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