Making a life that matters requires a balance between preparing for the future and being present in the moment, but where is the balance?
Be present today while preparing for tomorrow and planning for a year from now
Some of us (raising my hand) tend to focus so much on the future that we forget to be present today. On the other hand, it's easy to get so wrapped up in our day-to-day commitments that we forget to step back and look at the long-term big picture. A challenge for many of us is to plan sufficiently for the future without letting worries for the future cloud our present.
In a recent blog post, Marie Forleo points out the difference between planning, which happens in the present, and worrying, which takes us out of this moment. She says “Planning consciously for the future is one of the best tools to stay grounded in the present.”
If we listen to our heart, we know when we’ve crossed the line from planning to worry. The idea Marie is presenting is that if we’ve planned consciously and thoughtfully, we don’t have to worry about the potential consequences of being unprepared. One question Marie asks is “Do you have some future-based worries that present-moment planning could fix?”
Keep these ideas in mind as we talk about being present today, setting ourselves up for a good day tomorrow, and preparing for a wonderful experience a year from now.
1. Be present today
Another way to put this is we need to practice mindfulness.
What is it?
According to a Psychology Today article titled “The Art of Now: Six Steps to Living in the Moment”, mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment; “a state of active, open, intentional attention on the present.”
How it benefits us
Another Psychology Today article titled “Mindfulness and Being Present in the Moment” tells us, “Those who live in the moment tend to be happier, calmer and more relaxed, and appreciative. Mindfulness can also increase your ability to be in tune with your thoughts, emotions, and body sensations, which allows you to work with these human factors and communicate how you are thinking and feeling to both yourself and others.”
There's a ton of literature out there describing the physiological and psychological benefits of mindfulness:
“Mindfulness reduces stress, boosts immune functioning, reduces chronic pain, lowers blood pressure, and helps patients cope with cancer. By alleviating stress, spending a few minutes a day actively focusing on living in the moment reduces the risk of heart disease. Mindfulness may even slow the progression of HIV.
Mindful people are happier, more exuberant, more empathetic, and more secure. They have higher self-esteem and are more accepting of their own weaknesses. Anchoring awareness in the here and now reduces the kinds of impulsivity and reactivity that underlie depression, binge eating, and attention problems. Mindful people can hear negative feedback without feeling threatened. They fight less with their romantic partners and are more accommodating and less defensive. As a result, mindful couples have more satisfying relationships.”
Being in the moment doesn’t mean doing whatever you want with no thought for the consequences or the future. It means being where you are, whatever you’re doing (even planning), and savoring the moments–even the mundane ones.
How we can be more mindful and more present
- Practice single-tasking: Savor each experience and actually think about the task you’re doing, instead of letting your hands do one thing while your mind is somewhere else. It's fine to listen to a podcast while we fold clothes, or listen to music while we jog. But sometimes, consider turning off the distractions and actually focus on the experience of folding the clothes, or on the feeling of your feet hitting the pavement
- Train yourself to pay attention to your surroundings, what you're doing, what you're feeling. Set a reminder a few times a day to pause briefly, take some deep breaths, and ask yourself “How am I feeling right now?” “Am I doing the thing I should be doing right now?”
- Try meditation, which is practice in being present in the moment. If it’s new to you, try guided meditations using apps such as Headspace or Calm, or listen to podcasts such as Katie Krimitsos’s “Meditation for Women.
- Enjoy the things you have now, especially those things you’re saving for a someday that might not ever come. Set the table for Tuesday night dinner using the “good” china. Wear that beautiful silk blouse while you run mundane errands. Use your special stationery to write a thank you note to someone today.
2. Set yourself up for a good day tomorrow
Review your day
- What went well?
- Did you accomplish what you intended to? If not, why not? What can you do differently tomorrow?
- Use Benjamin Franklin’s 2 questions
- Morning – What good shall I do today?
- Evening – What good have I done today?
- Express gratitude – Keep a gratitude journal, and add something to it each evening
Look at your schedule for tomorrow, and think of what you can do to prepare. Prioritize your tasks. What can you do tomorrow that will make the biggest difference? Start the day off strong because you’ve already decided how best to begin.
Do a 10-minute tidy
- Office – tidy your workspace at the end of the work day
- Home – tidy the kitchen, living spaces
Get to bed at a reasonable time.
Establish an evening routine that helps you relax, wind down, ready to rest.
3. Lay the groundwork for where you want to be a year from now
According to the writer of “How to Juggle Planning for the Future vs. Enjoying the Present”, “The two major “areas” of our life which make the future an important consideration are:
Responsibilities: Your job, business, partner, family, children, etc.
Aspirations: Your dreams and goals.”
In order to manage those two areas and lay the groundwork for progress, we need to look ahead, but we can still be present in the exercise of doing so.
You'll find some ideas for laying that groundwork in TPW120: Year-End Wrap-Up and TPW070: Laying the Foundation for a Great New Year.
One simple approach is to imagine yourself a year from now, living exactly the life you want. What’s the same? What’s different? Then ask yourself: What do you need to do between now and then to get from where you are to where you want to be?
Don’t fool yourself that a change in your life will make you feel better. However you want to feel a year from now, you can choose to feel that way now.
Find the balance that works for you
That balance between being present today while preparing for tomorrow requires awareness and intention. There’s not a right way to do it; just focus on what works for you and makes you feel most peaceful. If you feel like what you’re doing isn’t working for you, try small changes, one at a time.
What do you think?
How do you practice mindfulness, being present? What approaches help you prepare for tomorrow and next year while still savoring the present? Please share them in the comments section below this post or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group or send me an email.
- How to be Present and Still Plan for the Future
- “The Art of Now: Six Steps to Living in the Moment”
- “Mindfulness and Being Present in the Moment”
- Benjamin Franklin’s 2 questions
- Katie Krimitsos’s Meditation for Women
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