I moved last week. If you’ve ever moved, then you can probably relate to this: My life is a hot mess right now. Yesterday, I spent 45minutes digging through unpacked boxes and trash bags filled with clothes looking for my router (only to suddenly realize that I had taken it to Target to find a matching modem and forgotten it at the register). Aside from feelings of blinding rage, packing and unpacking and sorting and cleaning has brought up some very strong feelings of impatience in me. All I keep thinking is, “I can’t wait until this is over.”
Have you ever had that thought? When you’re stuck in traffic: “I can’t wait until this is over.” Clocking in long hours on a big project: “I can’t wait until this is over.” Driving to Target to retrieve your forgotten router: “I can’t wait until this is over.” Monday: “I can’t wait until this is over.”
How much of our day do we spend waiting for it to be over? I started to observe my own thought patterns and was surprised to find this particular thought reappearing in my mind more often than I would have expected. It’s not completely shocking — I have numerous commitments and high-pressure responsibilities. You can relate, right? Life can be stressful and uncomfortable. Understandably, we look forward to weekends, vacations, new jobs, etc. But consider this: Our circumstances keep changing and evolving — new relationships, new responsibilities, new schedules — but that feeling of impatience for the process keeps coming back. So I have to wonder, is it our circumstances that are making us uncomfortable, or is it our minds themselves that are uncomfortable?
And if that question isn’t confronting enough, in the process of self-observation, I discovered another thought that solicits my mind even more aggressively than the “I can’t wait until this is over.” It’s this one: “I can’t wait to get there.” Until now, I hadn’t thought of the latter as destructive. On the contrary: I have many fabulous, ambitious girlfriends who are very proud to share this pattern of thinking. We would call ourselves goal-oriented. We are driven and motivated. Thinking about tomorrow is what got us to where we are today … right? But we have to ask ourselves, is our obsession with the end result generally accompanied by feelings of peace? I have to confess to you right now, the answer for me is “no.” Although there are moments of excitement and even glee when a goal is reached, I have discovered that those feelings are fleeting at best. In fact, strangely enough, the more I achieve from this space of result-over-process, the closer acquainted I become with dissatisfaction and anxiety. Is the same true for you?
What both of these and any variation of the “I can’t wait” thought have in common is that they cause us to be trapped in an imaginary future of what could or should be, dwelling on positive or negative scenarios that take us away from the reality of “right now.” When we choose to operate this way, we miss the opportunity to relate to our present as the space where our lives actually occur. As a culture, we are obsessed with the end result, but we have no interest in the means by which we get there. We understand how to focus on our goals and desires, but we have no idea how to enjoy the actual process.
This is problematic for a couple of reasons. No matter how much we wish it weren’t so, we spend the vast majority of our lives in the process, rather than the “having gotten” of the goal. We experience the climb up Mount Everest for much longer than we do the moment of actually having gotten to the top. So if we love the result and hate the process, we’re setting ourselves up for a very burdensome climb up. And that’s exactly how life occurs for many of us, isn’t it?
The weight of this burden is felt when we incorrectly place our attention on the end result instead of being present to the process. We perpetually suffer under the illusion that our joy and satisfaction come from achieving some sort of result that we do not currently have — and then we’re surprised when we reach a goal and it doesn’t bring us the happiness we were so sure it would bring.
Numerous studies have shown that living in the future in this way provides us with a false understanding of how to attain happiness. We strive for a result, thinking, “This is going to be it!” Then we get there, and perhaps we feel a sense of accomplishment, even some feelings of pleasure. But inevitably, we return to that state of incompleteness and dissatisfaction. So we think, “Hm. Well, then this must not be it,” and set a new goal to achieve. But it’s not that the goal was incorrect. All along, the attention placed on the goal as the source of our happiness was incorrect.
It’s important for us to stop and self-observe because too many of us—sometimes the most fabulous and driven of the group—are completely misguided by a false focus on the future. We’re either hating our present and waiting for our lives to be over, or missing the present because we’re distracted by thoughts about where our lives could be. Either way, we are fast-forwarding, detached from experiencing life just as it is (and just as it isn’t) right here and right now, and this disconnect is causing us to jump from thing to thing in search of satisfaction, setting us up for a disappointing life.
But good news! If living in the future is our problem, I believe one solution may simply lie in shifting our focus to the present. Many methods exist, but one quick way I have learned to anchor myself when I am feeling overwhelmed by future-based thinking is to stop and say, “I am here.” You say the words and use your five senses to take in what “here” looks, smells, sounds, tastes, and feels like. It’s easy to do and is a profoundly powerful way to immediately draw yourself into the present moment. And don’t be surprised (I was!) if being present in this way immediately gives you access to the feelings of joy and peace you thought lived far away in your future — or ironically gives you clarity for attaining your goals in a more efficient manner. We chase our futures with our “can’t waits” in desperate hope of finding some semblance of happiness, but the big cosmic joke is that the gateway to any lasting sense of contentment cannot be achieved by attaining results — only by correctly placing our attention on the process we are in right now.
So, I’ve been on hold with Time Warner for 20minutes now. I found my router, but now they’re trying to figure out why it isn’t connecting to the Internet. I won’t lie to you, the first thought I had began with “I can’t wait … ” But if every process is my Everest, I decided that my climb up is going to be even better than the top. So …
I am here. And I can wait.
Join the movement atsmywca.org.