One client (let’s call her Jane) described constantly rushing to get somewhere else, and feeling frustrated by needing to wade through what’s happening now. She’d made ‘being busy’ into an art form, was understandably stressed, and seemed unaware of missing out on her life.
This relentless busy-ness left Jane feeling dissatisfied with everything. When I suggested a mindfulness practice, she said it was her worst nightmare; she’d rather be locked in a windowless white room, beating her head against the wall, than to sit alone with her own thoughts. But that’s another story.
Living life in perpetual motion, trying to get as much stuff done as you can without taking the time to enjoy what’s happening now isn’t healthy, but so many of us do it.
I remember reading bedtime stories to my sons (and even being able to do all the voices) but I wasn’t there. I was in my own head planning the next day’s to-do list. They survived, and I know I wasn’t a bad mum, but I also regret the many moments I missed.
Does this sound like you – “Once I’ve completed my to-do list, got the promotion, found the right job, have the perfect relationship, finalised the divorce, paid off the mortgage, after the kids leave home, then (and only then) I’ll put my feet up?” If so, it’s time for a re-think, because if you’re living for some illusory future moment and believe you can relax when you get there, you’re telling yourself fibs.
Living a future-focused life is a habit and like all habits, it’s particularly hard to break. In my last blog, I talked about the impact of wearing a ‘Busy Badge of Honour’, and how practising mindfulness helps to loosen the grip. But many people truly believe they have no choice. Staying busy now, is the trade-off so they’ll be able to enjoy life later, but they never do.
Fooling yourself with any version of ‘I’ll be happy when …” stops you from being happy now, and guarantees you never get there. The future never arrives, that’s why they call it the future. Waiting on some imaginary future place when you can relax and enjoy life leaves you forever waiting.
While you might tick off surviving another day, as you collapse on the couch with another glass of wine (or two, or four), or drift off into oblivion watching mindless TV, that longed for feeling of contentment (which you’ve decided will be yours in the future) never actually arrives. It never arrives because it’s in the future, on a horizon forever out of your reach.
Life can turn into one long haul to get there. In the immortal words of Bart Simpson “are we there yet?” No, you’re not. You never will be. There is no there, there is only here. So, finding a way to stop rushing through your here, to get there is worth considering.
If you stop to think about it, life is one big moment-to-moment opportunity to choose what you focus on. You can decide to go on living for your future la la land (which never arrives and makes you miserable), or you can choose to find fulfilment in what’s happening now. And why would you want to do that? Because you’re far happier and more content when you focus on the here and now. That doesn’t mean you can’t plan, or remember good times. It just means you won’t miss out on so much of what’s happening by rushing through it, resisting it, or living in your head.
Yep, staying present is all the go. So how do you do that? Well, wanting and wishing you could be more present – if you’ve been doing the Bart Simpson thing for a while – won’t help. You must build a mind that operates differently; a mind that knows when it’s time-travelling or resisting the present moment, and is able to interrupt itself and refocus back on what’s happening now.
That’s what practising mindfulness is all about. Training your mind to sit and focus on the breath and to let go of thinking for short periods each day, builds your mind’s present moment muscle.
The simple and elegant truth is this: the more you practice focusing your attention, the quicker you’ll notice when your mind wanders off, and the better you’ll get at returning it back to life’s sweet spot, where your life is actually happening.
And just in case you’re wondering, Jane did start practising mindfulness which completely changed her relationship with white-walled rooms (and herself).
Kerene Strochnetter is the Managing Director at Mindful at Work. Mindful at Work delivers programmes across New Zealand and Australia to produce unprecedented levels of engagement, performance and well-being.
Workplace mindfulness is not just learning how to meditate. It is a robust set of practices (generated from comprehensive research) used to align values with behaviours and transform workplace culture. You can find out more about Kerene and Mindful at Work here.