Stop Living in the Future

Stop Living in the Future

The futureI’ve been getting a lot of signals from the world lately that I’m living in the future, and that isn’t good. I mean, I am living in the here and now, but my mind keeps straying into the future, and this often creates an anxiety gap.

This is interesting, because I have no problem dealing with (or rather not dealing with) the past. There is no power in the past. It’s done. And I’m acutely aware that if we see and judge the present through the eyes of the past we get a totally distorted view of it, and that this is the cause of all sorts of misery and unhappiness, and even sickness. Years ago I read author and spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle say, “I have little use for the past and rarely think about it”, and realised that there was great power in this. It’s a daily battle, but I try hard not to simply be a product of my upbringing or my country of birth or my culture, but rather of my moment-to-moment choices. And most of the time I succeed – I no longer need the past to furnish me with an identity, like so many unfortunately seem to.

Both past and the future have no reality of their own. They are both illusory. Mind-made fiction. We have no power to act yesterday or tomorrow, and whenever we project beyond the present in either direction we make ourselves weak because we’re submitting to an illusion.

So much for setting goals then, right? Wrong. The purpose of goal setting isn’t to control the future, it’s actually to improve the quality of the present. If a goal doesn’t improve your present reality, then it’s probably pointless. But if a goal brings greater clarity, focus, and motivation to your life when you think about it, then it’s probably worth keeping. We should set goals for ourselves that make us feel powerful, motivated, and driven when we think about them, well before any final outcome is realised, and avoid setting goals that make us feel powerless, stressed out, or weak. Personal Development author Steve Pavlina says, “Whenever I focus on an inspiring goal, I feel extremely driven and motivated. Material goals always de-motivate me.” That’s interesting, isn’t it. So if you find yourself de-motivated, then you’re probably setting the wrong goals. We all need to set goals that are so inspiring that we can’t wait to get up in the morning and work on them!

But I digress… Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu famously said, “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.” I know this, and yet I feel anxious… I feel craving for fulfillment and completion in the future… So why is that?

Well, I think I figured it out. I was listening to one of the lectures in my Institute for Integrative Nutrition course, and the lecturer began extolling the virtues of single-pointed focus or, in other words, taking one day at a time. And then it dawned on me – Instead of taking one day at a time, I was spending a great deal of mental energy focusing on trying to control the future (a fruitless exercise, for sure.) I was shifting my focus away from my present reality, and into my imaginings of the future, and it was just as useless as if I’d been lamenting the past (another fruitless exercise, for sure.) I was giving up the beautiful clarity and power of the Now for things in the future that may or may not ever come to exist!

Screw that.

I’m now back to taking one day at a time, to being as present in the moment, every moment, as I can, and to letting the past fall behind me and the future unfold before me as they will. I’ve “re-set” goals that make me feel powerful, motivated, and driven when I think about them, I’m diving deeper into my daily mindfulness meditation, I’m allowing myself to get even better sleep quality, and my anxiety about the future feels like it never even existed. Wow.

So now I’d like to challenge everyone reading this post to join me in 3 areas :

  1. Re-read Lao Tzu’s quote above and ask yourself if you are living with any depression or any anxiety, and why that might be.
  2. Look at the goals you’ve set for yourself and ask if they are improving your present reality, then promptly get rid of any that aren’t.
  3. Try some mindfulness meditation, right now where you sit – Focus on your breath as it touches your nostrils going in and out, and note how wonderfully difficult it is to be anything but fully present in the moment when you do that. 🙂



Sleep Quality

Sleeping with my boys

The largest sleep study ever conducted, on 1.1 million people, shows that it’s quality of sleep and not quantity of sleep that really matters to our health and wellbeing. And most doctors, health experts, and especially athletes agree that quality sleep is critical.

Some of the benefits of good quality sleep include improved ability to learn new motor skills, greater ability to gain new insight into complex problems, better skin health and a youthful appearance,  increased testosterone levels (for men), more healthy cell division which helps prevent cancer, and increased athletic performance. Wow… The other side of that coin, of course, is that if you’re not sleeping well enough it’ll make you weak, fat, and kind of stupid…

Yet the vast majority of people have trouble sleeping. People in my circle of friends sometimes tell me that they get a solid 8 hours of sleep a night, yet still wake up feeling groggy and unrested. That’s no way to function in the state of high performance that we deserve. I think Vince Lombardi, perhaps the greatest sporting coach in the world, said it beautifully when he quipped, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”

Ok, so we need quality sleep to function optimally. So how, exactly, do we get that? Actually, it’s not that hard :

  1. Make your bedroom as dark as possible. That means turning of all appliances that have glowing lights (or covering those lights with tape), and blocking any cracks between curtains or blinds. I actually bought special blinds for my room that block out 100% of the sun for this very purpose.
  2. Make your bedroom as quiet as possible. Sounds pretty obvious, but it’s an important one. If you bedroom lets in the sound of traffic or other outdoor noise, try good quality ear plus. You can even have sound proofing and double glazed windows installed in your room for an ultra-quiet sleeping experience, like I have. (A bit extreme, I guess, but I really value my sleep.)
  3. Create an evening routine whereby you don’t exercise and you eliminate glowing screens about 2 hours before bed. If you can’t really avoid looking at your computer or mobile device before you sleep, install an application that dims the screen like f.lux for PC, Mac and iOS devices or Bluelight Filter for Android devices.
  4. Go to bed before 11 pm. It seems that after 11 pm, your body says “Oh, we need to stay up late, do we?” and then creates more of the hormone cortisol to keep you awake, and that’s not helpful.
  5. Stop drinking coffee after 2 pm, or at least 8 hours prior to bedtime. In spite of my deep love of coffee and all the good things it does for us, sadly caffeine is not a sleep aid…
  6. Track your sleep quality! Ok, I saved the best for last : Imagine this – You check off a list of “sleep notes” on your phone before you go to bed. Things like, stayed up late, drank alcohol, took supplements, had a stressful day. Then you put your phone in airplane mode and put it face down beside your pillow. Then the next morning, your phone not only shows you the quality of your sleep as a percentage (i.e. making sounds and tossing & turning means shallower sleep, as measured by your phone’s sensors) but it also shows you if the things you checked off the list before bed increased or decreased the quality of your sleep! SleepCycle is the name of the app that does this, and I highly recommend it. It’s free for iPhones and about a dollar for Android phones like mine. Check out the screen shots below of how the items in my own sleep notes effect my sleep quality. This data is was measured over 229 nights, which I believe makes it statistically significant. And note that drinking alcohol or coffee before bed had a negligible affect on my sleep, while doing an 18-hour fast resulted in an 8% increase in my sleep quality. How good is that! 🙂
Sleep Cycle 1

And note in this next screenshot that wearing my occlusal plate to stop my habit of grinding my teeth at night reduced my sleep quality by a whopping 18%. Hmmm…

Sleep Cycle 2

So, as you can see, sleep quality is something that we can measure and improve, and it’s well worth our while to do so. I highly recommend that everyone reading this post try at least one or two of the recommendations above, because the benefits can seriously outweigh the small time & energy investment required to achieve them.

Oh, and by the way, there is also some interesting research out there about taking supplements like Magnesium, Collagen and Krill Oil to increase sleep quality, but I haven’t found any significant benefits in doing so (see the screenshots again.) As always, though, your mileage may vary, so please test and comment back here if you find anything interesting.