Existence really is an imperfect tense that never becomes a present.
~ Friedrich Nietzsche
At any moment in the day we are living in the past, present, or future. Each has a purpose for us and will provide value in getting through the daily angst of work-life.
Time Travel: Past
In the past or vision is 20/20 but we look through our glasses with a filter of what we want to remember. The benefits of visiting the past are to recognize behavioral patterns, learn about yourself, learn from others, understand how you became who you are today! If we look back fondly on only the good times, this is called reminiscing. If we look back to learn and grow, this is called reflecting. In the project management world this is a ‘lessons learned’ activity. A risk of visiting the past is often we dwell on it, giving it more attention than it needs. One event turns into ‘absolute’ language like ‘always’ and ‘never’. Like a continuous-loop video clip that repeats in our heads, the scenes of the past are all we see and we end up living there, not realizing that while we are visiting the past, our present is being ‘spent,’ never to be recovered again. If we live in the past we don’t move forward, we don’t take responsibility for current actions, we don’t learn and we don’t change.
Tip: Accept what has happened, own it, and move forward. My favorite phrase to get me out of the past is – ‘What’s next?’
Time Travel: Present
Many philosophers and teachers advise to live in the moment. Because you can not change the past (it is gone) and the future never arrives, there IS only now. By living fully in the present, you can experience what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls ‘flow.’ Have you ever spent time on a project at work or home and were so ‘wrapped up’ in it that you did not realize that several hours had passed? That is flow. That is being fully engaged. The key is to experience this on purpose instead of having it happen by chance. Some may say there is no risk to living in the moment, but there is. You risk repeating unwanted behaviors, not learning from the past (if you never reflect on it how can you learn from it?), getting stuck in a rutt; always reacting to things instead of planning for them; and not taking responsibility for the concenquences of current actions and for work and interconnectedness of others, you may appear aimless and without purpose.
Tip: Spend the majority of your time in the ‘flow’ of the present, but remember to take time trips to the past and future on a regular basis.
Time Travel: Future
Dreaming, visualizing, planning are all activities in which we take a trip to the Future. Determining our intention in the future helps us to decide on an action today. Because we have seen the impact of past actions on our present, we can now accept responsibility for current actions and their impact on the future. However, if we only focus on the future or do so with too much importance, we risk never experiencing flow and (some may say) authentic happiness! The future is the favorite time destination of the chronic procrastinator. It is a way to avoid responsibility for any action. If the future is all that you focus on, you will never be satisfied because tomorrow never comes.
Tip: Use the future to motivate you to take action now. Tomorrow is the purpose for today’s action
The Existential Coach’s words of wisdom:
- Do not dwell on the past, learn from it
- Future change comes with current action – act now with intent
- All you really have is now, but all you had yesterday was then…there is a connection between the times and we create our own past, present, and future – take responsibility and be the architect of your own time!
The future influences the present just as much as the past.
~ Friedrich Nietzsche
Recommended further readings:
The Power of Full Engagement