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I often find myself wondering about the past, missing the present, and alternating between dreading the future and being excited for it. I suppose that’s part of being human. However, it can become unhealthy if we spend any excess amount of time in one of those three time zones – past, present, or future.
I used to spend an unhealthy amount of time in either one of those zones. Most often, I would either be stuck in the past or dreading the future. Being in the present isn’t so bad, except I have found if I am stuck in the present for too long, I don’t effectively learn from the past or plan for the future.
So, as you see, even those who recommend fully living in the present are missing out on some key helpful aspects of their life experience.
Here are my tips for learning from the past, living in the present, and being excited for the future without neglecting any of the other areas.
Living in the Past
# 1 – Don’t let the past define you.
There are hundreds of stories about individuals who grew up in a hard environment, or who have experienced a difficult relationship or difficult circumstances, and they overcame it and became someone who wouldn’t repeat their own mistakes or those from people around them. To an extent, yes, past experiences can subconsciously influence us. That’s where we use the present time area to make a choice and change how we are going to react.
# 2 – Deal with the past in the present time
There is a time and place to deal with the past. If negative experiences in your past are heavily influencing your present experience, the time to deal with that is very soon in the future. Confide in a trusted friend, see a therapist, or seek medication management. All are valid ways to start dealing with your past so it doesn’t continue to negatively affect you.
# 3 – Fully accept the past
Accepting the past – truly accepting it – means forgiving yourself and others for any misgivings, and accepting that unfortunate events are part of the human experience. But where there is darkness, there is also light, and with sorrow, there is also joy. Fully accepting the past allows us to embrace this duality and forge ahead.
# 4 – Learn from the past
Note that you must complete step three – fully accepting the past – before you can learn from the past. If you try to learn from the past while not accepting it, you risk emotionally beating yourself up or unnecessarily blaming others. In essence, what you learn from the past under those circumstances will be flawed by negative emotions and attachments. To learn from the past, first accept it, and then learn whatever it is you need to learn.
Living in the Present
# 1 – Remember to Breathe
Often, when we are experiencing anxiety about the past or future, we hold onto that by literally holding our breath. Aside from the ever-present anxiety that we are going to pass out, this also keeps us from fully experiencing the present. So, bring your full experience back to your breath. Learn to recognize when you are experiencing anxiety about the past or future. Then, breathe, and concentrate fully on your breathing. This is otherwise known as mindfulness, and there are many resources out about this.
# 2 – Fully experience your emotions
This isn’t the same as fully acting them out. This is experiencing them in your mind, accepting that you are feeling this way, allowing it to peak, breathing, and returning to a state of calm. If you wonder how resilient you are to this type of emotion management, put yourself in your car on the road and wait until someone cuts you off. The deeper and quicker you can go through this process, the more emotionally resilient you are. Living in the present doesn’t always mean you’re calm all the time. It means effectively managing the emotions you will inevitably experience.
# 3 – Play nice with the other two areas of Past and Future
Living in the present doesn’t mean neglecting the past and future. It means balancing the three and effectively managing your experiences of them. After all, if we are always concentrating on our breath, we will miss those thoughts or plans that can positively affect our future. Balance is key.
Living in the Future
# 1 – Throw out your negative Nancy glasses
Those glasses aren’t doing you a darn bit of good. In fact, they are obstructing your vision of what the future actually could be. This is about using the present to recognize a negative thought about the future, worry, and anxiety. If you can recognize those negative thoughts, immediately counteract it with a neutral or positive one. If you don’t believe these more positive thoughts at first, that’s okay. Do it enough times, and your mind should eventually start coming to neutral or positive thoughts at default. You will find that those negative thoughts about the future rarely turn out.
# 2 – Accept that the future hasn’t happened yet
Things can change. The butterfly effect is a real thing, and things can change on the turn of a dime. Allow your mind to be open to the wonderful magic that is the future and seemingly random turns of events.
# 3 – Plan for your future
After doing the previous two steps, plan for the future. Set goals. Take daily steps to work toward your dreams. Fully envision where you want to be in the next month, year, or 5 years. The future can be bright. You just have to take it into your hands.
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