It may seem sacrilege, but the title is true. I’ve stopped looking forward to the future.
That said, fear not. I haven’t become a pessimist or a Donnie Downer. My internal curmudgeon knows how to flex his muscles, but he hasn’t yet commandeered my internal rudder. Generosity and gratitude still captain the ship.
It’s just that I’m trying to live in the present.
Mindfulness practice encourages us to get here, now. To bring our spotlight of attention onto the experience and sensations right around us. And that means not ruminating on regret for the past or amping up anxiety for the future.
Perhaps, surprisingly, it also suggests letting go of nostalgia—the longing for a long-ago time—and pulling back from anticipation. Or, more accurately, staying away from their sticky sides. No matter our mental machinations, we ultimately live our lives in this moment. The more we bring ourselves to what’s before us, the more we register with all our senses—body, mind, and heart—and the more we can savor. Or, when facing challenges, the more we can learn. We actually live our lives rather than just thinking about them.
So now I’m catching myself. In times and places when I would have said I’m really looking forward to something, I adjust my language. What’s actually happening is that I’m excited now for something I anticipate will arrive. I’m noticing my current experience.
I love the shift for two reasons. One, it simply seems more accurate. As someone who delights in language precision, there’s gold in that hill right off the bat. More importantly, it takes the future off the hook. With this adjustment, I’m not longer setting myself up for deflation if what I’m anticipating doesn’t come true. I don’t need the future to happen the way I want in order to gain the benefit of enjoying my excitement now. I can relax my inclination to control. The positive vibes get banked. If disappointment arrives down the road, I’ve got that buffer to soften the blow.
A similar dynamic can apply with looking back on fond memories. Rather getting caught in clinging to what was, I can notice and enjoy the pleasure I still gain—here, now—from the echoes of that experience. I’m not gripping for that goodness. I’m letting it wash over me.
Some might say I’m blinding myself with a semantic smokescreen. The linguistic shift doesn’t keep me from lingering. That may be true. And…I notice a significant difference whenever I remember and choose different words. My anticipation gets lighter and sweeter. My planning gets more creative and less fearful. And my memories slough off their baggage while leaving their lessons.
Try it for yourself. See what you think. And, if you like, let me know how it goes.
In this case, I don’t need to look forward to enjoy the possibility. I’m excited now to learn what insights you gain.
Ted DesMaisons is the founder and principal of Anima Learning, a collaborative consultancy that feeds the spark of curiosity and connection in leaders, educators, and individuals. He also serves as the US Coordinator for the UK-based Mindfulness in Schools Project.