“Live in the now.” “Live in the present moment.” “Let that shit go.”
I am sure you have heard about these mystery mantras. But what the fack does this even mean? Why I just can’t live in the now? How to live in the now? Am I supposed to forget about the past and future and live like a 5 years old?
❤ What does “live in the now” even mean?
You might think you know, but not really.
Live in the now means being consciously aware of what’s happening in you and around you, right now.
What’s happening could be your surroundings, sensations, emotions, thoughts.
Yes, your thoughts is now too.
But the key here is AWARENESS. Awareness means you realize and objectively observe what’s happening, without being hijacked by your thoughts or emotions all the time, leaving you a walking dead that sleepwalks through your life.
Flow state is also living in the now, and it’s the good kind of now.
❤ Why does living in the now matters?
1. Now IS your WHOLE LIFE
Life is just a series of this moment.
You live in this second, this second, this second… The previous second has gone and the next has not come, so they are not real, only this second is real.
2. Past and future do not exist in this world, they are just imaginations in your mind
Take a look around you. Your present moment is just this small area in your room, this chair you sit in, your feeling, your breathing, and the sounds around you. That’s it, this is your present moment, your whole life. The person in the car outside, his present moment is what he is experiencing in his car right now. For a driving American, his present moment is what HE is experiencing in his car. There are tons of people, places, and activities going on right now, but if you are not seeing and thinking about them, then for you, they simply don’t exist.
To be more accurate, your whole life is just what you are thinking about in your head, right now.
For those things that you labeled as “yours”, the car in the garage, money in the bank, girlfriend sitting next to you, phone in your hand, if you are not thinking about these things at this moment, they simply don’t exist.
Life is all about experiencing what is happening, right now.
3. Living in the now is a major happiness source
Tons of scientific research shows that people who can live in the present moment are just happier than those who cannot.
Think about the purpose of your whole life, isn’t it to experience more and deeper levels of life?
And to experience life is to experience this moment.
Therefore, the priority of experiencing what’s happening in front of you is the highest, your thoughts, memories, plans, and imaginations should always come second.
❤ Why can’t we live in the now
Tell an anxious person to focus on what he is doing right now, this is what he feels like:
I can try to clear a small area and focus on the present matter for a short while, but two dark clouds are pressing in on both sides, not long they will take up the whole area.
Why can’t you live in the now? Obviously, it’s because you are living in the past and future. The past and future here do not just mean the future a few years later, or the past when you were a child. More often, it’s what happened minutes ago and what needs to be done tomorrow. As long as it is not this moment, it is the past and the future.
Then why do we constantly live in the past and the future? 2 reasons.
1. Genetic default
The designing goal of the human being is to survive and reproduce (reproduction is just another form of survival). Therefore, all our physical and psychological mechanisms are optimized for the goal of “survival”. Thinking about the past and worrying about the future is exactly something we do for survival.
Worrying about the future is a genetic default. We are programmed to constantly identify danger, worry about it, and react instantly when it arises. For example, when hunting wild boars outside, our ancestors have to keep looking around the grass to identify whether there are wolves or tigers. When wild boars appear, they must be able to instantly decide whether to fight or flight. But the problem with this setting is that we no longer live in this kind of environment. What we do nowadays are just stuff like going to work, playing games, going shopping, eating and chatting. What’s so dangerous about that? But our genetic programming is still the same as our ancestors 20,000 years ago, so even though there is no real danger in life, we are still constantly worrying. Then naturally we are not happy.
Thinking about the past is also a genetic default. Our ancestors thought about the past in order to draw lessons from it. For example, after eating, they began to think about why they didn’t notice the bear in the grass yesterday when they were hunting, and how to find out next time. We are stuck in the past because we want to solve a problem that happened in the past and can no longer be solved. How could I didn’t win the fight with that stupid colleague? I stumbled and fell on the road yesterday, that’s shameful. I really should man up and talk to that hot girl I met, and most importantly, the scars your parents left you with when you were a child.
Then here comes the problem, these worries about the future and ruminating about the past are all negative drives. Instead of making us happier, these behaviors make us more stressed and anxious.
That’s all you can do, God? do you even know how to design?
Nature’s design goal for humans has always been survival, not happiness.
God doesn’t care about your happiness.
The Tao Te Ching saying “The world is not benevolent, and taking all things as straw dogs” is just a mirror of this point.
Endless desires, always hungry… Humans are designed to be never satisfied.
Suffering is the normal state of life. Happiness is not the default setting. To live a happier life, we must work hard to create a little order and warmth in this disordered and ruthless world.
I will talk about this later.
2. Personal trauma
On top of the default setting, many traumatized people form a lot of bad mindsets, such as anxiety, overthinking, perfectionism, can’t live in the now, etc. I put these happiness-stealing mindsets in the “Bad Mindset Pack”. People with these mentalities will magnify past traumas and future dangers. These trauma-induced mindsets are the main reason why most people cannot live in the now.
And these mindsets actually have only one root cause: insecurity.
Not being able to live in the moment is one of these mindsets.
→ First, worrying about the future
What do people with a traumatic mindset worry about for the future? 2 things:
① Future danger. Now there are no bears to worry about. What we worry about is tomorrow’s meeting, being scolded, good grades, what to do if we lose our job, and what to do if we don’t get the girls we like. These are all “dangers”. But this kind of worry only accounts for 20%, what is more important is the next point:
② Self-imposed expectations. Those “things I must do in my life, if I can’t do it, there is no point even living”. What to do if I can’t succeed, what to do if I can’t have money, what to do if I can’t find my purpose. Many traumatized people are always worried about the future, and want to be “successful”.
→ Then, thinking about the past
For the past, people with trauma mainly do not understand where their bad mindsets came from, where their anxiety and depression came from, and more importantly — — What happened to me when I was a child?
In short, the past is not clear, the future is not certain, so there is no relief of “I finally figured it out, now I can finally rest assured”.
In one word, I’m not ready to live.
And behind all of this is actually one thing – the sense of security.
❤ How to live in the now
1. Realize that you are safe now
Genetic default + traumatic mindset both exaggerate the dangers of our circumstances. Stop often and look at your surroundings, is there any danger? Aren’t you just sitting in a comfortable chair, with air conditioning, and doing some stuff? In the past year, have you experienced any danger in this environment?
Remind yourself that there are few real dangers in today’s world. As long as you are safe, can eat and drink well, sleep well, and have medicine for small illnesses, you are already very safe, and you don’t need to worry about your survival at all. This is something that our ancestors who risked their lives for a meal couldn’t even imagine.
The first level of the Maslow hierarchy – physiological needs, the second level – safety needs, all check √.
Isn’t that a blessing?
2. The real “future”
- You can’t predict the future. Forget about the stock market or the epidemic outbreak, let’s just say that you want to buy some groceries in the small store you go to every day. Can you be sure that it will go smoothly? There will be no surprises like someone cut your line or the network is down?
- You can’t control the future. Not just you, no one can. During the cold war, the United States and the Soviet Union, two overlords of the earth, put their whole countries’ resources to carry out an arms race. Every day is like a coin in the air, before it hits the ground, no one can tell if the world will be destroyed or peaceful.
- You can’t figure out the future. You want to predict and prepare in advance for all the bad things that will happen in your life in the future. But it is only because you are too insecure. You’ve been hurt before and you’re afraid of getting hurt more. So you’re like an anxious child huddled in a corner, with terrified eyes wide open, trying to see what dangers lie ahead and prepare for them.
It’s okay, kid, I know you’ve been hurt. But come out, the world is safe now.
- The future will not be better than now. Life is built with trivial events, exciting moments are rear no matter when. Say you built a great company and went to strike the listing bell, that’s a big exciting moment, right? But when you really do it, what you are actually thinking about may be whether my collar is straight or not, what to say next, I really shouldn’t fight with my wife in the morning.
- Things that come from outside, like achievements and money, won’t make you happier. Because what you lack is not a more exciting life, but the ability to feel life. From a material point of view, there is a high probability that the future you will be richer than you are now, but if you can’t feel the beauty of life now, you won’t feel it in the future either.
What you lack is not a more exciting life, but the ability to feel life.
- Extrinsic stimulation can only last for so long. The more you think about the girl you didn’t get, the closer she is to a goddess. But after you finally be with her, she suddenly became no different than other girls. A new mobile phone could only excites you for a month, iPhone 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, every year there is a new one, “bigger and better”, does it really make that big a difference?
- Most of the dangers you imagine will never happen. You can try to write down your worries in a diary and look back after a month. How many bad shit really happened? The answer is always very little.
- Accept that bad things will happen. A small part of the danger you imagined WILL happen, but you don’t know when, where, and how it will happen. Just deal with whatever comes up, if you really can’t handle it, then it’s not your problem.
- Everything in front of you is life. Hope you are not currently living like this: First, imagine a lot of future dangers, then put your life on how to deal with these illusory dangers. In the end, you did not figure out the future and missed every day of your real life. All the thoughts in your mind are not real, what is happening in front of you is real life. Life is just a consecutive of seconds, and every second of your life is equally important.
Every second of your life is equally important.
You are always anxious, worried, trying to get somewhere, then where are you going? Now is your real life!
Where the hell are you going?
3. Know your self-imposed expectations
A big part of worrying about the future is worrying about not living up to your expectations. The two biggest categories are – 1. Worrying about not being successful, and 2. Worrying about not being able to find your purpose.
→ Worry about not being successful
I have thought about this for a long time. I worry that I won’t be successful, that I won’t be able to go to the countries I want to go to, meet the people I want to meet, try the things I want to try and create the valuable things I want. I was worried that I would lose my job, have no money, and live in a shitty rental apartment.
I keep digging deeper, why do I want to succeed? Where does my idea come from?
Then I figured it out, it is from my childhood.
Because subconsciously, what I really want is not to be successful, but to prove that I’m worthy, I’m worthy of being loved.
What you are worried about is not going into a failed future, but returning to your dark past.
→ Worry about not being able to find purpose
① What you are looking for is actually not purpose
I used to want to find my purpose as soon as possible, thinking that as long as I find the right path, my life will change completely, I will be doing what I like every day, and I will become happy.
After several years of thinking and searching, I found that in fact, what I was looking for was not purpose, but a sense of security. Because I thought I would be happy doing what I like, and I would do it very well, and other people would love and respect me. Then I would have a solid sense of security.
In other words, my motivation to succeed and find my purpose is mostly negative. It is to avoid danger, not to pursue happiness. It is a passive push rather than an active pull.
Of course, we still have to do what we like, so part of the motivation of finding purpose is positive, but it only accounts for a very small part.
② Purpose is not what you think it is
This purpose thing is actually not as good as you think either.
I summed up the 4 main problems of “purpose”: multiple, change, long and short.
- Multiple: There could be more than one purpose in a person’s life
- Change: Purpose, like feelings, are temporary and can change
- Long: Finding life purpose takes a long time, in fact some people may never find it
- Short: Even if you find it, it’s impossible to plan the rest of your life on it, you can only plan short-term and step into an uncertain future
You have lived for decades now, and you only know a little bit about yourself, what you like and what you don’t. There is a lot you haven’t experienced yet, so trying to plan your whole life based on the information you already have is just impossible.
Even if you are doing your passion as your career, there will be a lot of stuff that you don’t like in it, such as starting a company needs to deal with the government or tax.
Life purpose is just a thin straw that you grabbed in an insecure environment, and you imagined it as a big tree.
More on purpose later.
4. Knowing why you can’t let go of the past
You can’t let go of the past mainly because you don’t understand two things about it — 1. Where did your bad mindsets (such as anxiety and depression) come from, and 2. What have you been through when you were a child.
But you will not figure these out immediately. It took me 10 years to have a basic understanding, and my own efforts are only part of it, another big part is luck, mainly whether you can meet someone who can really help you. I’m writing those posts and posting videos because I’ve been lucky enough to meet some of these people (although I’ve never met them in real life) who have helped me along the way, so I want to help others too.
Whether it is future dangers and expectations, or bad mindsets and past trauma, it is best to figure them out immediately, but due to the above reasons, you just can’t, then how can we live in the now, but also think about the past and the future?
❤ How to live in the now and think about the past and future
Living in the now is not being completely satisfied with your current life and expecting no change. First fully experience your current life, then see the good side of your life, and change the bad part.
For example be grateful for what you already have, such as a healthy body, you are young, you don’t have to worry about basic needs, you have a job and so on. Then you switch to problems, such as a soul-sucking job or toxic relationship, or need to find passion, etc. Then go for a change.
So how can we live in the present while thinking about the past and the future at the same time?
But first let’s see if two extreme paths are feasible:
Simply forget the past and future, just live completely in the present: not feasible. Because you will live for at least several decades, without learning from the past and planning for the future, your life will be harder as you age.
Figure out the past and future, then live in the now: not feasible either. Because you can’t figure it out quickly, and it will be a waste of your life.
So what to do? 3 tools: The “From-Now-On Model”, right self-expectation, and the “80/20 Rule of Now”.
1. The “From-Now-On Model”
Step 1: Start from now. Now is the foundation of your life. First live in the now, be satisfied with it, then start from it. On top of that, the tiniest progress is a gain. Not the opposite which is setting a high goal first, then until you reach there, everything in your current life seems like shit.
Step 2: Follow your heart and go in the BROADLY right direction. Do things that match your values and interests. Finding the right direction is a process from blur to clear. Don’t try to find the ultimate correct path at your first try, it’s near impossible, and putting the cart before the horse. You only need to go in the broadly right direction that feels right, the road ahead will get more clear as go take your steps.
Step 3: Keep learning, trying, and gravitating toward the right path. Be prepared to make a lot of mistakes and fail a lot in the process. Then you will find your purpose as a natural result.
This is also an example of evolutionary thinking, that is, you don’t set a specific destination at the beginning, but put yourself in a suitable environment, focus on the present, follow your feelings, and you will eventually get to where you want to go.
2. Have right expectations for yourself
- Accept that you will fail many times in the future. This mindset is better: “In the future, I want to do three things: 1, 2, and 3. It would be great if I can achieve them, but if I can’t, I can accept it.” For example, if you try to start a business and fail, you can always find a job again. Or at least you tried it with no regrets and gained experience.
- Accept a lot of things you want, you won’t get them in the end. You can’t read all the good books in the world, travel to every country, meet people with every lifestyle, or be with the one who you like but doesn’t like back. Your expectation should be:
Life is not either 0 or 1, but a process from 0 to 1. It doesn’t matter whether you reach 1 in the end or not. What’s important is when you look back, your broad direction is right.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t get it, because you are getting better and better in the process.
200 years ago, no one in the world could travel around the world or see what people in another country were doing at any time. Not everyone should be able to do this easily now. Accept the reality that your financial state and health level are limited, and be satisfied with what you already have, a little gain is a win, instead of until everyone gets everything, no one’s life is good enough to start being happy.
3. The 80/20 rule of now
Live in the present at least 80% of the time, and set aside a short period of time to think about the future and the past.
That is to say, take “thinking about the future or the past” as one of the tasks on your calendar, write it down in your to-do list, and give it a clear start and finish time.
For example, set a clear schedule of go play in the park this afternoon, and start writing the document due today at 8 pm. Instead of thinking about the document when playing, and regretting about didn’t play wholeheartedly when working on the document.
❤ Practices for living in the now
- Consciously feel the little things you are doing. Start with 2 little things – eating and walking.
When eating, eat slowly, pick up just a little food, smell it first, then put it in your mouth, chew slowly and thoroughly, savor the texture, taste, and sound of different ingredients. When you eat, just eat, don’t hold your phone in your left hand, fork in your right, eye staring at the screen, while stuffing food in your mouth and gobbling it up. If you pay attention, you will notice that you are actually very anxious eating like this.
When walking, walk slowly, feel the pressure on your soles, the warmth of your feet, and the movement of your legs.
These are actually mindfulness practices.
- Feel the sensations in your body. After lying on the bed before going to sleep, feel each part of your body from the feet to the head. When you are sitting in the chair, you can also stop and take a minute to feel how your butt, feet, back, and neck feel. It’s also a mindfulness practice.
- meditation. Meditation is the most powerful of all mindfulness practices. The practice of meditation is to be constantly aware that your mind is being carried away by the past and the future and to return to the present moment. For more on what meditation is, its benefits, what people are doing it, how to meditate, and why meditation is so powerful, see here.
- Do only one thing at a time. As mentioned above, when thinking about work while playing, and thinking about not playing well when working, eventually we waste time and end up with nothing. At moments like this, just ask yourself: “Are you sure you WANT to think about this now?” If the answer is “no”, then every time you realize that you are thinking about it, stop and focus on the present. If the answer is “yes,” you go on asking yourself, “Are you sure you CAN do this right now?” Usually, the answer to both questions is “no.”
- Exercise. Exercise releases that fight-flight anxiety, so you can be more present.
- Be in nature. Humans have lived in the natural environment since ancient times, and only in the last few hundred years have we begun to live in large-scale cities. Going for a walk in the forest, sitting by the river and the sea, or fishing in the lake can relieve a great amount of anxiety.
- Less screen time. News and social media are all things that make people anxious.
- Do what you love. It is easier to enter the flow state by doing things you like, and the flow state is a kind of high-quality living in the moment. There are only a few decades in a person’s life. Do something you like. It doesn’t matter what other people think, in a few years, both of you will disappear from this world.
❤ One hidden obstacle
OK, at this point you may think, wow, this stuff is absolutely right!
More than 80% of the content here is summarized from my 10 years of personal experience plus a lot of researching, thinking, and practicing. If you can do the above, I can 100% guarantee that you will be able to live in the now better.
But among the people who read this article, there are definitely less than 20% who will actually do the above practices. Because of a big hidden obstacle—worrying about the future and the past is a kind of fear, and fear is irrational. This means that if there is no one forcing you, even if you know rationally that you should live in the now, you will still worry about the past and the future; even if you know how to do each of these practices, you will most likely not do it.
So what to do?
You need SOMEONE who can influence you in your life.
And that’s exactly why I build this website.