What is “the future”? It is a subjective concept that looks different for almost everyone. The one thing that we’re certain about though is that it is a time, that is not in the present… a time that is yet to come.
So why do we obsess over something that currently has no bearing on our lives? Why does it seem like we put more focus on what is to come than what is? What is actually happening to us right now.
Why are we so obsessed with the future?
If you’re into sociology, psychology or even conspiracy theories you’ve probably thought about this before: why the future has this hold on us.
An avid reader of the blog shared this article with me. While I wouldn’t generally share anything religious on here, I found it to be interesting how Taoism views the future. In my somewhat limited knowledge, most religious sects focus on the future and what will be in store for us when we level up and meet the final boss. But, what Taoism teaches people (now I am not saying you should convert, just hold on to these principles) is that if we are mindful, living in the present, meditating and taking it all in… then we’d probably be better off.
Have you ever stopped to think about how much time you spend thinking, worrying, lamenting over the future? This article stated that humans spend almost half their time thinking about the future. This leads to distraction from the task at hand and ultimately unhappiness.
"Human beings have this unique ability to focus on things that aren't happening right now. That allows them to reflect on the past and learn from it; it allows them to anticipate and plan for the future; and it allows them to imagine things that might never occur," said Matthew Killingsworth, a doctoral student in psychology and lead author of the study.
"At the same time, it seems that human beings often use this ability in ways that are not productive and furthermore can be destructive to our happiness," he added.
We spend so much time antagonizing over what we want our future to be like, we forget to actually live the life we have right now. Studies show that we re a lot happier when we are focusing on the moment – having a conversation, exercising and having sex. Things that [usually] take up 90% of our concentration.
Principles to help you live in the present
The four principles of Taoism that can help us centre our lives in the present are:
- Simplicity, Patience, Compassion : Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being. Patient with both friends and enemies, you accord with the way things are. Compassionate toward yourself, you reconcile all beings in the world.
- Going with the flow : When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.
- Letting Go : If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to. If you are not afraid of dying, there is nothing you cannot achieve.
- Harmony : All things carry the yin (femininity) while embrace the yang (masculinity). Neutralizing energy brings them into harmony.
These four ways to understand the world will help us to be more mindful. Being compassionate, going with the flow, learning to let go and understanding that there is harmony/balance in all things. I know it’s hard to let go of worrying about the future, because it ultimately decides who we become…but what you choose to do right now, in this moment … decides who you will become. These everyday choices we make also alter our future and spending time worrying about your future is probably not the best use of our time.
Manage your energy
There are some schools of thought that believe the less you think about something, the better you will do at it. Now, I am not sure if this is exactly right but I have a little story. In Jamaica we have school-leaving exams for preparatory/primary school (this would be akin to elementary school in North America) and we also have them for high school. When I was in prep school their strategy to help us prepare for these exams was literally to do nothing. My teachers encouraged us to go home and sleep. They said we already did enough work at school so we deserved to rest. I didn’t understand the magnitude of this exam either, after all it decides your future – the high school you will move on to and what kind of life you would have access to after that (college, work, the whole nine yards). I did pretty well on those exams, taking the advice of my teachers to sleep and breathe through any difficult questions.
When you’re feeling stressed, do nothing
The school-leaving exams in high school were a much bigger deal. I knew this would affect my chances of a tertiary education. But my father, having been an educator and someone who marked these exams, told me to relax (again!). He advised me to sleep when I was tired and to take a breath when I was unsure of any answer, and then calmly approach it. Because of this advice (even though it sounded crazy during exam prep) I was able to get almost perfect scores for all the areas I took. Even my father was shocked, and one of my aunts asked if I was sure that those were my grades.
Not the best examples, but now you see that NOT WORRYING about the future can actually give you some pretty decent results. Results you don’t even know you’re capable of. So, what do you do to be more present:
- Breathe. Take few deep breaths to try to centre yourself, to bring yourself back to the present.
- Sounds. While you close your eyes and take a few breaths, think about the sounds you’re currently hearing. This is a technique used in meditation to bring you back to the present.
- The Source. Maybe you’re feeling anxious about the future, try to identify where this anxiety is coming from. What triggered this fear or moment of discomfort?
- Work through it. Whatever it might be, take some time to remind yourself that it will all work out. If it’s something you need to spend more time with, spend the time so you can erase these fears. Keep telling yourself that working through the present will change the outcome.
- Let go. At some point we have to come to terms with the fact that if we can’t change it now then we have to let it go. Letting go of the thoughts that are caging us and keeping us in unhappiness and fear will not only help us to have a clearer mind, but it will open us up to more possibilities for a better future.
I know it’s hard, but let’s try to focus more on the now, let go of our fears and remember that the future isn’t real.