I never realised how disempowering it was to always ask myself “what if?” Then I learned why these 6 phrases stopped me from fully living in the present.

We hear so much about the importance of staying in the present. It sounds like such a simple thing, but it’s far easier said than done.

In fact, so much of our day is often spent dwelling on the past or trying to second-guess the future.

Sometimes we even wish our time away waiting for the future to arrive, because the present moment doesn’t feel good enough.

Or we destroy our peace of mind in the present regretting things we cannot change.

No wonder it can be seriously detrimental to our mental health and strip us of our power.

Yet a lot of the time as our attention drifts, it can go unnoticed.

There are even some sneaky (and seemingly innocuous) phrases we use that inadvertently stop us from fully living in the present.

In a quest to bring more mindfulness into my life, I started to question some of the language I was using and the messages it sent.

It was only then that I noticed how disempowering the following phrases really are…

1) “I wish things were different”

Wishing that something wasn’t the way it was takes our attention away from the reality we are faced with.

It’s natural to feel disappointment and frustration over bad things that happen.

We may burden ourselves with guilt or shame when we feel like we’ve messed up or failed somehow. 

Yet it does zero good.

It cannot change things. But forgiveness can help us to frame it in a more positive light.

As actress Lily Tomlin once noted: “Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.” 

When we say “I wish,” we are thinking about what could have been rather than what already is. So this sort of phrase keeps us trapped in the past.

It’s much better to accept what already is and turn our focus to what we can do about it. Even if that is simply to accept it and move on.

Instead of dwelling on regrets or missed opportunities, we should redirect our energy towards making the most of the current moment.

2) “One day”

I spent so many years of my life mentally cataloging all the things I’d do “one day”.

The places I’d go, the adventures I’d have, and the experiences I would collect.

I think I was scared to make a start, but I didn’t want to let go of my dreams either. So it seemed like a nice fairy tale to tell myself that “one day” I’d start truly living.

Until it dawned on me:

The only time in life is right now. There is now “one day” and certainly not one that is promised to us.

It can be fun to daydream. Some people even find visualization a powerful tool for making things happen in their lives, but it has to be combined with taking action.

It’s also okay to admit that something is simply not a priority right now. But all too often we use “one day” as an excuse to let ourselves off the hook in taking that all-important action.

This phrase pins your goals, ambitions, and dreams on some undefined date in the future that is yet to be set, and likely never will be.

Instead, we should look at how we’re living right now and check we’re doing all we can to create a meaningful life that feels fulfilling.

3) “It’s not fair”

If ever there was a classic victim phrase, it’s this one.

That’s why it’s so disempowering. It carries us away in self-pity, but that cuts us off from finding acceptance.

I’m not even doubting the validity when we use this phrase. The reality is that life dishes out plenty of situations that are totally unfair.

But it’s yet another thing that we tell ourselves that inadvertently takes our attention away from where it needs to be.

Because whether we like it or not, accepting how life is in this very moment is the only way we stop ourselves from piling on even more unnecessary suffering about it.

We don’t always get a say in the hand we’re dealt, but we do get to choose how we will respond.

Developing a greater sense of trust in yourself can help you to believe that whatever hardship life has thrown your way, you will survive.

4) “I’ll be happy when…”

truly a deep thinker I never realised how disempowering it was to always ask myself "what if?" Then I learned why these 6 phrases stopped me from fully living in the present.

Even when we don’t say it out loud, how many of us are guilty of silently thinking this to ourselves?

We think of happiness as something elusive that is to be found “out there” rather than accessible to us in the present moment.

But it’s simply not true.

We may tell ourselves that:

  • I’ll be happy when I get that promotion
  • I’ll be happy when I finally meet my soul mate
  • I’ll be happy when I can go on vacation
  • I’ll be happy when I can afford more of life’s little luxuries

In fact, there are countless things we believe will bring peace of mind and comfort.

Even when we get what we want, the temporary high never lasts. Then we choose something else to rest our future happiness on.

It’s a trap.

The real truth is we cannot chase it, happiness happens in the now and that’s the only place to find it.

Practicing gratitude is a great way of paying attention to what you have going for you already at this moment.

That instantly boosts your life satisfaction without feeling like you need more in order to be happy.

5) “What if…”

I’m all about being prepared.

I think it’s smart to be aware of what could go wrong when you’re making a plan. It can help us to avoid it when we are mindful of potential pitfalls.

That’s why it’s undoubtedly a life skill to be able to weigh up risk.

But rather than objectively evaluating a decision, posing this question all too often is about our fear.

It reflects a mindset of worry and uncertainty. It’s about hypervigilance over things we cannot possibly know.

What if it doesn’t work out how I wanted? What if I fail? What if it all goes wrong?

We end up talking ourselves out of doing things because we cannot predict the outcome.

But there is no way to know how something will turn out.

Constantly questioning the future prevents us from fully experiencing the present. It fuels anxiety and robs us of the peace that can be found in the here and now.

Rather than worrying about what will or won’t happen, we need to give our energy to our actions right now.

Challenging irrational thoughts and focusing on the positive aspects of the present can help us to do this.

So too can focusing on personal growth over perfection.

 6) “The good old days”

I was on Facebook the other day and noticed two former school friends reminiscing about “the best days of their lives” back in high school.

Okay, admittedly I’m biased as my teenage angst years happen to be some of my worst. But it also struck me how depressing this outlook is.

It’s all about looking backward with rose-tinted glasses. Yet we should never feel like our glory days are behind us.

It’s far better to see every new day that arrives as having the potential to be the best day of our lives.

Whenever we think that yesterday was so much better than our present, we steal an opportunity from ourselves.

Living off past happy memories is such a waste when we could be creating new ones right now.

Final thoughts on staying present 

Distractions are lurking everywhere that want to pull us from the present.

Our own thoughts are often our biggest enemy. But we can fight back with simple strategies designed to anchor us in the now.

Discovering more mindfulness techniques that work for you is a great way to start.

Eliza Hartley

Eliza Hartley

Eliza Hartley, a London-based writer, is passionate about helping others discover the power of self-improvement. Her approach combines everyday wisdom with practical strategies, shaped by her own journey overcoming personal challenges. Eliza's articles resonate with those seeking to navigate life's complexities with grace and strength.

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