old rickety bridge across water

Image by Thai Jasmine

Fleetwood Mac (yes, I’m that old) reminded us that “yesterday’s gone”. This is absolutely true – and us ‘holding on’ to it leads to many problems. Many of us have attitudes that haven’t been up-dated since our childhood, and this can lead to big problems in our relationships. At a smaller level it can often take us a few days to recover from an insult or an angry exchange. The question is, “How?”. We may agree that it would be better for the past to not control us, we may even think that we should be free of the past, but how are we meant to get free?

The answer I think is a strange one: by paying attention to it. Usually the past runs our lives because our attitudes are, in a sense, habits that we just picked up along the way. It may be that I picked up a particularly abrupt way of greeting people from my father. This affects a little most times the reaction I get when I greet people. When I realise that I have a particular way of greeting people then I can start experimenting, trying out different ways, and seeing which I prefer. This is what I mean by paying attention. Just by being conscious about what I am doing I begin to be free from my past. From here I can move on to deciding whether I want to change and if so how, but it starts with paying attention to what I’m doing.

“Yesterday’s gone” is a piece of wisdom that I find very valuable. “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow” is advice that I feel much more mixed about. In between yesterday and tomorrow is the present moment. Living in the present (even when it means being with the more unpleasant aspects of life) is enlivening. So this gets missed out – and it is a big miss in my view.

However, there are some major positives in thinking about tomorrow. The biggest positive I know in thinking about tomorrow is from a remark made by my friend Paul Wildman. He was speaking about parenting, but it is not confined to only parenting. He said that we usually focus on, “What was done wrong yesterday, not what we can do right tomorrow”. I find this both simple and profound. Thinking this way shifts us from focusing on blame to a constructive attitude of creativity. In this sense “thinking about tomorrow” is an entirely positive attitude.

Thinking about tomorrow is also helpful in more mundane ways – scheduling when we will pays our bills, do the shopping and so on.

The down side of thinking about tomorrow is that it is usually just worrying and fretting. It is usually quite unproductive – we worry about things that we can’t do anything about – and just makes us more tense. In this sense “thinking about tomorrow” is a bad idea. What to do about fretting? The easiest approach I know is, once again, paying attention. There a couple of things to pay attention to: the how and the why. The how means what we do when we are fretting; what our posture is, do we have particular thoughts going round and round, do we have one particular feeling. The why is about what we get from fretting. It is usually not prudent future plans. So what is it? It may be that if we weren’t fretting we’d have to look at aspect of our lives we don’t like or do something unpleasant. Once we know the benefit of fretting we can consider getting the benefit without bothering with the fretting. If we fret instead of doing the washing up, we can consider just not doing it. If we are so busy worrying that we don’t have to do some things, we can consider just saying “no”.

Things we can do (here and now).

  • If we are having a difficulty, with work or in a relationship, for instance; we can explore our attitudes to this. We can explore how long ago these attitudes were formed and become more aware of what they are. From here we can move on to consider updating them.


  • If worry is more a part of life than you would like: consider what benefits it has for you. Do you know what you would like to do instead? What is the first, easy step you can take to do this instead?


  • If you have made a mistake. It may be helpful to feel the bad feelings. Then, move on to asking: What can I do better next time?


  • It can be helpful to have reminders to live in the here and now. A sign on your desk, or in the car can be helpful. It could be something like, “Is my life happening while I do something else?” or as simple as “Breathe”.

How do you feel about yesterday, tomorrow and the here and now? If you’d like to let me know in the comments, I’d like to know.

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11 Comments to ““Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow”?”

  1. Evan, I agree with your statement… A quote from James Dean..
    dream as if you will live forever, live as if you will die tomorrow.

    I believe one aspect of dreaming as if you will live forever is no deadline… you will enjoy your journey as there is no deadline that you have to be make things right today. It’s a balance of what you can do tomorrow and today!

    Cheers,
    Robert

  2. Evan says:

    Thanks Robert,

    I like that thought of ‘no deadline’.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  3. Damien Riley says:

    I agree that thinking about tomorrow has its benefits. I also think embracing your history can be a positive thing. After all, if you ignore the past, then it sort of devalues it. It’s what you did, and there was probably a lot of good in it if you choose to look for it.

    Aside: I have you on my RSS feed and I just want to say I am amazed at your site. I’ll be migrating you to my blogroll and you have a new fan!

  4. Evan says:

    Thanks Damien.

    Yes I do think embracing the past has benefits. Our past is a great resource for us to draw on. I didn’t say this, but I probably should have. I think if we ignore the past it is more likely to control it.

    I’m very pleased that you like my site. It is very hard to know how what I do is received, so it’s delightful to hear. Many thanks for adding me to your Blogroll.

    Any suggestions about my site or for post topics are most welcome, especially if you’d like me to explore a topic more or if you think I have missed something (maybe I should do a post on the value of the past) please let me know. I don’t know that I’ll have a useful response but I do guarantee to think about it.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment and for your compliments.

  5. Devin says:

    Time is an interesting subject. It is constant and measurable but time can affect us in so many different ways.

    Something I have mentioned to clients is that worrying and remembering actually happen in the present, it’s just that they are the present-tense acts of considering other times. So I try to reassure people in a small way that they always live in the present, even if they feel they have been living in the past. That can bring their awareness back to “right now”.

    Nice entry, Evan.

  6. Mark Krusen says:

    Evan, just my $0.02 if I may. I’m also going to add you to my blogroll. Your content is thought provoking and interesting. I just recently have been looking back into the past on my blog and it has been an interesting journey if nothing else. I’m looking forward to future post.

    Mark

  7. Evan says:

    Hi Devin,

    Worrying and remembering do happen in the present. Remembering this has certainly helped me pay attention to what I’m doing.

    I’m glad you liked my post.

    Thanks for taking the time to visit and comment..

    I think, from your post and Damien’s I’m going to need to do another post on the past.

  8. Evan says:

    Hi Mark,

    Thanks for adding me to your blogroll, much appreciated.

    I’m glad you like my content (this is important to me)

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  9. Barbara says:

    Well, Evan, this is a hard one.

    As you know, I have been and am currently seeing a therapist that is finally teaching me things I need to know in order to sort out what goes on in my life.

    So the past first. I don’t think anything that I do, say, think, feel, want, etc., even with the newfound awareness I have been given, is without element of the past. And in my own experience, very large influence. I also think it is a matter of going thru it all and finding out its relevance rather than only its influence.

    I also think this all has to happen (or at least large chunks of it) before investing too much energy in thinking about the future. Let me tell you why. I carry the energy of the past into current action, whether I know it or not, whether I want it or not. I am currently working on releasing that energy in the form of idea, action, education, whatever. But if I were just to plow ahead and expend energy thinking about what is not yet, it seems I will take the unwanted things with me again. Just as I have in the past.

    Now, of course, one can’t completely put their life on hold, but I do think it is important to find out what you are taking with you with those future thoughts.

    In the last two years, I lost/left (it was a half and half situation) a job that I probably would not have, for survival reasons only. I knew that I could no longer hold the energy I needed to do that type of work. I did not want to take that energy forward, but I was stuck in it, for all kinds of reasons. When I tried other things for employment, I failed. I was in this past and had not done enough about it to see a future that was different.

    I am still working on it so the future will not be carrying what I do not want to carry any longer. Only then do I think my focus will be clear enough to support future thinking that is beneficial, productive, balanced, working toward and with the unlimited nature of creativity.

  10. Evan says:

    Hi Barbara,

    I’m very glad to hear you have found a therapist who is working for you.

    I can see I’m going to need to write something more about the past. I plan to do it in the coming week.

    I really like, “Now, of course, one can’t completely put their life on hold, but I do think it is important to find out what you are taking with you with those future thoughts.” This seems very true to me.

    Thank you once again for you comment – I always find that they touch me. I really like how personal they are. When you do feel you have the energy, would you be willing to write a guest post? I’m aware this may be months or years away and I don’t want to demand something of you. But I do think you are able to articulate your experience and reflect on it very well.

    It sounds to me that you feel you are moving forward in dealing with the past. This is great to hear. Please let me know as you move along this path.

    Thanks once again for leaving such a value packed comment.

  11. Barbara says:

    Evan,

    I was flattered the last time when you asked me to write a guest post, but I did not know how to respond then and so just didn’t. Especially since I am not a fellow blogger.

    I am again flattered today. And I think respectful might be the right word. It is you and the rest of the blogging community that takes a chance each time you write an article, putting ideas out for everyone to see. There have been so many times that responding in any situation in a personal manner have gotten me into so much trouble, i.e., crying at work, voicing an opinion deemed inappropriate, reactions labeled too emotional, it is a very opposite experience to have it valued. Thank you. Quite honestly, it is really the most natural thing for me to respond emotionally. It is only that which I have learned that can be what curbs me.

    I will consider writing a post. Maybe I’ll ask you for a topic. Thank you again for your kindness, Evan.

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