We’re often advised to live in the present. Don’t dwell on the past because you can’t change it. Don’t worry about the future because it may never come to pass. Live in the moment because this is all the time we know we have.
Seems like good advice, doesn’t it?
Well, maybe not so much. Thinking about the past, for example, allows us to evaluate our mistakes in the hopes of not repeating them. We all know how easy it is to make the same mistake twice.
I myself have a problem with certain foods. I’m not allergic, just intolerant. And yet I have, on numerous occasions, eaten foods that I knew would cause a reaction but somehow forgot about. Partly that’s because the list of foods I can’t eat continually changes. Some foods that I used to tolerate I no longer do. Others that used to bother me now don’t.
However, I also have eaten foods that bother me because I completely forgot that I shouldn’t do so. It may have been a long time since I tried that food or I may just have been tired and forgetful at the time I was offered the item. But I shouldn’t have forgotten that if it really bothered me.
So if I recall those foods that caused negative reactions in my past, I can avoid eating them in the present. The same holds true for other scenarios – making a lane change without signaling and then getting into an accident surely impresses upon one the wisdom of using the turn signal.
Likewise, thinking about the future has benefits too. For example, people who think about the future are more likely to save for retirement. And those who think about the future as approaching sooner rather than later do better than those who just generally think about it as being sometime off in the distance happening to one’s future self.
Thinking about the future helps in other ways too. Contemplating the possible outcomes of various actions helps us make better decisions on all kinds of issues. “I should go to that party because Joan will probably be there and I really want to visit with her.”
Thinking about times outside the present moment can bring great joy too – fondly remembering your daughter’s wedding or thinking about your father’s upcoming sixtieth birthday party.
When you live in the moment, yes, you don’t worry so much about things outside your control. But you also forsake the ability to plan for change that you’re capable of making. The ability to think outside the present gives us an essential tool we need to make the world better for all of us.
That doesn’t mean we’ll actually follow through with our ideas, but it at least gives us a chance, whereas if we’d stayed in the present, we would never have considered options that might enhance our lives.
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