Living in the Now.
Learning how to live in the now is one of the greatest skills you could ever practice, some people go to great extremes to get back to the now, whilst others get stuck in either their past or the future.
Today whilst watching my children play, they were quite simply caught in the moment, they were totally engrossed by what they were doing, and they had no cares in the world, but when we get older we sometimes lose the ability to get back into the moment, if we are lucky there are times when we get into our ‘zone’ or a flow state and get back to now but for a lot of people living in the present is not something they do often enough.
I’ve got patients who are stuck in the past, their now is a collection of memories, they spend their days reliving past events, typically negative events, asking questions like ‘why did this happen to me’, their now is filled with loss, regret and pain from their past.
They are stuck they can’t move on, they can’t let go, they sit their playing back old memories that carry with them strong emotions.
So if you spend your time ruminating over past events, the ‘could have done this’ and the ‘should have done that’ it gives you very little time to focus on the present to make your situation better now.
Imagine trying to drive a car on a busy road only by looking in the rear view mirror, there’s no doubt that very soon you are going to crash.
There are another set of people, particularly those that seem to be natural worriers, and those that suffer from anxiety problems, these people spend their time worrying about the future, typical fears may be that of what could go wrong, they make up scenarios of tragedies, possible failures, and of bad things that could happen, they have the mindset of a worrier.
These people look beyond the present into a future that is far too far away for them to influence, and with all of the catastrophising they do their future is not a nice place it’s a place pain as they spend their day mulling around in their head the worst thing that could possibly happen.
Just like how your memories carry emotion from the past, your thoughts of the future also do the same, and even if these bad events haven’t even happened you can still get yourself to feel as if they had, and this may be why really anxious people fail to do the things they need to do because they have already convinced themselves of worst that could happen, and all of the things that could ever go wrong, they fail to take opportunity because of the fear of failure and in doing so they fail to take action in the present.
There is also another set of people, ‘the dreamers’ those that spend their time dreaming about the future, they make the future so vivid and compelling that they forget that it’s just a dream and they fail to take action to get there, their goals then become way off dreams that drift further away.
Dreaming about a compelling future is a great thing to do, but without planting the seeds in the present to make it happen all these dreams will ever be is dreams.
‘Don’t judge each day by the harvest you may reap but by the seeds that you plant’.
Being able to let go of the past, learning how to see past events in a different way and letting go of the emotion memories carry with them can be achieved with therapy, yet not everyone needs therapy, for some people just realising that they are stuck in the past is all they need to start making the changes they need to make.
For those with worries and anxiety problems we will cover that more thoroughly in the section (in our upcoming book) on ‘thought pathways’, for now all you need to consider is that if you spend more time in the present you will naturally find you are spending less time worrying about the future, and this is as good start as any.
The dreamers amongst us need to start making those dreams come true and start taking small positive steps towards them, and learning how to set these dreams as goals is something I will cover in later articles.
Living in the Now.
People go to great lengths to get back to the moment, and not all the ways to do it are as healthy as others, there are those that dull their past with drink, there are those that rely on drugs to make the present seem more vivid, other people prefer the de-stressing exhalation of a cigarette to switch off their worries and bring them back to the now.
A patient recently told me she can get through two packets of chocolate digestives in an afternoon when she was worried about something, it was the sweet taste of the chocolate firing the pleasure centres in her brain that drove her to do this, in that short moment she had some form of release, and because it was short lived it wasn’t long before she reached for another biscuit.
I also talked recently to a patient who self harmed, she told me that cutting herself was the only time she could stop her worries, it gave her release from them, here she was relying on a knife and the pain of it cutting her skin to slice through her worries and get her back to the now, but believe me there are much more simple to do this than resort to self harm.
There’s activities we could all do that focus our attention in a positive way, for some it’s reading a book, listening to music, walking in the country side, playing an instrument, exercising, having a hobby or just about any healthy pass-time for that matter.
Recently there’s been a big interest in mindfulness, Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy has been recognised to help with depression and anxiety and also to help maintain a healthy mental health.
I’ve meditated now for 20 minutes almost every day for the last two years, I have a busy job and what I’ve found since starting to meditate is that my stress levels have dropped, my energy levels have increased and I can focus for longer without my mind wandering off on tangents.
Being more centred and living in the now is something that can be learned, it can be practiced, and being in the now is the only place you can make a difference in your life.
‘The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.’ – Buddha