We all have a tendency to project ourselves in to the future – hence our struggle to remain anchored in the present.
Why do we struggle so much to live in the present?
I believe we are programmed to look to the future in order to anticipate and avoid danger, to obtain a greater pleasure and rewards. We also have the ability to “travel” into the past and saviour memories of good times.
Over time, technology has advanced, we have developed taste for the power to compress time and space, both in the future and in the past.
Our thoughts have sped up so much that we have ended up losing interest in the present. New technology allows us to multiply messages that are not constrained by time, (simultaneous emails, text and tweets). This leads to the present, and therefore reality, giving way to the symbolic and the virtual.
Doesn`t new technology also allow us to think and create?
Yes of course, but with the new technology the more the mind accelerates, the more it is disassociated from the body, then it becomes exhausted and lost. We struggle to slow down because the speed of new technology – its images, words and ideas – remove us from the present.
It’s addictive. It (momentarily) dissolves anxiety and makes us feel all-powerful. yet a racing mind causes exhaustion, because our physical and emotional needs are no longer being respected.
What are the benefits of living in the moment?
I believe that by living in the moment, we can be more conscious of our emotions and feelings which will allow the body and mind to realign.
Being self-aware in the moment allows us to identify our emotions, which relieves the tension generated by the absence of dialogue between emotional signals (my muscles are tense, my breathing is rapid) and their manifestation (I am angry).
If I cannot say to myself that I am angry, then I cannot deal with my anger, because it’s as if I have become oblivious to what is happening with my body. So lifting the tension makes me feel better, because it gives me a feeling of control – nothing is worse than not knowing what is worrying you. We need to take ownership of the events in order to have control of them, rather than them controlling us.
Without being anchored in the present moment – in reality – it is impossible to activate this process.
How can we slow down our minds?
I believe, that with some very simple things we can slow our minds down to enable us to live in the moment.
When you walk, focus on each step you take, concentrating on the colour of the path.
For example:– The softness, shade of green, length of the grass.
For example:- When listening to music concentrate on the rhythm and not the melody.
Allowing your mind to wander, you can also acknowledge the rewarding nature of daily activities.
For example:- (following on from the last blog) When you drink a glass of water to quench your thirst, take time to feel its benefits and simply say to yourself, Drinking makes me feel good.
Mindfulness encourages us to anchor ourselves in the present moment, but for many, this can be frustrating or painful.
Savouring the present is only possible if the present is agreeable. if it’s uncomfortable or painful, then it’s pointless. We are not programmed to come to a standstill when we are in discomfort or pain, but rather to flee such troubles and activate, if possible our pleasure – reward system.
That said, an anxious person who obsesses over what the future holds may find relief and support by focusing on only the present.
A depressed person, however, will find this impossible and they may feel they have nothing to live for at this point in time.
More usually, if you are stuck in a frustrating or uncomfortable situation, taking a brief break to tune your body and mind, thus allowing you to see things more clearly and make decisions more calmly.
How can we differentiate between normal and necessary planning for the future and anxious speculation?
To reach goals it is right and necessary to anticipate potential problems and to plan for a range of solutions. Projecting ourselves into the future is part of human evolution – we anticipate a better future to improve our living conditions, to obtain certain benefits, such as pleasure, security and power. In contrast, anxious speculation has nothing to do with this process, since it is exclusively negative. The person doing it does not expect their life to improve, they simply want to avoid being taken by surprise when the “worst” happens. They are ruled by fear of what might happen, not of what actually does happen, which means they automatically think the worst.
Anxious speculation is characterised by an exclusive fixation on negative scenarios and a permanent state of hypervigilance, while normal anticipation involves realistic risk assessment.
A major strand of the modern therapy, which includes positive psychology and cognitive behavioural therapy, does not focus on the past, but works on the present to improve life now and in the future, there are benefits to this approach.
It is difficult, if not impossible, not to take the past into account. Events and relationships mould us in one way or another, and result in beliefs that become our own perspective on life. These beliefs may be negative, even erroneous, but we can’t replace them overnight with better or more truthful ones. I do think it is important to reconcile people with their past and to help them understand it, which will allow them to make links between cause and effect. This doesn’t mean blaming the past for every problem and all dysfunctional behaviour in the present, however. Equally, we should not deny the capacity of positive psychology to neutralise harmful behaviours and beliefs. It might sound a bit cliched but we all have our own life stories and our own life journeys, our own pasts, presents and futures we much work as an individual, there is no one size fit all here…