“If you do not create change, change will create you.”
Are you living in the now?
What does the phrase even mean?
You might think: “we’re here and it’s now – so the answer has to be yes – right?”
Well no, it’s not that straightforward… picture it this way: you are in the driver’s seat of your car – hands on the wheel – cruising down the motorway at a steady 70 (ish) miles an hour, (you’re a law abiding citizen after all!). Your eyes are fixed on the road ahead; your wife is asleep next to you and the kids are in the back playing Candy Crush on their ‘phones. You’re on ‘autopilot’ and your mind wanders; it’s really not the way it should be.
A loud cough from the back seat shuts down your auto pilot and you’re back in the present, aware of a slight vibration through the steering. You glance in the rear-view mirror to make sure everything is OK then eyes right: through the side window you catch sight of your dream car as it rumbles past. You let out a longing sigh.
So, what has this to do with ‘living in the now’ and ‘being present’?
Bear with me. Think about each of the windows in a car; every one gives a different view. Through the front screen you can see you’re moving forward – you have some idea of where you’re going (you have your goal), you’ve planned your route or – better still – you already know your route. If you look constantly in the rear view mirror – to the past if you will – you could miss valuable opportunities. Looking out of the side windows. Living in the now gives you a different perspective, it gives you time to savour the moment. Imagine all you heard was the exhaust’s roar as the dream car thundered past, its shiny tailpipe disappearing into the distance… you’d have completely missed the moment.
When you’re at the wheel and conscious of everything that’s going on around you, you’re in control; you’re in pursuit of your goals and you’re living in the now. But can you control your whole journey? What if something goes wrong? There are bound to be obstacles along the way; interruptions are inevitable on the journey we call life.
The sound of a female voice breaks through the quiet of the cabin, waking your sleeping wife. It’s your SatNav; it tells you there is an accident ahead and traffic is beginning to tail back.
You’re there, in the present (the now) so you start to consider rationally, the options available. Do you wait in the impending queue; pull off at the next junction or the next service station to stretch your legs and get a coffee? By staying in the present moment you can take charge, make choices and effect changes.
Suddenly vehicles ahead are breaking, a queue quickly forms. Are you still present? If you are, you accept the situation, it’s too late to change it; you remain calm and relaxed. You might reprogram the SatNav; check how far the next junction is; listen to the traffic news for insights into the situation.
If this was your journey – what would you be thinking, how would you be feeling now?
Or… you begin to berate yourself: you didn’t think the incident was so close; you start fretting over how long you’ll be queuing; you smack your palms on the steering wheel in frustration. Your focus is no longer in the present, it’s in the past (think rear view mirror). You curse your decision not to take the last exit; tell yourself you should have taken a different route or even that you shouldn’t have left home at all. You’re no longer in the present, you’re living in the past. Auto pilot kicks in again, you can’t stop the voices in your head: “you’ll be here for ages”; “we should have left yesterday”…
At this point there are a number of actions you can take:
You could keep looking behind you – living in the past – a lot of people do but they end up with regrets and even while you’re thinking this, your focus has slipped. Your mind has wandered from what is happening now and you’re angry you weren’t paying better attention. Your face flushes with embarrassment; you’re angry at yourself but you start snapping at your wife and kids.
So what could be the possible outcome?
It’s easy to miss opportunities – to lose focus; lose faith; start doubting your abilities and blaming those around you – both in business and personal life.
Going back to that car journey: you’re frustration with the situation spills over and before you know it, you’re niggling at your wife; you claim you never wanted to travel today; it’s her fault your stuck in traffic and pretty soon, you’re shouting, she’s crying and the kids are playing up because of the unrest.
Now you’re really distracted. Your stress levels are rising and you’re really not paying attention to what’s going on. A car cuts in sharply to the lane in front of you. Your wife yells “Brake!!!” jolting you back to the present. What happens next?
I’ll let you decide the outcome but it’s hard to see anything good coming from this. In fact, that’s the very reason why retaining the capacity for change is important.
Too many people waste their time looking in the rear view mirror… don’t be one of them.
In America in 2011, there was a large national survey – across all age groups – that looked at just this. The paper was called Regrets of the Typical American published by Roese and Morrison in Social Psychological and Personality Science.
The main sources of regret (reflecting on the past and not changing) were, in order:
There are far-reaching consequences to not living in the now; as the quote says:
“If you do not create change, change will create you.”
So think about how you might change; to the way you react to situations, to circumstances and the way you make decisions. When you’re the one to initiate change – by making choices with full awareness – you’re prepared and ready to deal with whatever life throws at you. Retaining control over how you react to different situations will help you remain calm and avoid angry outbursts. As in the car journey – by staying present, focussing on available options, making decisions (managing change) and staying with that choice ’til another opportunity presents itself can only lead you to a more balanced and relaxed state of being.
I’m not saying you’ll float on your own personal cloud like some mystical guru, impervious to the troubles and strife of every-day life. You will still get stressed. You will still get hacked off. You will still have down days but how you control your thoughts and the choices you make are what matters. You are ultimately in control and it is your choices that will return you to a calmer state.