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Being both Present and Future Oriented

February 24, 2016
Dr. George Watts, Laurie Blazek


Are you present or future oriented? Have you ever even thought about it?

Are you able to concentrate fully on what is going on around you? Do you subordinate your ego and focus your attention entirely on what is taking place now, in the current moment? If this sounds like you, you are likely present oriented. As a result, you might find yourself stuck in your current situation because you have a difficult time moving forward, visualizing your future.

When you take long walks, do you even pay attention to what you are experiencing or are you too busy thinking about your to do list? When you are out with friends or family, are you daydreaming about what time you will leave, what route you will take home or what’s on your agenda tomorrow? If this sounds like you, you are likely future oriented. As a result, you don’t always appreciate the present because you are not living fully in the moment.

Eckhart Tolle, named the most spiritually influential person in the world by Wikipedia, says becoming conscious of the present moment makes you, at the deepest level, one with the moment. The Buddha said to not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.

As a behavioral scientist I coach people that the present is important but that you alter your life by altering your beliefs and attitude. I coach you to visualize your future. So, a mental contradiction seems to exist… how does one visualize the future to create a long term fulfilling life mission while living beautifully in the moment?

I have noticed that certain cultures have a dominant mentality of being in the present versus being in the future. After Christmas, we escape Chicago to islands like Jamaica or the Dominican Republic. The island people are warm and friendly – smiling and singing while one works is everyday, all day behavior. There is simplicity. People are happy and contented with little pretension. There is no sense of urgency and therefore no anxiety. Everybody stays true to the single purpose of the moment, which is the island mentality. This is somewhat extreme – people seem to not ponder the future, even their short-term future. They don’t consider all the possibilities and because of this, their life is simple. They are quite happy and fulfilled. As could be easily predicted, suicide rates for the islands are extremely low compared to the US.

But from my (decidedly western) observation, it seems that the island mentality overdoes the “present”. If you are going to change your future you must create a mental image of what life will look like in the future state. Activating the personal achievement drive is all about anticipating being acknowledged because you did your best. But when you are essentially happy, like the island folks, you don’t change your future via achievement. You stay in the present state, because it is a happy one. It’s good enough.

What then, is the answer to staying in the present but visualizing the future? My advice is that when you are with others, work toward being fully in the moment. When your mind drifts into the future, bring yourself back to the present. Practice – it’s not easy. But, you’ll eventually find that when you begin to relax and enjoy being fully present, your experiences will be richer and more fulfilling.

Being in the moment should be balanced with spending a certain amount of alone time to visualize your future. I am convinced that most people need more alone time than they are getting. It is important to make your alone time valuable. Acknowledge strengths, and visualize how best to manifest those strengths. Define what you want in your future. This is hard but productive work.

There are both strengths and weaknesses in being either present or future oriented. The key is to strike the balance between being in the present moment and visualizing your future.

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