By Ryan Humphries, CSCS
Plenty of spiritual “gurus” like to tell us that neither one of these time-frames actually exist, and if they do, it’s only in the context that we’re talking about them NOW. If you’ve done any exploring in the realm of personal development, this probably isn’t a new or novel concept for you.
Two thousand years ago, the Buddha said “Do not dwell on the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment”. In the 1960’s Ram Dass said “Be here now”. In 1997 Eckhart Tolle wrote “The Power of Now”. In 2015, The Weeknd said “I’m just tryna life life for the moment...” (Yeah, I just quoted the Weeknd and Buddha in the same paragraph). That’s how I roll.
Regardless of who you follow in this arena, they’re all essentially saying the same thing.
The PAST only technically exists as a memory and the FUTURE doesn’t exist at all because we don't know what will happen next. When it comes to both the PAST and the FUTURE, both only exist in our minds...one as a memory, and the other as a possibility.
But what about setting goals?
As someone who’s spent the last decade helping others achieve their goals and setting plenty of his own, I struggled at first with the concept of just “being here now”. I’m not only someone who frequently dreams of the FUTURE, but I also have a tendency to get caught up in the PAST...
When it comes to the PAST, it’s well known that the human memory is not all that reliable and that we often mis-remember important details. In court cases for example, it’s actually quite common for witnesses to falsely remember events that never even occurred. Think about that for a minute. If someone on a witness stand, under oath, could completely and unintentionally mis-remember an event that could change the fate of another human, how accurate do you think the memory is of your fifth-grade birthday party?
Now I’m not saying all memories are BS. I’m just saying that we don’t all have a clean hard drive we can reference for exact details. Sure, we have a pretty good idea of what happened, but we also have “the story” that we’ve created around the memory. The more we reference this story (which may or may not be true) the more likely we are to misinterpret the memory. Often, what we’re really remembering is how the memory made us feel emotionally.
Here’s a quick example. If someone has a childhood memory of burning a grilled cheese sandwich on the stove, they could easily create a story that they’re not a good cook. A grilled cheese sandwich was burned. That’s the event that took place, and that’s all. The story they may have chosen to remember (and repeat to themselves and others) is that they’re not a good cook. This is not a true story. The question we need to ask ourselves is, how many stories do we have floating around our head that are unconsciously dictating how we operate daily. More importantly, are we making future decisions based on stories from the past that aren’t true?
“I’m bad with directions”
“I hate public speaking”
“I don’t understand taxes”
“I’ve just never been athletic”
“Insert self-limiting bullshit here”
So, the PAST doesn’t really exist, got it. What about the FUTURE? Well, in order to get to the FUTURE....we have pull a Marty McFly and go back to the PAST :)
Ok, let’s say you’re attempting a new PR on your deadlift, or maybe you’re applying for a new job, or maybe you’re asking someone out on a date. What happens when you don’t lift the weight, you don’t get the job, or that person says no? What happens when you try again and again you don’t achieve the result you’re looking for? And again, and again. It doesn’t take too many NO’s for us to start telling ourselves stories.
Maybe I’m just not strong enough...
Maybe I’m not qualified for that position...
Maybe someone like them would never go out with someone like me...
Maybe, or maybe we’re unintentionally creating a future based on some bullshit story of the past.
Now what happens in the FUTURE when you actually learn the correct technique and you lift the weight? When you get your resume in the hands of the individual that really makes the decisions? When that potential partner says yes? Well, usually we tell ourselves one of two things.
Although number one seems like the obvious answer that we all should get behind, we often choose the latter. Why?
Well, when you’ve received 10 NOs and 1 YES, or better yet, 100 NOs and 1 YES, it’s pretty easy to dwell on what didn’t work, and completely forget about what actually did. Even when people seem to be crushing it in life, they often still don’t feel satisfied. They’re addicted to some sort of story of the PAST. Or, worse yet they're basing the FUTURE on the PAST. “Knowing” that it’s only a matter of time before the “NO” strikes again. Before we can’t lift the weight, before the job doesn’t work out, before the relationship takes a turn for the worse.
It's been said that depression happens when we dwell on the past, and anxiety happens when we dwell on the future (the source of this quote is pretty obscure, and is often attributed to Lao Tzu, but people weren’t really talking about anxiety or depression back then so it’s unlikely that he’s the source). Regardless of who said it, I think it's spot-f*cking-on.
Now I’m not a doctor and I’m not saying that people don’t suffer from these afflictions. But I would love for you to ask yourself the question, how often am I thinking about something that didn’t go the way I wanted it to in the PAST, OR, how often am I thinking about a potential negative outcome in the FUTURE? If the answer is more often than not, then you’re not alone. It’s in our DNA to overthink things. A significant part of what makes us human is the “what if” factor. What if I made this taste better? What if I could travel to another planet? What if I could find a cure? What if I had something to carry this thing in? Thanks to the “what if factor” we now have Cocoa Krispies, space travel, anti-biotics, and fanny packs.
We also have an epidemic of pharmaceuticals being prescribed for every little “what if” that pops into our mind. What if I'm depressed? What if I'm anxious? What if I don’t have enough energy? What if I have too much energy? Take this pill. Well, what if the answer wasn’t another pill with more side effects than most humans have stories? What if the answer is literally right here. Like right now. RIGHT HERE. THE PRESENT.
Want to stop thinking about the PAST? DO IT RIGHT NOW.
Want to create a different FUTURE? DO IT RIGHT NOW.
Some of you are calling bullshit RIGHT NOW. You're thinking that I'm oversimplifying things and that I'm not taking into consideration that some people just legitimately have dopamine issues and that they really do need meds. There are those cases....but do you think it's really 18% of the US??
Also, just because the PAST doesn’t currently exist, I’m not saying that it’s irrelevant. If you learned a valuable lesson in the PAST, one that you can use to your advantage, then take it and use it! And if you want to create a different FUTURE, then take the steps RIGHT NOW toward that FUTURE.
RIGHT NOW you can be the person that does the things that will get you closer to the FUTURE. Then you move into the next moment, and the next... (none of which exist yet until you create them)
Food prep, RIGHT NOW.
Pack your gym clothes, RIGHT NOW.
Ask out your crush, RIGHT NOW.
Apply for that job RIGHT F*CKING NOW!
Now obviously, you can't do all of those things at the same time. But you did just think about all of them when you read them. Some may apply to you and others not so much. What if, tonight (which is the FUTURE, which doesn't exist yet) instead of "thinking" about eating better, or "thinking" about whether or not you were going to workout the next day or "thinking" what if she says no? What if you caught yourself and decided to be present in the moment. Could you then take steps toward a potentially different FUTURE? My guess is yes.
Want to know when it’s really hard to be depressed or anxious? That’s right, it’s RIGHT NOW. When we’re taking action it’s nearly impossible to dwell on the PAST or the FUTURE. I dare you try to be depressed when your hands are covered in chalk and you're half way through a set of deadlifts. I dare you to get down on yourself about how you haven't been eating well when you're actually cooking a nutritious meal. Why is it difficult to be depressed in those moments? Because in those moments you're taking ACTION.
Now back to the FUTURE! If you believe that it's even remotely possible that we're predicting our FUTURE based on our PAST, especially if it's something that has happened over and over again; and, since we’re now aware that we're probably not remembering all the details, isn't it quite possible that our predictions could be way off?
So how does one create his or her FUTURE by LIVING IN THE MOMENT? The answer, I believe is in the question. In this moment, YOU DECIDE WHAT YOU’RE FUTURE IS GOING TO HOLD. There is literally no greater power than this moment, RIGHT NOW. You cannot live the PAST nor can you predict a FUTURE based upon it. This means that the only option is RIGHT NOW.
RIGHT NOW is what you have. RIGHT NOW was also the FUTURE when you began reading this, and which will be the PAST as soon as you’re done 😉.
Some folks will tell you that change doesn’t happen overnight. And although it is difficult to re-wire our brains, especially if you’ve spent a great deal of time dwelling in the PAST and ruminating about the FUTURE, if you think about what it takes to actually be here now, there is no time. Because RIGHT NOW is RIGHT NOW.
Look, I'm not some spiritual guru. I'm just a guy who's trying to be more PRESENT. I try to catch myself when I'm caught up in the PAST, and I bring my attention back to the NOW. I also make time to meditate (almost daily) intentionally being 100% in the moment. Even a few minutes a day of this has made a world difference in my relationships and how I see the world.
If you're happy as a clam and you're crushing life and not letting the PAST get in the way of your FUTURE, then cheers to you my friend! But if you're not exactly happy with where you are in your life, your career, your fitness level, your relationship, or anywhere else, then it's likely that you're anxious about what the FUTURE. holds. Maybe you're ashamed about what happened in the PAST. Whatever it is in the FUTURE that you’re nervous about, or whatever story from the PAST you think might be stopping you, remember that neither of those things exist. And what doesn't exist cannot change you.
You create change. And change happens RIGHT NOW.
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