How to Balance Living in the Moment with Setting Future Goals

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Can I have future goals and live in the present moment at the same time? A blog reader emailed me this question a few days ago, reminding me of an issue that is familiar to many of us who are trying to practice mindfulness in everyday life.

For example, the beliefs of modern spiritual teachers like Eckhart Tolle can convince you that there is nothing but the present moment. Consequently, you might be under the impression that being in the now prevents any goal-setting for the future.

But these two activities don’t exclude one another. On the contrary, you should engage in both for a happy and fulfilling life. In this article, I’d like to show you that having goals and living in the moment at the same time is possible. Here are three steps that can help you do it.

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1. Escape the Trap of Psychological Time

The first step is to understand the difference between psychological time and clock time. When you’re trapped in psychological time, you regret the past and fear the future.

Imagine having dinner with your family. You smile and look happy, but your thoughts are elsewhere: all you can think about is a deadline for an important project that you’ve been working on for months on end.

You worry that you’re running out of time and it’s going to fail. Then you imagine what will happen if it does fail. All the hours and money you’ve put into making this project happen will be wasted; you’ll have no choice but to start over or come up with a new idea.

By indulging in negative thinking, you’ve made the worst-case scenario a reality. In your mind, you’ve already failed. Additionally, you might feel all associated negative emotions. To escape the trap of psychological time, you need to use clock time. This brings us to the next point.

2. Do the One Thing You Can Do Now

The opposite of psychological time is clock time. When you use clock time, you are living in the present but peripherally aware of your past and future. You know what happened in the past, but it doesn’t affect you at this moment.

You have a goal and want to achieve it, but you’re not imagining what might go wrong in the future; instead, you know where you are right now and what you need to achieve. Being present doesn’t mean that you dismiss logic and common sense.

For example, if you know there may be some challenges on the way to your goal, you realize that fully. You don’t live in denial. By being aware of the obstacles and challenges, you are taking the right action now. Maybe the only action you can ‘take now is to make a plan. Then make a plan and do what you have to do in your current circumstances.

3. Relax and Pace Yourself

Writing an action plan can pull you into prediction mode, causing worry and erratic behavior. You shouldn’t let your mind do that.

Take a deep breath and 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 complete, put them on your calendar, and rest assured in the knowledge that everything will be accomplished in its own time.

Then keep working towards your goals 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.

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