights from Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor

In a compelling Pasion Struck podcast interview, I delved into the realm of present-moment awareness with Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a distinguished neuroanatomist trained at Harvard, whose research delves into unraveling the intricate mechanisms by which our brain constructs our perception of reality. Our illuminating discussion centered around her book “Whole Brain Living.”

Dr. Bolte Taylor introduces the notion of our “four characters” that collectively contribute to our experience. First, we encounter the left-thinking, rational brain, character one. Next is character two, representing the emotional tapestry interspersed through time — a thread interwoven with the pain of the past and the apprehensions of the future.

Character three emerges as the emotion of the present moment, a symphony played out by specific brain cells, including the amygdala, hippocampus, hypothalamus, and cingulate gyrus. This tissue within the right hemisphere is attuned to the rawness of the present, capturing sensations, experiences, and emotional currents as they unfold.

As we delve deeper into character four, the thinking tissue of the right hemisphere, a larger panorama emerges. Here, all things converge into an intricate web of interconnectedness, free from critique. While judgment resides in the left-brain characters, openness prevails in the realm of the present. In this openness, profound gratitude for existence flourishes — a sense of wonder for being part of a complex assembly of 50 trillion molecular geniuses, each endowed with unique abilities.

Dr. Bolte Taylor’s insights unveil the intricate interplay between these characters within us, illustrating how present-moment awareness isn’t just about being present but embracing the entirety of our inner landscape. It’s a journey of connection, a dance between characters that shapes our perception and enriches the tapestry of our lives.

Coming Back Home — Finding Harmony Between Past, Present, and Future

Imagine walking a tightrope, where balance is paramount to avoid an unwelcome fall. It’s a delicate art, just like maintaining equilibrium between your past, present, and future. Leaning too heavily in any direction might result in a tumble.

Your past shapes who you are, while your dreams propel you forward. Right in the middle is the pivotal now, where reflection and aspiration converge with action.

Man loosing balance while on a tightrope realizing the problem with living in the present

Navigating the Dance: Stepping Out and Coming Back In

To truly navigate this temporal dance floor requires some fancy footwork: stepping out from what’s happening right here, right now, when it serves us best. This might mean reflecting back on those “what was I thinking” moments or daydreaming about how sweet life could be if we just had X, Y, Z…

Reflecting on past mishaps or envisioning a brighter future isn’t about dwelling in regret or idle fantasies. It’s gaining wisdom from your personal blooper reel and setting meaningful goals that drive your actions. Research shows that goal-oriented individuals tend to achieve success compared with those who lack defined objectives. But once you’ve ventured into these other time zones — whether they’re behind or ahead of you — remember: You always have to come home.

The Art of Returning Home

Returning home means returning fully engaged with whatever’s unfolding before your eyes without losing sight of where you’ve been or blindfolded against where you’re heading.

Acknowledging naturally occurring emotions as they pop up instead of shoving them under some mental rug ensures natural negativity bias doesn’t color reality perception. Studies reveal this strategy enhances emotional well-being by reducing stress levels, ultimately contributing to making healthier choices and leading a fulfilling life.

The Problem with Living in the Present: A Balancing Act

We’ve all heard about the wonders of present-moment awareness. Living in the present isn’t always a positive experience. Sometimes, this whole ‘living in the now’ thing can backfire big time. In fact, fixating on the ‘here and now’ can sometimes lead to unexpected stumbles.

Immediate Pleasure vs. Long-Term Reward

You see, one problem with making present-moment awareness your only focus is that you might end up chasing short-term gratification like a dog who is after a squirrel.

Have you ever found yourself at a buffet, piling up your plate with appetizers and then realizing you’ve left no room for the main course or dessert? This scenario is quite similar to how we often approach life when living in the present moment. We seek immediate satisfaction — short-term gratification akin to those delicious but fleeting moments.

Consider the impulse buys, binge-watching marathons that replace workouts, or the allure of junk food over nutrition. These choices provide momentary pleasure but often lack the substance required for enduring satisfaction.

A Look into Long-Term Rewards

In contrast to this stands long-term rewards, which require patience and perseverance. They involve making decisions today that will benefit your future self — even if it means sacrificing some pleasure right now. For instance, saving money for retirement may not provide immediate joy compared to spending it on a luxury item; however, its value compounds over time, leading to financial security later down the line.

Deciphering ‘The Hedonic Treadmill’

Renowned psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky introduced the concept of ‘the hedonic treadmill.’ It suggests that we adapt swiftly to changes, including positive ones. We return to a baseline level of happiness after temporary spikes from short-lived pleasures.

In essence, while short-term fixes can briefly elevate our mood, they rarely sustain genuine contentment. Our ability to adjust swiftly to each experience raises expectations, necessitating an ongoing search for novelty to maintain the same level of satisfaction. This cycle can spiral into dissatisfaction when our needs are not consistently met.

Panic Attacks: The Uninvited Guests

Anxiety disorders, particularly panic attacks, are another downside associated with being overly focused on what’s happening right now without considering broader perspectives. These uninvited guests usually show up when you’re so engrossed in your current circumstances that potential solutions seem unreachable — kind of like trying to find Waldo during an earthquake.

Panic attacks aren’t just mentally exhausting; they could even lead to physical health problems like cardiovascular diseases if left untreated. Hence, stepping out of intense ‘now’ focus and adopting an objective perspective can significantly aid in their management.

Failing to Learn From Past Mistakes

Another pitfall lies in exclusively attending to the present while disregarding the lessons of the past. History can unwittingly repeat itself by focusing solely on the immediate, leading to recurring errors. Replicating these mistakes due to a lack of self-awareness undermines self-confidence and hampers progress toward your desired goals.

The Art of Time Travel: Five Strategies for Balancing Awareness

Now, let’s decode the antidote — the art of balancing awareness. Living fully and consciously requires embracing the intricate interplay of the past, present, and future. The present is magnetic, pulling us into its euphoria, but don’t be lured away from the wisdom that your past carries or the potential your future holds.

Embarking on this voyage of equilibrium, consider these strategies as your compass:

  1. Leaving Room for Reflection: Living in the present moment is undoubtedly captivating, but the journey doesn’t start and end here. Reflecting on past experiences provides an invaluable vantage point. Delving into your personal history reveals lessons that can prevent the repetition of mistakes and offer insights into your growth. You can identify patterns and behaviors that may elude your immediate awareness through reflection. These discoveries serve as guideposts, helping you make informed decisions that steer you away from pitfalls you’ve encountered before.
  2. Mindful Present-Moment Presence: While immersing yourself in the present is crucial, it’s equally important to maintain a broader awareness. Practice mindfulness to fully experience each moment while gently holding an awareness of your past and future ambitions. This empowers you to respond intentionally to the present while keeping sight of your overarching objectives.
  3. Strategic Future Focus: Envision your future with clarity and intent. Create a well-defined roadmap that aligns with your values, encompassing both short-term and long-term goals. By interweaving your present actions with your future vision, you ensure that every step you take today contributes to the unfolding narrative of your life.
  4. Embracing Impermanence: Recognize the transient nature of existence. Embracing impermanence allows you to let go of past regrets and anxieties about the future. By acknowledging the impermanent nature of each moment, you liberate yourself from the constraints of time and cultivate a profound acceptance of the ever-changing nature of life.
  5. Balancing Progress and Patience: Celebrate your accomplishments while nurturing patience for what lies ahead. Acknowledge the progress that you’ve made and understand that meaningful growth unfolds over time. By finding contentment in both present achievements and future possibilities, you maintain a balanced perspective that prevents you from becoming overly fixated on the present moment.

Integrating these strategies into your life means you’re no longer confined to the present. Instead, you’ll cultivate a harmonious relationship with time — one that incorporates the lessons of the past, the richness of the present, and the promise of the future. This mastery will allow you to embrace the full spectrum of life’s experiences while navigating a path of purpose and fulfillment.

Conclusion: A Harmonious Tapestry of Time

The allure of ‘now’ can sometimes blind us to future consequences or prevent reflection on past experiences. It is a nuanced art. As we explored the interplay of these temporal dimensions, it’s evident that living fully encompasses more than just dwelling in the present moment.

While the charm of immediate pleasures can be captivating, it’s essential to be wary of the potential blind spots it creates. When amplified by excessive present focus, our natural negativity bias can skew our perceptions and impede the realization of long-term dreams.

However, this isn’t a call to abandon the present; rather, it’s an invitation to navigate the corridors of time with intention. By incorporating reflective practices, you will glean invaluable insights from the past, enhancing your self-understanding and resilience. Simultaneously, charting a path toward future aspirations requires deliberate planning and patience.

Striking the balance is no mere feat. It necessitates finesse in decision-making, mindful indulgence, and a discerning awareness of long-term consequences. Just as a skilled tightrope walker maintains equilibrium through subtle adjustments, we, too, must harmonize our awareness across time’s dimensions.

The art of balancing awareness isn’t a destination; it’s an ongoing journey. In essence, living fully does not mean ignoring what’s behind or ahead but rather integrating all three dimensions — past, present, and future — into a harmonious whole.

I also wrote about the power of asking, which is essential for helping you get what you want in any situation.

Thank you for taking the time to engage with my perspectives. May your journey be filled with joy, growth, and fulfillment.

As a new reader, please check my personal growth and well-being stories reflecting my reviews, observations, and decades of research and interviews.

The Power of Choice, Overcoming Traumatic Brain Injury, Reverse Aging, Significance, Optimal Anxiety, Person of Courage, The Power of Hope, Being Stuck, Curiosity, Awe, 5 AM Club, Strong Moral Compass, Psychological Immune System, Playing The Long Game, Drama Addiction, Trust Building Exercises, Taking The Road Less Traveled, Why Passion is the New Currency, Unreseasonable Hospitality, Five Senses, Digital Addiction, When to Quit, Effortless Perfection, Mental Immunity, Sensory Experiences, The Value of Struggle, Overcome Challenges, Victim Mentality, Anger Management, Gratitude, Vulnerability, Free Will.

You might find more information about my professional background. You can listen to the #1 Alternative Health Podcast, Passion Struck, with John R. Miles. You may join Medium with my referral link to enjoy unlimited content.



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