Which are you?
•Are you traveling in the future, worrying about something that might happen, or planning something that might happen?
•Are you traveling in the past, reviewing mistakes, reliving bad experiences, or thinking about how my life could have been under different circumstances?
•Or are you in the present, really paying attention to what I’m doing, thinking, and feeling?
I asked this to my classes recently and most people said either "A", "B" or "A and B"...at least more than C. We either seem to be very focused on where we're going (which might explain some feelings of anxiety if we see - usually on social media - others seemingly where we want to be); or living in some sort of past regret which may be holding us back (psychologically) from moving forward.
First of all, this is normal.
Second - we can do something about it...and we need to do something about it because the past cannot be changed, and the future may not arrive, so the only time we can guarantee to be able to do something effective is right now! (...and if (when) the future does arrive - then we've set ourselves up better for it anyway!)
So try these
Have a Goal and have steps to achieve it
It never fails to surprise me how many people do not know quite what they want! Of course things change and can be refined, but having a vague idea at least means you know what direction to channel your energies in. AND having a goal of any kind at least means you know how to recognise it when you have arrived!
This exercise can be used for specific project, or it can be used for overall wellbeing.
State your goal/aim/target
Draw out this wheel - or print this and use mine!
In each segment write down the things that will contribute to you achieving that aim eg: if you aim is "Wellbeing", then things like "Exercise", "seeing Friends", "Healthy eating" might feature. If it is "Completing my research project" then the segments might include "Data collection", "Literature Review", "Write the Introduction" and so on.
Then with 0 in the middle and 10 on the outside - mark on the wheel where you are with that task.
The act of breaking down the task itself means you know the areas to focus on, and having a visual representation of which areas are doing ok and which need a bit more effort gives you the added bonus of knowing where to spend your energies next.
Finally, create prompts to push you up one level within each segment eg: if "Data collection" sits at 2, what will make it 3? (Once again, makes taking action feel much more manageable...which in turn is more likely to make you do it!)
If you catch yourself living in the past as - "How can I use this to change my present"?
The past is done, and while it cannot be re-written (and perhaps you don't want to because our experiences make us the strong person we are), it can be reframed. Rather than seeing yourself as someone who was a victim of circumstances, can you see yourself as a survivor?
For example, Princess Leia was adopted, and never told of her past for her safety. While this would raise all sorts of question marks taking the perspective of the 21 century psyche, if we simply use her as an example and assume that she was never going to consider a relationship with "Eww-he's-your-brother Luke", she could see the choices of her care-givers (over which she had no influence) as gaslighting, or as protection. The former may have resulted in time spent in understanding why it happened, the latter brought us the story of Star Wars. Of course I would always say - you must do what is right for YOU, but sometimes, understanding the root goes little further than understanding, and for your own personal growth, it is important to take an empowering mindset to move forward.
Before procrastinating ask "What makes me think I won't feel and do exactly the same tomorrow?"
Unless you are like me - or my husband - who do make plans to fit in what is needed "tomorrow" and then do it, and yet sometimes we still both fall prey to this, the only time you can guarantee you'll have is this moment. Of course if you are "Just too tired to exercise" - please DO NOT injure yourself, and it is more than sensible to plan time in for "tomorrow", but if it's just simply "I don't feel like it" - I always ask myself "What makes me think I'll feel like it tomorrow?"...and then I generally get it done.
Further/Alternatively to the above - if you have a "bad day" mentally - can you do anything physically to make tomorrow a better one?
I am writing this post after "one of those days". My best laid plans were beset with delays and technical issues and it got to 8pm and rather than having done the 6 things I'd wanted to do (fitting in 3 within the 3 planned...I'd just about finished the 3 planned...and in fact 6 other things that "came up"). My brain wasn't in the position to manage anything sensible, so I decided to do the shopping I hadn't got round to. This morning, I had a full fridge and could start my day off without thinking "Oh, I need to get groceries."
Sometimes it's not about doing something mental - especially if your mind is exhausted, but doing something practical or physical which still makes things better, so you can pick up with more clarity the next day (and perhaps get things done faster!).
However it is also OK to relax and recharge
This is a difficult point to reconcile sometimes, because you may wonder how "not doing" is helpful. This is where it is important to really think about where you are spending your time and energy.
I have used this quadrant in previous articles, and it is a stable tool of my teaching. If you have a lot of items in the "Not Urgent/Not Important" section (ie. the "Delete" section) - you are not using your (finite) time (24hrs) and energy (about 6 really productive hours within each 24) wisely. Dealing with other people's psychodramas is not going to get you where you want to be...and it might not be empowering them to manage either! If this is you, your task, is to do exercise 1, and then see if focusing on the things to get you to YOUR goal, "squeezes out" some of the tasks in the "Delete" quarter (that's if you struggle to simple stop doing them).
If alternatively, you have very little under "Delete" and you are simply just striving forward and it's exhausting at times - then I wanted to share this lovely post I saw last night which made me smile...Sometimes, it's ok to pause.
But telling myself to relax makes me stressed
This is an all-too-common cry of the high achiever. Again - this is where the difference between our mental effort and our physical effort can help. Don't tell yourself to relax, instead focus on something outside your head - the birds singing, the warmth of the sun, I have a breathing ball I use and repeat the affirmation "Even if I can't control anything else, I can control my breathing." By taking your focus outside into the physical environment - eg - "looking", "feeling", "smelling", "tasting" or "listening" - we give "thinking" a break, which is often enough to let the brain recharge for a moment...and be ready and capable for when you want to use it again.
Ultimately, the only time we really have to create the future we want is right now. Ask yourself - am I doing everything I can right now that is setting up my tomorrow to be awesome? (Which includes resting your brain if you need to!) And if you are not - what can you do instead? (If you did the goal wheel (above), you'll have a few suggestions right there!)
You've got this.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience.