How much time do you spend truly focused on the here and now? If you’re like most people, the answer is probably “not much.” It’s certainly a struggle for me. I try to stay in the moment, I really do. But it’s seldom long before my brain is off to the races, leaving the present moment for yet another round of time travel, revisiting the past and inventing the future.
Why am I writing about staying in the present on a career blog? Because getting sucked out of the present and into one of a bazillion stories we tell ourselves can create enormous obstacles. But, as with so many things, we often don’t notice that we’re doing it. To help you start recognizing your time travel tendencies, here’s a look at three common trips we take.
Creating an impossibility story about the future. Has this ever happened to you? You’re thinking about something you would love to do, maybe a dream career you would love to pursue, and in short order it is swept aside by a voice that says "You can’t do that. That’s not possible. That’s not practical.” And most often, that voice is all bluster and little substance. The knee-jerk notion that something is impossible is frequently more opinion than fact.
Sometimes, of course, your ideas really are impossible and impractical. And if they are, they will still be impossible after you look into them more deeply. There’s no risk in refraining from saying an uninformed "no" and letting those ideas exist until you have the information to back up your negative assessment.
When you catch yourself inventing the future in a limiting way, stop and ask yourself, “Do I really know that? Can I say that for certain?” If the answer is no and the idea is something you’re interested in, give yourself permission to explore it further with the attitude that it just might be possible.
If you go into the exploration with the conviction that something really is impossible, that’s what you’re likely to find. You can always find reasons why something won’t work. But if you go into it instead with an attitude of openness and curiosity--I wonder how I could make this work?-- the idea has infinitely more potential to see the light of day.
Creating a doomsday story about the future. People can be incredibly adept at creating a worst-case scenario in their mind for the outcome of their efforts. They look at the future and see what might happen, which then becomes their potential reality. That negative potential reality (which is now being seen as a likely outcome) creates fears, which in turn shape what people are willing to do. So rather than taking a risk and taking a step toward living into their potential, they hunker down and try to maintain what they have.
Now, I can understand the inclination to look at what could go wrong. And as I’ve said on numerous occasions, that pessimistic view can actually work in your favor. But when you let that negative view define your future, you’re letting an imaginary monster call the shots.
When you catch yourself telling doomsday stories, stop and ask, “Do I know that for sure? How do I know that? Can I prove it? Could it turn out another way?” Challenge yourself to explore ways that it might unfold in a more positive vein.
Letting past failures predict your future. Have you ever screwed up? Failed? Done an overwhelmingly underwhelming job on something? Of course you have. So have I. And so has everyone I have ever met. Welcome to the human experience. But if you use those instances as opportunities to paint your future in a negative light, once again, you’re letting an imaginary monster steer your course.
The reality is that the past is the past. And if you have ever seen stories, for example, of entrepreneurs who have persisted through multiple failures to ultimately find success, you know that the past is an unreliable indicator of the future. Learn from the past? Absolutely! Milk that investment for every ounce of insight you can get. But resist the urge to make your past your future.
When you catch yourself defining your future by negative past events, stop and remind yourself, “The past does not predict the future.” Ask yourself what you learned as a results of the failures and mistakes in your past. Explore how those insights might make you better equipped to succeed in the future.
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Ultimately, the past no longer exists, and the future doesn’t exist yet. The only thing you really have is the very moment. The more you can stay focused on this present moment, and the less time your career spends with an imaginary monster at the helm, the greater your potential.
After years as a professional malcontent, Curt Rosengren discovered the power of passion. As speaker, author, and coach, Rosengren helps people create careers that energize and inspire them. His book, 101 Ways to Get Wild About, and his E-book, The Occupational Adventure Guide, offer people tools for turning dreams into reality. Rosengren's blog, The M.A.P. Maker, explores how to craft a life of meaning, abundance, and passion.