Whenever you start to hear the same advice over and over, it’s time to stop and reflect on what’s being said.
One of these pieces of advice that I heard so many times in 2016 was “live the moment”. It seems to have become a mantra that everyone is mindlessly repeating, convincing themselves this is the way to deal with all of your anxieties and problems.
My idea is that living the moment is terrible advice. It’s better to live for your past and your future.
One of billionaire investor Peter Thiel’s secrets to success is to ask people the question, “what important truth do very few people agree with you on?” I’m sure that my thoughts on living the moment fit into this category.
I take solace in Mark Twain’s advice saying, “whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”
Living the past is better than living the moment
Many new age thinkers tell us that right now is all that exists, and that we should only do what feels good.
Although this is very alluring advice, it often fails to produce desirable results in the real world. Living the moment is why many people leave marriages, act irresponsibly and go into debt.
When you live the moment, you’re neglecting the past, and losing sight of the way in which your prior choices have brought you to this present moment. You’re creating a mental state where you’re giving up responsibility for your life.
Much better than living in the ever present now is to ask yourself a number of questions:
- How have your last two years been?
- How have your last two months been?
- How have your last two days been?
- What can I do to change my next two days?
- What can I do to change my next two months?
- What can I do to change my next two years?
When you incorporate this simple insight into your life – that your past shapes your present – you’ll see that what you do right now determines the future you’re creating.
Living for the past informs the present
This may sound strange, but the present moment is ephemeral and fleeting. Our memories of experiences are more important than the experiences themselves.
Consider the wise (and incredibly eloquent) words of Jason Silva in this short video essay below. For Silva, there’s an impermanence to the moment. It’s always fleeting, and that’s why we defy impermanence by creating memories of the experiences that we have.
So again, living intentionally is much better than living the moment. Live for the future you want to create rather than just floating in the wind, wandering aimlessly through life. Here are some more questions to ask yourself.
- How do you want to look back on today?
- How will you look back on this year?
- What will you see when you look back on your entire life?
These questions are much better for helping you decide on how to act now in the present than acting based on whatever your current emotional state is.
Living for the past helps you design your ideal future
One of Stephen R. Covy’s 7 habits of highly effective people is to begin with the end clearly in mind. In doing so, Covey asks you to imagine your 80th birthday party (maybe in these days you can imagine your 100th or even 120th). The purpose of your party is for all of your loved ones to honor your life.
Imagine this person that is being honored. What kind of life have they lived? What impact would you like to see this person as having made in their life?
Living for the moment fails to consider the holistic nature of time. According to many new cosmological theories, the past and future always exist in the present. Time is simply an illusion.
If this is the case, why would we neglect the past and the future to only live in the present? When you ignore one key part of your metaphysical experience of reality, you’re damaging the other parts, which includes the present.
Take responsibility in the moment by honoring your past and future
It’s easy to justify poor decisions in the moment. It’s easy to respond to the fluctuations of your emotions or hormonal states. It’s easy to be reactive to whatever your life circumstances may be.
It’s more difficult to take responsibility for your life. But it’s ultimately much more rewarding. You’ll choose to be productive even when you don’t feel like it. You’ll choose to save money even when you want to spend it. You’ll choose to stick things out rather than quit over and over again. You’ll choose to take a stand, because it’s the right thing to do.
As J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan, has said, “The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another; and his humblest hour is when he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it.”
What do you think of the idea to live for the past and the future? Let me know in the comments below, or join Ideapod where there are many similar ideas being shared.