“How can I have future goals and live in the present moment at the same time?”
If you’ve been asking yourself this question, you might be under the impression that being in the now excludes any goal-setting and thoughts of the future.
On the surface, the teachings of modern spiritual teachers like Eckhart Tolle can make you believe that there is nothing but the present moment.
You might also think mastering the art of living in the now requires you to drop all thoughts about past and future.
But these things don’t exclude one another. You can (and should) practice them together for a happy and fulfilling life.
Escape the Trap of Psychological Time
The first step is to understand the difference between psychological time and clock time.
The psychological time traps you in never-ending regret about the past and worries about the future.
Let’s say you’re having dinner with your family. You smile, look happy and engage in small talk, but your thoughts are elsewhere.
In your mind, you keep going back to that important project that you’ve been on working on for months. You worry that without your complete attention it’s going to fail.
Then you imagine what would happen if it does fail. All the hours and money you put into making it happen will be wasted, and you’ll have to start over or come up with a new idea.
Can you see how insane this is?
By immersing yourself in negative thoughts, you made the worst-case scenario a reality. In your head, you already failed. And on top of that, you feel all associated negative emotions.
To escape the trap of psychological time you need to use clock time. Which brings up to the next point.
Do The Only Thing You Can Do Right Now
The opposite of psychological time is the clock time. Here’s how it works.
When you use clock time, you are living in the present but peripherally aware of your past and future.
You know what happened to you in the past, but it doesn’t affect your life now.
You have a goal and want to achieve it, but you’re not imagining what might go wrong.
Instead, you know where you are right now and what you need to do.
Being present doesn’t mean that you dismiss logical thinking and common sense.
For example, if you know that there may be some challenges on the way to your goal you realize that fully. You do not live in denial.
By being aware of the obstacles and challenges, you are taking the right action now.
It may be that the only action you can take now is to plan. Then make a plan, do what you have to do in the present circumstances.
Take One Step at a Time
Making an action plan can pull you into the “prediction mode” where you start thinking about all the things. Don’t let your mind do that.
Take a deep breath, let the planning flow from an inner state of calm and presence.
In this very moment, you are where you are supposed to be. You do not need to hurry or prove anything to anyone.
Write down all the tasks that you need to do. Put them on your calendar, set reminders, and rest in the knowledge that everything will be accomplished in its own time.
Then start going towards your goal by taking one step at a time. Each step will be fully rooted in the present moment, and any action arising out of it will be powerful and intentional.