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  • Writer's pictureLiz Beiderman

Are You Living in the Moment?

Updated: Apr 15, 2020

Between dwelling on the past and stressing over the future, how often do we intentionally shift our focus to the here and now? Let’s explore what it means to be in the present, and why it matters.

A mug rests next to an open book near a still and peaceful looking body of water to evoke a sense of calm, relaxation, and enjoying the present.

Where are You Choosing to Live?

We hear about them all the time, practices that are meant to help us achieve peace, stillness, and a greater appreciation for the moment. Be it various forms of mindfulness, yoga, meditation, or spending time outdoors, one of the most popular lifestyle recommendations to reduce stress is to engage in activities that help us focus more on the present. This is something a lot of us understand in theory, but putting it into practice can be difficult. What does it mean to actually live in the present? To better answer that, let’s take a look at the two alternatives that tend to be strongly associated with feeling depressed or anxious.

Stuck in the Past

A black-and-white photo album representing rumination, regrets, and feeling stuck in the past.

Therapy has developed a reputation for delving into one’s past, and for good reason. Past experiences play a large role in shaping who we are today. We do our best to learn and grow from our mistakes and build on our successes, but some events leave a lasting impact that can end up hindering us as we try to move forward. Maybe we received a lot of criticism at home and came to believe that no effort we put forth was ever good enough. Or perhaps the sting of a particularly brutal rejection taught us that putting ourselves out there only leads to pain. Ruminating about negative past experiences is something we all do from time to time, but too much can get us stuck in a self-defeating cycle of regret, self-blame, and despair. Perhaps more importantly, it fosters a sense of hopelessness that often dissuades us from pursuing future goals or leaves us confused as to what it is we want in the first place!

Every choice we make impacts us at that moment and shapes our future, but we spend much of our time living in the moments that are long gone and cannot be changed. On the flip side, what happens when we spend too much of our time looking forward?

Worrying About the Future

A collage of words associated with stress, anxiety, pressure, and worrying about the future.

Ask an anxious-looking individual what’s got them so worked up, and chances are you’ll receive some variation of “I’m worried about the future.” Typically, this involves a lot of mental energy devoted to what-ifs, worst case scenarios, catastrophizing, or being convinced that you’ve suddenly become prescient enough to predict every future disaster that awaits you. Sometimes this tendency leads to self-fulfilling prophecies where we unknowingly set the stage for our own worst fears to play out, like an anxious student who convinces themselves that their professor will flunk them no matter how hard they try, so they slack off on their assignments. Sometimes it means talking ourselves out of taking a chance on something that might make us happy in the moment, because we’re still living for a “someday” when everything else in our lives has fallen into place.

We ultimately run into problems or setbacks when we do this, because who can truly predict every twist and turn that the future holds? Living in fear of a what-if that may never come to pass or a “someday” that may be years off and is never guaranteed, only robs us of our ability to identify or fully appreciate the positives that already exist in our lives.

Living in the Present

A woman meditates on a deck as an example of practicing mindfulness and living in the present moment.

Many different types of therapy aim to help an individual reconnect with the present moment. You’ll notice that various self-care activities, such as mindfulness, taking walks, listening to music, and different creative outlets focus on this as well. When we talk about “centering” ourselves, it almost helps to visualize a continuum with fixation on past woes on one end and concerns about an unknown future on the other. Down the center line is the only place we actually exist from moment to moment, the place where change, learning, and connection has the potential to take place. We are not re-writing the past with our decisions or fixing future problems by panicking over what might be.

All we can ever do is make choices that we believe are compatible with what’s important to us based on where we’re at now. When we spend too much time living in a space occupied by what was or what might be, we miss every opportunity to find happiness and contentment within what actually is. The good news is it’s never too late to change that and start living for now!

If you often feel stuck in the past or worried about the future, book a free consultation to see how therapy can help you live in the moment instead!

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