Manage stress by living in the present

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Manage stress by living in the present

By default, we are all in the present, but not necessarily present, if that makes sense. This is where much of our stress rears its gnarly head.

We’re burdened with the constant pressure of what’s to come in a world that is almost exclusively forward focused. 

  • Create your own future!
  • Prepare for retirement!
  • Get ahead at work!
  • Develop a life plan!
  • Raise healthy and productive children!
  • Become the ____ you know you can be!
  • Get stuff done!
  • Be happy!
  • Change the world!

No pressure. 😳

What’s cool is that we have more opportunity now than at any other time in human history to actually accomplish these noble tasks. 

Previous generations didn’t have access to the technology and freedom that living today can bring. This particular age would have blown their minds.

To accomplish any one of these noble tasks would have been enough for them, let alone all of them at the same time.

We are in uncharted territory.

We scoot around, sometimes mindlessly, to try to take advantage of it all. We are so anxious to “get there.”

But once we get there, how then do we appreciate who we are in that moment and what we’ve already become?

Where are the master classes for that?

We just keep going to the next task, the next forward motion. ⏩

So many of our anxious and depressive thoughts stem from this constant focus on an ambiguous future moment.

These future moments can feel like a moving target. As we grow, change and develop new abilities, we decide we may want different things. 

So we may change and pivot.

Our future feels like it’s always “out there” because it is.

And even if you achieve all that you want, that future moment you aspire to will — one day — become your present moment.

Ah, the irony.

How will you even appreciate that moment? Have you thought about how you will mark and celebrate it?

Here are a couple of things that work for me:

Enjoy a “Done” list

There are a million and one ways to keep a to-do list. You can track it in a sweet little app that classifies, tags and whatnot. Or write out a list on a steno pad and keep it on the fridge (old school, I know, but it works).

But what about a list that captures what you ACTUALLY did?

Do you feel anxious and annoyed when you see how many things are still left on your list at the end of the day? Where did the time go?

You immediately start plotting those things for tomorrow, giving short shrift to your little worker bee 🐝 tasks that buzzed around so hard for you today.

The things you did get done you relegate to a checkmark or a strikethrough. Or worse, tag them as “Completed” and watch them disappear from your list completely.

Don’t just look at the checkmarks or the line throughs on your list. Separate them and give them their own list. They deserve it!

Those are the things you got done! ☑️

The present moments that you engaged.

So now you know you have the ability to take advantage of your present moments!

Master today

Today is here, and you are apparently already awake and moving around. Nice job! 😎

What are the things you can do TODAY that will move you toward those future goals?

Focus on just those things, and shove the rest aside for now.

Don’t let the future steps, which don’t matter right now, encroach on your present.

If this day is particularly challenging, maybe you can just focus on what you need to do in the next HOUR.

What is the literal next step on your list? 👟

Don’t worry about this afternoon or where you’d still like to be at the end of this day.

Muster your energy and focus toward just this present moment and see where it goes.

Stop moving

Sounds simple, but in order to focus on the present, you may have to stop moving for a minute.

Do you have to go right on to that next thing? 🏃 Or can you take a minute to enjoy a little self-imposed buffer zone?

I like to daydream in these moments. It gives my brain a frickin’ break from all that analyzing and planning and lets me imagine myself doing something ridiculously fun.

Do this when it’s super inconvenient and you feel like you just can’t spare the time.

This is probably when you are feeling most stressed about the future.

The present IS your life. 

Right now, as it’s happening. 

Enjoying the present isn’t hard but it does require intention. There will always be something in the future calling you out of it.

Learn to engage it on your terms.

How do you enjoy your present moments?

 

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Answers from the trail

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Road lined with trees

One of the advantages of having a few professional years under your belt is following the trail of your own actions and decisions.

Sometimes it can be validating to see where your head was in the right place.

Other times, it leaves you scratching your head, wondering how you missed so much that was so obvious.

There’s good data there if you allow yourself to mine it.

We leave breadcrumbs behind with every project, interaction and new venture.

We can go back and discover clues about how we view our work and how we really feel about our work.

That trail usually leads back to our early days in schooling, how we interacted with our classmates or early friends.

And how our parents or caregivers modeled authority to us.

  • Does your boss remind you of a parent? Consider how you respond to them.
  • Does your work environment mimic the playgrounds of your youth? You may see some familiar patterns and behaviors.
  • Maybe you look at your work as a challenge to be conquered, like a science project. Or just a problem to be solved and dealt with, like a math test.

Many of us move through the day in reactive mode, putting out fires we didn’t cause. We’re out of gas at the end of the day, but not sure exactly why.

How can you even think about changing the way you think about your work if you’re just trying to keep the embers from catching again?

You have to be the one to chart your new course.

Document your actions and decisions at work for a month.

Don’t judge it. Just write it down, warts and all.

At the end of the month, go back and read it. See what reveals itself. 

  • What worked?
  • What didn’t work?
  • What worked but singed your eyebrows in the process?
  • How did you respond to all of it?
  • How do you wish you had responded to some of it?

Patterns will jump out at you when you are removed from the immediacy and urgency of a specific circumstance or situation.

Now you know what to work on.