I always here a lot of self-improvement blogs who say “in order to remove anxiety, one must think in the present. Don’t worry too much about the future or your plans, etc.”
But, logistically, step by step, what does that really mean? I think in practice, in reality, it’s hard to be 100% in the present. You’re going to be thinking about the future to some extent (i.e. how much $$$ will I make to pay off the bills, what school I will go, what will my career will be, how will I contribute to society).
Let’s talk about what the PROCESS of thinking of the present. I experienced an aha moment today, actually,
So, for me, I like city planning and I always wonder what I will be doing with it in the future. However, the more thinking one does, the more ambitious one gets. The more one thinks about the future, the more expectations one gets, and the more stressed one gets; hey, if you want to do so many things in life, you will eventually have to work more harder because you’ve built up a value system of working your butt to meet those expectations.
That’s what I consider future thinking because your mind is in the PROCESS of building expectations. I’ve been there before, thinking about grad school, my contribution to society. Future thinking – to a certain extent – can be good, but if left unbalanced, can be really bad for your health. You forget to reflect on what you are currently thinking about now, and whether what you’re currently doing now is FUN/worthwhile versus the future.
I realized this in two situations today:
I was walking down the street to do my morning walk, and I started to listen to a YouTube video on successful language learning strategies. All of the sudden, I’m already immersed with the process of learning a language. The tips: attitude, motivation, time, making mistakes, deeply resonate with me and I am listening to the speaker; I break away from thinking about city planning experiences and expectations, and I start to think about what I could be doing to improve my language learning today (ok, a little bit of future thinking here, haha, but at least it’s focused on today rather than five or ten years from now).
Another experience I have was this Friday, I was doing some sketching/drawing at a nude model session. While a lot of people have told me that it’s hard to draw, I personally believe with a little practice, you can become very comfortable with drawing (I am not an art major, nor did I did drawing extensively in high school). For me, just the process of drawing a person multiple times, carefully, sketching out the proportions, getting the face, arms, legs right, making sure the shading on the back, the arms, legs were all careful – I find this process a lot more productive then any other thinking/pondering of the future.
If I am not using my hands, my voice, if I am not drawing, if I am not building something, if I am not physically movement, if I am not doing something specifically tangible to a lot of people, I don’t think thinking will get you far about the future.
Why: it puts you in the process/control of what you can do right now, at this moment. You are practicing your craft, honing your craft. You’re also experiencing something rather than looking forward. When you are experiencing something at the present, you have the ability to evaluate, reflect, piece-wise, step-by-step, whether the thing you are thinking about in the future is worth thinking ….. or not.
I guess another way to put this question into perspective: what can you do today to make your experience in life better rather what can you think about from five or ten years from now. Why? Life is too unpredictable, and things will change. You cannot hold on to your plans so easily.
I think this also raises some lifestyle questions too: what about your lifestyle you can change now versus the future lifestyle you want years from now? Is the lifestyle you want to live in the future better/worse than what you are doing right now (this will differ from person to person)? Being present thinking requires you to reflect on experiences today rather than 10 years from now.
Thus, this really means: your experiences now and how you react to those experiences today will reflects what next steps you should do. And yes, those experiences will be hard work and won’t be easy, but only you yourself can reflect whether to continue based on how you feel.
In our Facebook time, YouTube time, LinkedIn era, social network, information overload time, it can be really easy to be passively dreaming and admiring others rather than making a big decision or making small steps to experience the present.
I guess, for me, this realization makes me conclude: your intentions should be clear (and always honed as time goes on), but you really shouldn’t ponder too much about where your future or what can you do later; it will be more stressful in the long run. Think what you can do today, break it down to little steps. If you realize your experience doesn’t work out, reflect on your experience, see how you react, and decide today what next step to take the next day.
Let go of your future ambitions, and see what you can do now!