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Living in the Now, Visualizing the Future, and Learning from the Past

States of mind


Here’s a funny problem with motivation: in order to understand ourselves well enough to manage our emotions and ideas, we need to be mindful, which is to say, to live in the present, to pay attention to what is really going on inside and around us right now. But we also need to visualize where we’re going, to gain inspiration and energy from seeing what we could become and to anticipate both obstacles and rewards. And despite present and future, we also need to look back at what we have done regularly, to understand how things we’ve tried in the past have worked out so that we can repeat or change them, depending. We can’t do all of these things at the same time. Which is really more important?

Of course, that’s a trick question. Mindfulness is essential to changing ourselves, and visualization is an important step in motivating ourselves, and reflecting on the past to change the present (that is, creating a feedback loop) is an essential part of getting and keeping on track. The trick is to know when to do what. If anyone tells you to always live in the moment, ask them whether or not they look both ways when they cross the street.

The past (reflection or feedback) is important when we’re already working steadily toward a goal and are not conflicted in what we want to do. Reflection helps us correct our course and repeat successes.

The present (mindfulness) is where we need to put our minds when we are feeling conflicted or unhappy or distracted, or just want to be able to focus better. Mindfulness practices (especially mindfulness meditation) help us become serene and attentive.

The future (visualization) is where we need to place our thoughts when we’re not sure what we want to accomplish, or else when we want to build up enthusiasm for moving forward. If we’re feeling bad and unready to face the future, that’s a good sign that we need to concentrate on the present for a while instead, but if we’re calm and want to make decisions or get ourselves moving, visualizing the results of good choices now can be a tremendous help.

It will certainly be worth going into more depth on each of these subjects–feedback loops, mindfulness, and visualization–but even without that kind of detail, we’re ahead of the game just by knowing where in time to put our attention so as to best help our own motivation.

Photo by azharc

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