When I can, I try and live in the moment to enjoy what I’m doing and not get too stressed by replaying past moments or planning too much for the future. I’m encouraged to do this by articles I read and podcasts I listen to and frankly because it feels beneficial to do so .
Imagine my surprise then when I read an article by Dr Evelyn Lewin in the Sydney Morning Herald relaying some recent commentary by Martin Seligman and John Tierney.
I’m always interested in the thoughts of Martin Seligman who is often referred to as the ”father of positive psychology”. Much of his work includes the areas of positivity, optimism and resilience which are reflected in the MTQ48 mental toughness framework I subscribe to.
Dr Lewin continues with her piece:
Seligman and Tierney say our ability to contemplate the future not only sets us apart from other species, but is also a “central function” of our brain.
Rather than dwelling on the past, they say our brains are more likely to be delving into the future.
Many of those thoughts happen on an unconscious level and affect everything from our memories to our emotions.
They discuss a recent study in Chicago that “pinged” nearly 500 adults during the day, asking them to record their immediate thoughts and moods.
“If traditional psychological theory had been correct, these people would have spent a lot of time ruminating,” the study found.
“But they actually thought about the future three times more often than the past, and even those few thoughts about a past event typically involved consideration of its future implications.”
Thinking about the future isn’t a bad thing. Our plans for the future are usually optimistic and therefore a source of joy. The study came to the same conclusion.
When people were making plans they reported higher levels of happiness and lower levels of stress.
“Although they sometimes feared what might go wrong, on average there were twice as many thoughts of what they hoped would happen.”
And we all know the excitement we feel when anticipating a future event, such as the birth of a baby or a trip overseas.
The authors also cite research that shows that, when we’re between specific tasks, contemplating the future is our brain’s “default” circuit.
So if such thoughts are our brains “default” circuit, why are we so fixated on trying to live in the now?
Clinical psychologist Kirstin Bouse says it may stem from a desire to retaliate against our need to achieve.
“We’re so focused on working towards our goals and the accumulation of things that we’ve forgotten to enjoy what we have right now.
“Because we recognise that, and society still pushes us to strive, we now see slowing down and being mindful as the elixir for it.”
That certainly makes sense.
And, indeed, research is piling up in favour of the benefits of mindfulness.
Those benefits are plentiful, Bouse says.
She says mindfulness doesn’t just allow us to feel the “fullness” of an experience, it is also often the “birthplace” of problem solving, creativity and innovation.
Practicing mindfulness doesn’t have to be laborious.
You can do it with even the simplest of tasks, from having a shower to enjoying a cup of coffee, by switching on your senses and engaging in the moment.
If you struggle to keep your mind in the now, Bouse reassures you can improve through practice.
By focusing your full attention for increasing periods of time, you can get better at blocking out more of the “psychological noise”.
Ideally, you should aim for a balance in your thoughts, spending some time reflecting on your goals and dreams and at other times practicing mindfulness.
If that balance doesn’t come naturally to you, Bouse recommends scheduling it in.
But that doesn’t mean we can always compartmentalise our thoughts so neatly.
While mindfulness should be about focusing our full attention on the now, thoughts of the future may still creep in.
That’s normal, Bouse says.
Because we’re “thinking creatures”, she says, “our minds will wander when we’re trying to be mindful”.
So next time I sit down to have a mindful cuppa I’ll try to keep myself focused on the moment.
But I won’t berate myself if thoughts of my to-do list crop up.
Turns out we’re wired that way.
Thank you Dr Lewin – view original article