What came to mind when you read this sentence stem? Did a couple of goals pop into mind?
On my list during my lifetime included: when I pass this test, when I finish school, when I get that job, when I go on vacation, when I get married, when I have a family, when the kids are independent, when I get promoted, when I retire.
Sometimes those goals were not quite as lofty or distant: when I get home, when I finish that project, when/if I get that grant.
I’m old enough to have actually achieved most of those milestones. And yes, I am actually happy when I reach one of those milestones.
For about a nanosecond.
Given this bad habit of living in the future, writing my annual report has become one of the best days of my year. That exercise requires me to acknowledge all that I got accomplished during the past year instead of my usual MO of just breezing by those milestones without even so much as a mental pat on the back.
Have I just gotten into some weird habit of perpetual delayed gratification? Or have I developed some masochistic Puritanical guilt for enjoying life? Regardless, my underlying dysfunctional belief system includes the lie that I have control over the future and that my external world determines my happiness.
Living in the past is just as bad. Living in the past may mean ruminating on ‘what if’ regret statements or harboring resentment from past transgressions. Sometimes these misdeeds happened decades ago; I sometimes hear (adult) people complaining about resentments that have occurred during childhood.
The dysfunctional belief system around living in the past includes the lie that someone else or something else from my past is in control of my current happiness.
You can see the fallacy of both future/past foci: that external events control my happiness. No. Rather, how I choose to arrange my inner world determines my happiness.
Furthermore, that choice is pretty much the only thing I have any control over at all. I have absolutely no control over the past except for how I choose to view the past. I have little or no control, really, over the future. I can influence the future, yes, but control? No. 9/11 taught me that lesson.
So it seems to me that the best option is living in the present. Living in the now means to be totally engaged with my present reality. The task at hand. My immediate environment. The person I am with. Whether I choose to judge my current circumstances as fantastic, pretty good, or awful, or to just acknowledge it without judgment. That choice will determine how I feel in this moment.
Consciously make that choice in this moment to create love, awe, and inspiration and refuse the choice that create anxiety and resentment. It’s in your control.