I was at a large birthday bash in celebration last weekend and as the afternoon progressed everyone got a little loose. Our discussion turned to the “evil twin” of one of the party goers. His twin is the one that makes poor decisions when he’s had a few. Whilst we were having a laugh, it reminded me of other similar examples to the evil twin.
My husband calls it “Last Night Pete" (we’re giving him a pseudonym, he’s not really Pete). For those that aren’t familiar with Last Night Pete, that’s the version of Pete that made that poor decision to do something that felt good in the moment. Present day Pete often regrets decisions made by Last Night Pete. Last Night Pete didn't recognise the limits to living in the present.
With mindfulness being in vogue right now, we’re bombarded with the advice to "live in the present moment" and statements like “you only have now.”
Being present requires us to let go of distractions, quiet the noise of our minds, and immerse ourselves in the here and now. By practising mindfulness and awareness, we become attuned to the beauty and richness of each passing moment. Simply put, being in the moment makes us feel fully alive.
But we can’t always sacrifice the past and the future for our present. Although the advice to live in the moment comes from a good place, it is one-dimensional and fails to grasp the need for nuance and the reality of what’s required to live the most fulfilling life possible.
The limits of living in the moment
As a psychotherapist, you’ll often hear me share that everything has a boundary. That’s true for the anxiety we feel, the headaches we experience, and the benefits we get from living in the moment.
While correctly aligned actions in the present move us forward, misguided efforts in the present drag us down. Correcting ourselves without visiting our past and visioning our future is difficult, if not impossible.
If you’re struggling to believe this statement, consider the need from the point of view of someone living with an addiction.
A person with a gambling addiction may only be aware of their discomfort when deciding to self-soothe with another bet. That person will use gambling as a tool to soothe feelings and emotions such as boredom, anger, guilt, shame or frustration. They cannot overcome their addiction as long as they only live in the present. Doing so would require them to learn from their past and recognise the consequences of their actions on their future.
Living only in the present hinders our progress
We need the past and the present to make better decisions in the moment. Whether we’re trying to stop procrastinating, build our business or career, or become better parents. Solely fixating on the present moment can lead to a myopic view of life.
The goal isn’t to ignore the present, but to live in the present, embrace the past and engage with the future to propel ourselves and our vision forward.
The Wisdom of the Past
Our past experiences, both positive and negative, shape us into who we are and fill our pool of wisdom. By reflecting on and learning from our experiences, even the painful ones, we gain invaluable insights that can guide us in the present.
For the person with a gambling addiction, looking into the past helps them understand where their actions stem from and how they got to where they are today. They can then bring that wisdom to the present moment and take action in the present that aligns with the person they want to become.
Acknowledging our experiences, mistakes, and failures allows us to grow and evolve.
Yes, dwelling on the past can trap us in regret, resentment, or nostalgia. All of which, in excess, stop us from making progress.
By embracing vulnerability and self-compassion, we free ourselves from the burden of shame and regret and can inspect our past more objectively. Facing our past with empathy and understanding makes growth possible.
The Possibilities Of The Future
While the past is the source of wisdom, we get our dreams and aspirations from the future. We can set goals and envision the life we desire to give us direction, purpose, and a sense of meaning.
By nurturing our dreams, we tap into our innate creativity and allow our imaginations to run. We create a vision for the life we want to live.
Our future provides us with consequences for our actions. A person with an addiction can make better decisions when considering their impact. They consider the future costs of giving in to the discomfort and are motivated by the benefits of saying no.
The future allows us to correct in hindsight. Ignoring the future can leave us stagnant, unfulfilled, and disconnected.
At the same time, spending too much of our time in the future means we’re unlikely to make our aspirations come true. Ideally, we want to cultivate a balance between the past, the present and the future.
Integrating Past, Present, and Future
Being aware of the tenses of time allows us to navigate life's challenges and opportunities with grace and resilience. It will enable us to develop the capacity to learn from our experiences, embrace the beauty of each moment, and actively shape the life we envision.
Finding a balance between the past, present, and future is not about perfection. It is about embracing the messiness and imperfections of our human experience. We can cultivate gratitude for the interconnectedness of these dimensions.
The past has led us to the present, and the present is shaping our future. Each moment is interwoven with the others, providing the foundation for growth, transformation, and possibility.
Have a winning day!