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I have spent most of my life either thinking about the past or worrying about the future. Very little of the time, I realise, I am actually focussed on the present moment.
Thinking about our pasts need not be a negative behaviour. It can be constructive if we choose to:
Remember helpful methods we used in the past to create the life we wanted, this can be useful to inform us of similar ways to deal with future situations.
To not repeat unhelpful ways of dealing with events. Some events are out of our control. However, we can control how we deal with it. This does not mean pretending we feel happy and not feeling sadness.
However, if we respond to sadness with destructive measures like drinking alcohol or taking it out on others this is clearly unhelpful. It doesn’t mean we don’t acknowledge how we feel, but we can choose to adopt more helpful approaches like talking to a professional.
Likewise, contemplating the future may be beneficial if we are keeping in mind our future goals with the purpose of directing our attention to behaviours we need to engage in the present in order to achieve them.
However, we can dwell on our futures in ways that are destructive and wasteful. For example if we become stuck with worries that are imagined – not only are we not making positive use of the present, we are becoming anxious without purpose. If our concerns are real, then we can do what we can to increase the likelihood that we experience a positive outcome..
Since our present actions help to form future outcomes, it makes sense to make the most of ‘now’ to achieve our goals. We can focus on the past or the future in constructive ways as discussed.
It is okay to remember our mistakes to the extent where we remember to learn from them and behave differently in the future. However, dwelling on negative past events firstly wastes time and energy we could spend in the present.
When our minds are in the past or the future, we have lower mental resources to focus on the present.
Learn from the past, make the most of the present, and look forward to a positive future!