I fondly remember road trips as a child, sitting in the sunny backseat of my mom’s car, daydreaming of alternate worlds and fantastical adventures. As I’ve grown older, my daydreams have become increasingly occupied less with the realm of fantasy and more on the reality of my past and future. Nearly everyone daydreams about their future and reflects nostalgically or negatively on moments of the past. These moments can often be a welcome respite or provide inspiration, but if you spend too much time daydreaming in this fashion you may be diminishing your success in the present.
If you’ve ever planned a vacation you’re familiar with the impatient days tapping at your desk, dreaming of the lazy, relaxing days to come. Unfortunately, sometimes you end up comparing the real vacation to your imagined one, and it doesn’t live up to the standard. Reflecting nostalgically on the past can also hinder present enjoyment. It is equally fun to reflect on past achievements or fun events, but it’s possible to be so consumed with happy memories that you miss opportunities to create more.
We’ve all made mistakes that we’re ashamed of; reflecting on them is an important step in correcting those mistakes and becoming a better person. But dwelling too long on your past can also be negative. If you dwell too long on a past mistake you can begin to equate yourself with your past and feel farther away from the person you want to be and the actions that he or she would do. Train your brain to think quickly and constructively about the past and future, and take only the information and inspiration that you need in order to be the best person you can without resting on your laurels or dwelling on your mistakes.
Embracing the present isn’t just about constructive daydreaming. It also requires the elimination of certain obstacles. Texting is, in my opinion, the greatest hindrance to present thinking, along with other smartphone capabilities. It seems absurd that we can have a conversation with another person anytime we want regardless of time or distance. But should we? If I’m running errands, I’m running errands. If I’m cleaning my house, I’m cleaning my house. And if I’m doing laundry, I’m doing laundry. The briefness and often poor quality of conversations over text pale in comparison to the value of being fully engaged with your surroundings. One can, of course, have positive conversations over text, but if this is not the case because you are occupied with some other task, then leave the phone in your pocket. In the words of Ron Swanson, “Don’t half ass two things. Whole ass one thing.”
The more you focus on the present the more you begin to see yourself as a reflection of your day to day behavior and not your past or future. A fun mental exercise is to constantly tell yourself that you’re experiencing things for the first time i.e. I have never had a strawberry, or had dinner with my family before. If your identity is not reliant on the past or future, every experience is new and every day is a blank page for you to write. So take advantage of each moment you’re given.