Have you ever seen the show Hoarders? They portray the people on the show as crazy, but in actuality they are just suffering from the same inability to live in the moment that we are. They are so concerned about holding on to memories or needing something in the future that they choose to live their present day in complete chaos. It’s insane. We may keep a tidy home, but if our brains were houses, most of us in the Western World would have a brain equivalent of a hoarder’s home.
One of the best ways to improve creativity, beat depression and be happy in general is to learn to live in the moment. But when you hear “live in the moment”, it can be really confusing to those of us who like to strive, save and plan because we’ve been taught that being wise means preparing for a bright future. We’ve all noticed other people who live their lives “for the moment” with no thought for future consequences.
There’s a big difference between living IN the moment and living for the moment. When you are living for the moment, you seek excitement and avoid discomfort at all costs. You only care about being entertained and happy now, and you sacrifice all consideration of what sort of future you are setting up for yourself and whoever you are hurting in the process. Living for the moment is the height of selfishness, so much so that you don’t even care about your own future self two weeks, or even 24 hours later.
This is basically how young children live, but for them it’s natural and delightful because it comes from a place of innocence. They don’t know what things are dangerous and what things are safe. They don’t know that too much candy will make them sick because they haven’t experienced it or if they have they don’t make the connection between cause and effect.
We all live for the moment occasionally when we make choices we regret later, staying too long at the beach and getting sunburned or drinking coffee before bed and not being able to sleep. Either we forgot to think about the consequences or we didn’t care enough about them at the time to change our behavior. Almost all of our crime and drug problems are caused by adults who chronically live for the moment.
The next stage of development is living for the next moment. Notice that the word for is still in there. When we hate where we are and what we are doing but we make ourselves do it anyway in hope of a future reward we live for the next moment. We may pay a lot of money and use our valuable time to go take a class that doesn’t interest us in the least, just to get a credit, just so we can get a degree. If you are making yourself miserable now in the hope of future pay off you are living for the next moment.
Or we can live in the moment. We may still choose to pursue a degree and pay a lot of money to take a class we aren’t interested in. But then we will be in a place of acceptance toward the circumstance. Then we will be open to learning something we weren’t interested in, or finding something good we weren’t expecting. We are open to life, we are one with life. When we stop wishing we were somewhere else, we truly see our surroundings. We listen when people talk instead of blocking them out and thinking our own thoughts of where we’d rather be or what we’d rather be doing. We embrace delays and down time without labeling ourselves “bored” or getting stressed over the things that aren’t happening fast enough. We make space for creativity, spontaneity, and learning.
We also can choose to spend a lot of our time living in the past. We can get sad or angry or embarrassed about things that happened to us again and again. There no limit to the amount of times you can replay an embarrassing moment in your head! You know how police officers have trouble getting accident reports because witnesses often don’t agree on simple details, like what color a car was? Even if you have a great memory and were truly present in the moment while it happened, you can’t accurately remember anything the way it actually happened. Your brain isn’t even capable of perceiving everything in your field of vision right now, let alone is it able to remember it. Your brain fills in the gaps to make sense of things that don’t make sense and it chronically gets stuff wrong. We bend and changes stories over time. Therefore on a deep level our memories aren’t even real.
When we are thinking too much of the past or future we aren’t really “here”. Our bodies are here in the moment but our minds are elsewhere. We are oblivious to whatever is happening here at the present moment and it is lost to us forever.
So whenever you can live in the moment, and minimize the thoughts you have of past and future to just the practical necessary ones. For example, you can remember to make it to your dentist appointment without playing a mental movie of everything that could go wrong or all the pain you expect to experience.
Learning to live in the moment will make you feel amazing, but it can also be an uncomfortable process. If you can forgive me the awful metaphor, you’ll probably uncover a few dead cats, like they sometimes do in the show Hoarders. We are just like those people who love their animals but neglect them anyway because there is too much STUFF in the way. When we neglect the present moment, we neglect the people in our lives the same way.