Should You Live in the Present?



“Seize the day, then let it go.” — Marty Rubin

In general, be here now is a good idea.  After all, here is where you are, and now is what you’ve got.

But what happens when now presents us with challenges?

Maybe the task we’re working on requires more effort than we expected.  Maybe our habits or default behaviors aren’t supporting us very well.

Maybe our own brain is even working against us.  Maybe we get a surprise on our plate that we didn’t expect, and we hit the panic button.   Maybe our emotions are spinning out of control.

Winging It Doesn’t Always Work

Last-minute planning or winging it doesn’t always work.

Sometimes, all it takes, is a little look ahead.  Sometimes, all it takes is a simple list of our priorities.  Sometimes, all it takes is adding the right things to our calendar.

And then, our now does take care of itself.  Or, at least we’re ready for it, when the challenges start showing up.

In the book, 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done, Peter Bregman shows us the importance of planning ahead so we can better navigate our day, deal with the hurdles, and move towards our intended destinations..

Living in the Present

Bregman is a fan of living in the present.  He says so right up front.

Via: 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done:

“I’m a huge proponent of living in the present.  If you pay attention to what’s happening now, the future will take care of itself.  You know: Don’t regret the past; don’t worry about the future; just be here now and all that.”

Sometimes the Present is the Obstacle

If you’re focused on where you are, without a good sense of where you want to be, there’s a good chance you won’t get there.  Bregman shares an example of driving a car, by looking ahead.

Via: 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done:

“But sometimes, focusing on the present is the obstacle.  Take driving a car, for example.  If you didn’t look ahead to see where the road was going, you’d keep driving straight and crash at the next curve.  When you’re driving, you never actually pay attention to where you are; you’re always paying attention to what’s happening in the road ahead, and you change course based on what you see in the future.”

Look Ahead, Plan the Route, and Follow Through

Bregman tells a story of how he fell down every time he hit this particular big rock while mountain biking.  He finally got over it, by focusing 10 feet past the rock to what was ahead.  Ironically, the rock in the way got easier once he looked beyond it.

Via: 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done:

“It’s the same with your day. Some days, I remind myself of me mountain biking down that chute.  Doing whatever appears in front of me, when it appears in front of me.  I don’t think about a meeting until I’m in a meeting.  I don’t think about what’s most important to get done, until, well, until it doesn’t get done.  When someone appears in front of me and asks for something, that’s who I end up attending to.  Even if it’s not the right priority.

Effectively navigating a day is the same as effectively navigating down a rocky precipice on a mountain bike.  We need to look ahead.  Plan the route.  And then follow through.”

Here’s my take away …

Sometimes the present holds us back.

Balance your action here and now with a look to the future.

A little plan can go a long way.  It can help you navigate your day, whether it simply helps guide your choices throughout the day, or respond to the obstacles in a more thoughtful, more prepared way.  The wise advice is to focus on what you control and let the rest go.  The wiser advice is to take a little look ahead, so you can focus on the right things within your control.

Planning ahead is how you embrace the now.

Even the best actors improv from a script.

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Image by Ed Escueta.


  1. Living in the present isn’t the same as impulsiveness (often an habitual response done out of awareness): surprise happens in the here and now as does reminisciing, planning and analysis and imagining.

    I agree with the recommendations – it’s just that they are done in the present.

    (The basic problem is seeing ‘live in the here and now’ as a should; rather than an observation that experience happens in the here and now.)

    • > an observation that experience happens in the here and now
      Well put, and I like your distinction between impulsiveness and living in the present.

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