We’ve probably all done it: lain awake at 2am thinking about how we wish we could return to earlier in our day and change something we have done or said. Or perhaps it is something lying ominously in wait for us in the future that at this moment we cannot control, yet is keeping us from our slumber. Or maybe we have driven through a set of traffic lights …. And then further down the road wondered whether the lights were green. Or sat in a meeting with someone only to realize you haven’t been listening for the last 5 minutes and have no idea what they have just said and now they are waiting for you to respond!
A key to us making the most of life’s experiences is to ensure we are in the optimal time orientation. So what is time orientation? There are three different passages of time:
Our past is important as it holds our memory, our history, all of our times – both good and bad. Who we are today is largely shaped by our experiences and the influences of our past.
The future is important as it where we turn to our hopes and aspirations. Our goals sit on the horizon giving us reason to make our decisions for today.
The present is right now. It is where you are as you read this blog, it is what you think about as you read these words. You may be completely absorbed (I hope so!) or skimming through whilst you think about what you’re cooking for dinner tonight – sorry, now I’ve distracted you!
An important part of the present is that it is the only passage of time where you hold any control. The ‘now’ is where you behave, feel and live life. The now is where you can live life in a fulfilling way, if you have ever sat down to eat dinner in front of the tv – I wonder to what extent you actually tasted your food? Eating is such a sensory experience and to ingest calories without savouring it’s aromas, tastes and textures is to miss many of the psychologically fulfilling aspects of the meal. In fact the literature on mindful eating and it’s impact on weight is something I will need to address in a future blog.
So the challenge for us all is to be more mindful of our present experiences. Wonderful or painful, life is lived and experienced most fully in the moment and experience tells me that most people would benefit from directing more of their attention to the moment.
For athletes at training or in competition, being focused in the ‘now’ is what allows you to perform at your best. If 100kg of opposition is running at you at pace and your attention is on the mistake you made 5 minutes ago (the past) or on where you’ll be going after the game (the future) then you’re not going to maximize your attention for the task at hand (the present).
Of course the past and future are very important in our decision making. If we are planning a holiday we may reflect back on previous trips to think about what went well in the past. We should also think ahead to the trip and those things that we need to organize to make the trip go smoothly (such as travel insurance or booking transport). However when we are on the trip, to stay immersed in the moment looking at the scenery or tasting the food or laughing with friends is to live the moment and live life more fully.
If we are playing golf and walking to the tee, we may recall playing that hole last time, the club we used and how we played it (past); we play the shot focusing on what is relevant to the task (body positioning, breathing, swing, contact, follow through) (present); and then as we walk towards our next shot we may plan ahead to how we’re going to get to the green and what club we may use when we’re closer to the green, and how good a cold drink will taste at the 19th hole (future)!
When we are able to match our time orientation to the requirements of our situation we will engage more fully with the task and will be much more likely to optimize our chances of success.
My experience is that most people don’t spend enough time in the present: life passes us by without us experiencing it in its full complexity and beauty. The past has gone, the future will come, but for now live in the moment and experience the benefits.
In my next blog I will offer some strategies for you to stay in the present.