How to Stop Living in the Future

Planning is great for making things happen, but it’s easy to get caught up in the future and forget to enjoy the present. Even a hyper-planner can learn to enjoy the present using Get-it-Done Guy’s simple techniques.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #226

Get-it-Done Guy fan Sydny writes in:

I plan for tomorrow a lot and I want to live for today a little. Help!

Syd, we are birds of a feather! Many people don't plan. Someone hands them a 128 oz. sugary soft drink, they take one look at it, and suck it down like they're a Wet-vac. You and I, we think ahead. We don't see 128 ounces of sugary goodness; we see 3 inches of waistline, and 6 days a week sweating at the gym to retain our stunningly good looks (See also: How to Motivate Yourself to the Gym). In other words, we think before we act.

Unfortunately, the one thing we don't think about is the consequences of thinking before we act. We get so busy planning for our future life that we totally don't appreciate the one we have right now. My pal Bernice has been a great teacher in how to stay present. Here’s how she does it:

Tip #1: Plan Holidays in Advance

Give yourself holidays! Bernice is a huge believer in holidays. If she waits for space on her schedule, she never has time for a break. So now she schedules hers a year in advance. One year, it's a week in the Greek Isles. The next, it's a safari in Africa. Then a cruise down the Nile. Then at the Citibank building in Manhattan, where she works off all the credit card debt she racked up paying for those holidays.

Schedule holidays for yourself. If you have time off school or work, make sure you schedule a few of those days for pure relaxing. No work, no planning. Get them on your calendar now, to make sure you take the time later. Since you plan for the future, also decide the budget for the holiday now, so your holidays truly recharge you, rather than landing you in debtors prison.

If you don't have big blocks of time available, schedule mini-holidays. I sometimes schedule an hour or two at night to read a book, or an afternoon to sit in the park and listen to the joyous cries of children at play. My parental and family instincts completely satisfied by my time in the park, I can return to work and jump right back into my Type-A lifestyle.

Tip #2: Take a Walk

When you feel yourself obsessing about the future a little too much, take a walk. If you work at home, walk around the neighborhood. Before you leave the house, make a plan. Plan to walk and just enjoy moving your body. Science has shown that we don't just think with our brains; our entire bodies get involved. Get moving and enjoy a change of scenery.

The point is to relax and enjoy the moment, physically.

Tip #3: Bring a Notepad

Unfortunately, as soon as your mind drifts to pleasant, distracted thoughts, you'll start having your most creative, innovative ideas. Bernice brings a 3x5 notepad everywhere. In fact, she was strolling around the zoo, watching how happy the mommy and daddy walruses seemed. That's the moment she realized she and her boyfriend Melvin should tie the knot. While it's prudent to look over your notepad and reconsider the ideas once your walk is over, Bernice didn't bother. She just followed her bliss. Fortunately, he's agreed to follow her back.

You can't enjoy the moment when something is competing for your attention.

Tip #4: Leave Your Electronics Home

Whether you're going on a cruise, a safari, or a simple walk, leave your electronics home. Leave your iPhone, your Android, your Tamagotchi, your iPad, your laptop, your cell phone, your Bluetooth, your radio, and your taser at home. They interrupt and distract. They are built to pull you away from the moment. Even when you're not using them, you're thinking, "I'll bet someone just posted a picture of a bunny with pancakes on its head on Facebook. I can't wait to check in!"

You can't enjoy the moment when something is competing for your attention. Don’t just put them on vibrate or turn them off; leave the gadgets at home. If you start to go into withdrawal, just grit your teeth, breathe into it, and the feelings will pass. Pretty soon, you'll be having a great time! And you might avoid the carpal tunnel that’s brewing in your fingers from texting on that crackberry.

I left my cell phone home when taking a friend to dinner. After a few moments of panic when I couldn't look up meaningless facts on Wikipedia, check in on the latest Justin Bieber gossip, and review my Facebook wall, my brain settled down. Without even the possibility of distraction, my psyche gave up. It realized there was no other choice but to be present with my friend. We had a great time. Bernice plans to ask Melvin to leave his cell phone home during their wedding ceremony. It will be the first big test of their relationship.

Tip #5: Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness practice is another way to be present. Simply sit quietly and notice your breathing for several minutes. Just be aware of the world around you. Describe the room to yourself. And most importantly, watch your thoughts and describe your thoughts to yourself. Do not change anything. Just observe and notice. You’ll find yourself becoming present and calmer.

"I'm sitting quietly. My pillow is soft. I'm worrying about whether we'll have enough Oreo ice cream cake for the party. I'm inhaling. I'm exhaling. I'm thinking of Bernice's wedding dress. I'm wondering who invented sequins."

It's weird, but if you're obsessing over whether you'll get into the college of your dreams, just naming it makes your brain relax and slow down. "I'm obsessing over whether I'll get into my top college." You'll get better at it and it will come more easily the more you practice.

Tip #6: Notice the Future When it Arrives

As a young girl, Europa had great plans for world domination. Well, now she owns it all. And you know what? She has to vacuum it all. Ick. Now she's planning for the day she has someone to do that for her. She's still living in the future.

If you're mindful enough, you'll notice when the future arrives. Stop. Enjoy it. Live in it. And if you get tempted to live in the future of the future, you'll be mindful enough to stop that too, and just laugh at yourself.

I went to the Tony Awards a couple of weeks ago. Walking there, I was pondering how to build my coaching business to the point where I could have an amazing, fabulous life. Then my friend said, "We're going to the Tonys!! Live!!!" Oh, man. Epiphany: I am living an amazing, fabulous life. I just hadn't noticed.

You may not have noticed how amazing and fabulous your life is, either. Be mindful. Relax. Take a holiday. Get your body moving. The reason you plan for the future is that you might get there someday. Learn to enjoy the present, so when the future is present, you're present enough to enjoy the future.

This is Stever Robbins. I help successful people focus, be present, and find ways to balance planning for future results and having an extraordinary life in the present. If you want to know more, visit SteverRobbins.com.

Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.