Quick thought for today. If you want to live an intentional life, you should focus primarily on the present. Let me explain. We all spend part of our days—either mentally or physically—in the past, present or future. You’re sitting there right now in the present, but maybe you’re thinking about something you did this past weekend or dreaming about something you hope to be doing 5 years from now. Past, present and future. We all spend our time inhabiting each of those spaces.
Unfortunately, most of us mess up the proportions. We spend too much time and energy on the past and the future and not enough on the present. We look back and worry about the things we did or didn’t do. We look forward and dream about the things we hope to eventually do. That only leaves a small amount of our time where we’re honest to goodness living in and making the most out of the present.
I’m not saying that you should ignore the past and the future, but the present should be your priority. Anything else means you’re focusing on things you can’t change (the past) or things that might not happen (the future). Here are a few suggestions on how to get the balance right.
How to use your past: Don’t obsess over it. Don’t waste your time thinking about regrets or wishing you had done or said things differently. Don’t cling to bitterness. Don’t hold grudges. Instead, think fondly of the good times and be grateful for the wisdom earned and lessons learned from the challenging times. Use it as a foundation to build on. Remember the people, places and things that made you who you are.
How to prepare for your future: Don’t push everything to the future. Don’t treat it as some magical time where you’ll finally start living. Delayed gratification is great if it’s allowing you to work toward something, but it becomes a problem if it becomes an excuse for life avoidance. Use the runway between the present and the future for planning and preparation. Use it to set the proper direction for your life and to get any necessary prerequisites out of the way. Use it to set goals, dream, plan, save and even to experiment. All of those things will help you hit the ground running and make the most out of your future years.
How to live in the present: Don’t get bogged down in the routine of life. Don’t focus all your time on the maintenance of living. Don’t live a life that is frantic and unintentional. Be present in your days, with your friends and during experiences like vacations rather than worrying about how to make it look a certain way on social media. Decide what you really want out of life and start doing that. Today. Even if you have to start small, start. Have intentional action in your relationships, activities, health, hobbies, pursuits and every other area of your life. Be proactive. Learn. Do. Go. Experiment. Take risks. In other words, live.
A good balance of past/present/future is something like 10/60/30. If yours looks more like 30/20/50, you’re not really living life. You’re worrying about the life you’ve already lived and dreaming about a life you hope to someday live.
At Intentional Retirement, we believe that retirement is an intentional way of living that prioritizes freedom, fulfillment, purpose and relationships. It starts today and is an incremental process of aligning your lifestyle and actions with your highest priorities. To do that, you need to focus on the present. Stop fretting over what is past or dreaming about what is to come. Today is a new day. Start doing.