How much of your life do you spend waiting? Not just waiting in line, but biding your time, waiting for the right moment, the right opportunity, the right person to come along? How much of our time is spent waiting for your life to get better, or for it to just show up?
What if we stopped waiting, stopped trying to make dreams and goals come true, stopped wishing and anticipating? What if that good life is already here, and the only way to live it is to stop looking forward and notice what we already have?
Of course, there’s something great about anticipation—we love having something to look forward to, even if we hate waiting for it to arrive. While the anticipation of something better propels us forward and keeps us optimistic, there’s a definite downside: It takes us out where we are right now. If we’re not careful, we start to believe that the present is something to be tolerated, rather than enjoyed.
As any Buddhist worth his salt will tell you, all we have is now. This is it! The future is a figment, and our past is unchangeable. So, the best chance we have is to work with what’s right in front of us.
Sure, things could get better later (and in this economy, it’s what everyone’s banking on). Where and how you direct your attention and focus determines what your life feels like now. And isn’t that just as important?
Here are some ways to get plugged in to the present (the future will take care of itself):
Get grounded. Take a minute or two to pay attention to where you are—it’s that simple. Look around the room: What do you see, hear, smell. Is the sun slanting through the windows? A dog barking outside? Someone laughing down the hall? What does your body feel like—are you slouched? Sleepy? On edge? Do a quick body scan and note how you feel from the tip of your head all the way down through the soles of your feet. Take a few deep breaths.
Write down 3 great things that happened today. Call it a gratitude list, call it whatever you want: keeping track of the nice, surprising, unexpected, wonderful things that occurred today is worth remembering. When you write them down, you actually help extend the pleasure of those experiences, and can even change the tenor of your mood. And it reminds you that not all the best stuff is far off in the future, but right here.
Write down 3 things YOU did. Ah—let’s turn this around. Not only is it great to be on the receiving end, but in fact it may be even better to be the giver. Who did you help? What did you offer or volunteer to others? How did you improve someone else’s day? Expert Stephen Post has written extensively about the health benefits of giving (check out the science behind this idea)—not the least of which is its impact on our stress levels. In one study that followed more than 900 churchgoing adults, researcher Neal Krause found that those who offered social support reduced their own anxiety. So this effort is twofold: In order to write down what you gave today, you have to, of course, give it.
Use your wait time wisely. Yes, there are going to be plenty of times when you are stuck waiting—in line at the DMV, in traffic, in the doctor’s office. So rather than steep yourself in a lousy waiting mood, how can you use that time better? After all, in a time-crunched world, periods of waiting can offer a kind of rare luxury. Sure, you can return emails, but what else can you do? Read something for pleasure, listen to music, reflect on what’s going right with your life. See these little pockets of time as a gift, a breath in your day to take stock and enjoy what’s right in front of you.
Terri Trespicio is a writer, speaker, expert, and coach. Visit her at Trespicio.com.