“That’s the thing about life. You actually have to spend time living it. Or else what the hell did any of it really matter?” This was spoken by Amos Decker, David Baldacci’s main character in his book, Long Shadows (opens in a new link).
On the surface this statement seems so rational that we tend to dismiss it as being obvious; consequently, we give it little thought. But what does it mean to “spend time living life?” There are essentially three places where we reside psychologically and each determines whether or not we’re living life or merely existing. Those three places are: the past, the present and the future. Let’s examine each in more detail.
There are those among us who long for days gone by. Some of my generation long for the 50s so desperately that it’s their only frame of reference. Nothing that has happened since then has registered with them. Or if it has, what’s happened has disappointed them so much that they continuously long for those bygone days.
Others who live in the past do so because of the regrets they have. If they think of the present at all it’s to consider what their present might be if they had done things differently when they were younger. Taken to an extreme, these people may feel that they are life’s victims so why bother attempting anything new because it won’t turn out well for them.
Those who are focused on the future, dream of what might be. They do so without regard to what they’re doing today, or more specifically, what they’re not doing to make their dream a reality.
If they persist in this behavior, their dreams become increasingly illusive. As their dreams slip away they become resigned to a life of unfulfilled dreams. Their efforts, which were minimal if they existed at all, are stopped and they accept a life of disappointment.
Throughout this journey, from dream to disappointment, they fail to realize that by living in the future they failed to take the necessary actions to make their dreams a reality. How sad.
Those who live in the present, who are actually living life, appreciate the past. They find contentment in what they’ve achieved and are grateful for the lessons that helped them accomplish what they’ve accomplished.
At the same time, they have dreams for the future. Whether consciously or subconsciously, they realize that much of the joy of living is in the pursuit of their dreams. They also realize that contentment and desire are not mutually-exclusive concepts…that both are essential for a life well lived.
The difference between those who live in the present and those who live in the future is that those who live in the present view their dreams as goals that require action to be realized. It’s their willingness to take the action necessary to achieve their goals that makes the likelihood of achieving their goals so great.
They are not naive about what’s required to achieve goals, especially lofty goals. They realize that there is a learning curve involved. They know they’ll encounter obstacles, disappointment and frustration along the way. It’s inevitable. Yet they are so committed to achieving their goal that they welcome these challenges knowing that as they overcome each obstacle, each mistake, they are getting closer to realizing their dream.
The obvious question is “Which state are you living in?” More importantly, if you’re living in the past or the future, how do you make the transition to the present?
If you’re living in the past, if you’re not dreaming of what you want from the future, recall the disappointment you’ve been experiencing because things aren’t what they used to be. Then acknowledge the fact that you’ve not dreamed of a brighter future, consequently you’ve never taken action to create a future that would bring you joy.
Commit to answering the question “What do I want the future to be?” If your answer is “What it was in the past,” you haven’t made the mental transition to the present. You need to determine what you want based on today’s environment. Know that with your ability to learn and adapt, anything you dream is possible. We cannot dream of more than we’re capable of producing. We’re not wired that way.
Once you’ve determined what you want your future to be, take action. Nothing happens unless you take action. Identify the first three to five steps you have to take and take the first step. The fact that you have a plan of action, even if it’s only the first steps, will make you more confident in taking action.
For those of you who are living in the future, realize that you’re closer to success than those who live in the past. Take heart in that. The only thing you need to do is take action. You don’t have to overcome a previously unproductive mindset, all you have to do is act on your dreams.
One of the reasons you may not have taken action is that you haven’t identified the steps necessary to make your dream a reality. Identify the first three to five steps and act on the first step. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you’ll make inroads toward your dream and how much joy you experience in doing so.
Remind yourself that the obstacles you face, the mistakes you make, are evidence of the progress you’re making. This mindset helps you avoid disappointment and frustration as you move through the learning curve associated with the attainment of any dream.
For those of you who are living life, living in the present, keep doing what you’re doing. You already enjoy the contentment of what you’ve accomplished while also enjoying the pursuit of new, exciting goals. You are living life to the fullest. Keep up the great work…and teach others who may be living in the past or future.
For our kids
When you hear kids’ regrets, they’re living in the past. Help them see the folly of that by simply asking them “What did you learn from that experience? How will that help you in the future?” These simple questions will refocus their attention on the present and what’s possible for the future.
When you hear kids dreams for the future, but fail to see any action on their part, ask them “What steps do you need to take to make that happen? Are you willing to take those actions?”
Asking these questions focuses their attention on both the level of desire they possess for their dream and the action needed to make that dream a reality.
What’s so powerful in these questions is that you’re guiding them to living in the present without telling them to do so. As we all know, kids begin seeking independence, avoid being told what to do around age two. You can avoid their resistance by simply asking questions and allowing them to reach the conclusions on their own. That way they’re convincing themselves that they want to live in the present.
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