I am a planner. I map out my appointments, play dates, deadlines, and nights out in my calendar, and set vacation iteneraties well in advance. I know where my toddler will be going to kindergarten, and he is already on the waiting list. I even know what I’m cooking for dinner this week, and have my grocery list ready to go.
Thinking about the future keeps my stress levels manageable and my attendance reliably punctual. However, always keeping an eye toward tomorrow can sometimes keep me from being fully immersed in the current moment. That’s why I make an effort to practice mindfulness, or the state of active, open attention to the present. After all, what good is all that planning if I don’t stop to soak in the end result?
Below are some pitfalls to be on the lookout for when you find yourself focusing too much on the future:
Refuse to fall victim to when/then thinking.
“When I find a better job, then I’ll be more secure and confident,” you may say to yourself. “When I have another child, then I’ll feel happy and fulfilled.” This kind of thinking postpones your happiness based on external circumstances that are not under your control. True happiness and fulfillment can, and should, be created in any situation. Rather than looking for a sense of security in a higher paying position, find confidence in the job you have today, and pride in the person you are right now. Rather than waiting for another child to feel fulfilled, look for contentment in the life you already have. There will always be another goal to work towards, but this moment in time will disappear before you know it.
Remember that it’s impossible to enjoy the present and obsess over the future at the same time.
There is a fine line between helpful planning and useless obsession. It may be tempting to spend every moment you are in your beat up old car thinking about the gorgeous new SUV you are saving up for – but who’s to say you won’t miss playing road trip games with your kids once they have in-car television to watch? If you look back to the life you had five years ago, you might be surprised at the things you miss now. I so looked forward to being a wife and mother, and I truly enjoy it today. However, I also wish I had taken more time to appreciate the peace and freedom that I had whileI was living alone. As the Joni Mitchell song Big Yellow Taxi goes, “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” Come to think of it, there are a lot of songs about this. Maybe we should listen.
Don’t confuse planning with procrastinating.
Most of us have a million things that we want to do “someday”. Planning to do them at some undetermined time in the future, however, only gives us a false sense of accomplishment and complacency. Without action, that “someday” you are dreaming of is never going to come. Think of your most important “someday”. Someday I will write that book. Someday I will quit that job. Someday I will buy that plane ticket. Now change “someday” to the soonest realistic timeline – tomorrow, next summer, or 2025 (if you must) – and start taking steps to make it happen. Don’t let “someday” come and go without becoming the person that you want to be!
Everyone gets caught up in the future in their own way. A dreamer gets lost in imagining who her son will grow up to be. A realist worries about whether she will be able to pay for her daughter’s college education. Both fail to notice the children dancing along to a silly cell phone ringtone. Be the mindful one who not only notices, but embraces the moment and dances with them. These are the days you’ll want back when that “someday” finally comes.