Estimated reading time: 9 mins
Want to be less stressed? Happier? And waste less time worrying? Me too, which is why I chose to Live for the Moment.
This ain’t no psycho-babble or trap to ensnare you into a cult. This is real, and it’s working.
I begun my ‘Journey to Fulfilment’ myself, and I haven’t looked back (until writing this post!)
My background of worthless worry and crazy nostalgia
My mom is a worrier – she could worry for our national team and win gold. So as a child of her bearing, I grew up as a worrier too. Through my early adult life, I let worry and FEAR rule my decisions. I took chances, but agonized ones. Thinking back, I generally felt unfulfilled and stymied – by myself.
My mom is also nostalgic, and often regaled past times of happiness and enjoyment. She would frequently tell me of times gone by where something humorous or amazing or beautiful happened, as a patch over her own pain from childhood.Which meant I would think back to moments of joy in my childhood and wish they were happening now. The good times were a safe place where the bad couldn’t penetrate. So in times of stress or worry, I would retreat into my memories.
It’s fair to say that I was living in the future, and worrying about it constantly, and living in the past – wishing past times of happiness could be brought back.. Do you feel this way too?
The meeting of two eternities, the past and the future… is precisely the present moment – Henry David Thoreau
This is where I was for most of my life, and following a few years of personal trauma and soul-searching, I decided that I must do something about it. It wasn’t easy (perhaps my last sentence portrayed I just ‘flipped a switch’) – well it was one of the toughest decisions I have made. Because it means that I had to give something up. Give up worrying; give up hankering after times gone by; give up avoiding the here-and-now.
My first step was to face my fears. So a bit about that…
Fear, as a terrible disabler
We humans developed the ability to worry and fear – a very complex mental process that probably took thousands of years to evolve – as a means of ensuring that we had food, shelter, protection from the elements and warring tribes. Worry was helpful because it meant that we didn’t stumble into bad times. So in this way it enabled us to be here today.
Where fear becomes a disabler is when we don’t do the things we want to in case we fail at it. In essence, we fear something that might not happen. It’s when we over-think something and talk ourselves out of it, and end up doing nothing but play safe.
But what happens is the negative effect – by not taking that chance, grabbing that opportunity – we can experience regret and/or a drop in confidence. Which (guess what?) means we’re even less likely to take the next chance and develop stress.
And worse of all – by not trying and taking that chance – we have failed anyway.
Invented problems, blockers and reasons for not doing
Invented problems are problems we create in order to avoid something. We can rationalize giving anything a wide berth, should we wish to. These problems can feel very real, and insoluble. For example, I might think that applying for that new job is going to be a big problem because I don’t have the exact experience to do it, as described in the job ad. But I do have other relevant experience. I would be blocking my option to take this job, if I believed that my other experience isn’t valuable to this employer. So I don’t apply for the job. When in fact I have not applied for the job because of some other fear – one that I won’t admit to myself because it is too painful to accept.
What did I fear? What blockers were I putting in the way of happiness and fulfilment?
- Fear that I couldn’t pay the bills and keep my kids in food, clothing and schooling. (OK so how is worrying going to ensure those things then?)
- Fear that I couldn’t realise my dreams. (What good are dreams doing for me right now, except for putting false pressure on me?)
- Fear that I can’t eventually retire in comfort. (OK – so define comfort. I hadn’t, so what am I worried about?)
- Fear that I can’t bring back the happy time. (I don’t have a time machine – the happy times are gone. Nice memories, but I can’t re-live them.)
- Fear that I am useless and an imposter. (Am I really useless, or is it that I am just out of my comfort-zone and in a state of learning and gaining new experience?)
My fears were quite useless – especially when considering the ‘ridiculous’ nature of them.
But what if we were to take that chance, now, and accept that failure could be a consequence? Not an unreasonable thought.
Where do I find time for enjoyment?
And consider this: if in any given situation, I spend all my time thinking and worrying about what will happen next, then what is the point in doing anything at all?
- Why go on vacation if all you worry about is the work piling up?
- Why have a tasty meal if I worry about piling on the calories?
- Why take in a movie if I worry about if my car will be unmolested in the public parking lot?
- Why have fun, if I have bad things going on in my life?
These almost seem ridiculous in written form, but they’re real thoughts. Do you have thoughts like these?
What is the point in living if we don’t find enjoyment in it?
The path to self-fulfilment
What I do NOW is the only thing I can control. The past has gone, and the future comes from the choices I make right here. Consequences from what I do now will be real, and of my own making. If I do nothing now, and retreat into my past happy places, then what happens next is of somebody else’s doing.
So the only way to be self-fulfilled is to personally make fulfilment happen, live it through, and accept that I may make some mistakes along the way, but use these mistakes as a learning exercise.
I decided that this is the way it has to be for me. The alternative is to stay as I was.
I didn’t expect to be a transformed being overnight, and nor did that happen. Living for the Moment takes time, so to speak.
As I say to the people I coach – Rome wasn’t built in a day; and it’s better to try and fail rather than not try at all. A pair of major cliches, I know, but they ring true.
It helped me to develop three mantras:
- The irrational voices in my head can take a hike
- If you’re going to fail, fail fast and fix the situation
- Whatever happens, immerse yourself in it
And most importantly, Living for the Moment required me to recognize that the voices in my head were talking, but ignoring most of what they say. It takes inner strength, resolute honesty and personal accountability to do that. I wasn’t great at it at first, but over time (and I mean months) I became more adept at it.
I found that the more I ignored those voices, and the more I did in the moment, the easier it became to repeat it.
After some time (probably 10 months) of adapting myself to live more in the moment, I discovered that I could achieve new things. Small things at first, that led to greater things:
- I could say NO to things that I didn’t want to do
- I did the things I didn’t want to do to get them out of the way
- I reacted faster to urgent matters
- I was much more honest with people about feelings and what I wanted
- I took more chances
These things – changes in behavior – in many ways felt natural and I didn’t need to ‘do’ them, just let them happen. I lived in the moment because, in each moment, I made the right decision.
And what stemmed from a painful decision, and a lot of hard work, paid off. And it is AMAZING.
Now if you’re wondering if you can do this too, well, let me give say two things:
- If you believe that you can’t do it, then you are right. That is until…
- When you believe that you CAN do it, then you are right.
It is only your lack of belief that is getting in the way, and the only way to gain belief is to TRY.
Life is only available in the present moment. If you abandon the present moment you cannot live the daily moments of your life deeply – Thich Nhat Hanh
Recklessness and hedonism
This post on Greatist will tell you that Living for the Moment is bad advice. Read it, and discover why. It presents an interesting argument. But I don’t think it is bad advice at all (see all above!) – however I will say one thing with acquiescence that they make a great point that Living for the Moment can be reckless, if interpreted the wrong way. Perhaps I should use some contrasting statements here:
- Living for the Moment IS to stop worrying about things that may or may not happen
- Living for the Moment IS NOT avoiding planning for things that might go wrong (i.e. we should still purchase insurance where appropriate!)
- Living for the Moment IS to not let past failings cloud our judgment and limit our beliefs
- Living for the Moment IS NOT ignoring past failures and repeating them (i.e. don’t put your hand back in that flame again!)
- Living for the Moment IS to stop over-thinking stuff and to let it happen more naturally
- Living for the Moment IS NOT jumping feet first into situations that could turn out to be calamitous
- Living for the Moment IS to be more immersed into the present to sense our experiences fully
- Living for the Moment IS NOT to be so immersed in the present that other important things are ignored
- Living for the Moment IS learning from the past, but not letting it rule the future
- Living for the Moment IS NOT taking reckless chances
The Art of Now: Six Steps to Living in the Moment (Psychology Today)
Living in the moment really does make people happier (The Guardian)
Why “Living in the Moment” Is Bad Advice (Greatist) (I don’t agree with this!)
Photo Credit: house51