The importance of living in the present and not the past

March 14, 2018

The course we have charted from the past to get to where we are today has been engraved into our minds. This “engraving” has a great influence on what we think, what we say and how we act. It also influences the strategies we have for coping with the different situations life throws at us. The experiences we have lived, the lessons we have learnt, and the people we have known are part of the person we are today. Read on and discover the importance of living in the present.

Although the past is an important part of our lives, it is in the present and in the future where our capacity to make transformations is settled. We are not the sum of our past, we must concentrate on living in the present.

What we did in the past defined who we were at that time. But you’re not that person anymore, you’re the one living today. As human beings, we are constantly changing. We change a little every day, with each new piece of information we acquire and every new thing we learn. Change is simply inevitable.

That is why when we gloat about or regret what we did in the past we only harm ourselves. It’s true that guilt is an emotion that, if used well, can help us to rectify situations where we’ve gone wrong. But if we make too much of it and it becomes an obsession, it can become a toxic emotion that can play havoc with our lives and won’t help us sort out our past.

The past is unreal

When we say that something is unreal, we mean that it isn’t tangible, we can’t access it, touch it, smell it, see it, or hear it. If something can’t be perceived with our five senses, then that means it doesn’t exist in our present lives. This doesn’t mean that it didn’t exist at one time, and it was of course very real then. Obviously, we know these things happened, but they are only real in our mind, and in our psyche.

Something that only exists in our imagination cannot be changed. You cannot act on it and so to  undertake actions now to modify past situations does not make much sense.

woman looking to future not past

For this reason each time our mind travels to the past it is a good exercise to “relocate” ourselves again in the present day. In the same way, when our mind travels into the future all it does is fill us with useless anxiety. The only thing that really exists is the here and now, the past and the future only exist in our heads.

One thing is the reality of the present, where we truly have power to influence things, and another very different thing is psychological reality. In this reality, some of the actions we carry out in the present are not only useless on a practical level, but actually damage us by dwelling on suffering from the past or worry about the future. If we are affected and distressed today by what happened yesterday then we lose precious time in our present day lives.

Living in the present – how can I do it?

The first step to truly living in the present is to realize that the past is not real. It was real at another time, but not not now. Therefore, we must stop attaching too much importance and value to something that no longer exists. What we can do, of course, is to use something we learnt in the past to help us in the present. In that way the past can be useful and remains part of us. The problems only occur when we dwell on things from the past that don’t help us to grow.

The next step is to stop giving our mind permission to travel to the past or future. Imagination is a very precious gift, as long as we do not confuse it with reality nor exaggerate it.

Therefore, when you realize that you’re thinking about what “should have been” or “shouldn’t have happened”, then you need to stop yourself. You need to remind yourself that this is what is happening now and this is how it should be. This exercise, practiced in a conscious way, will help you not to live in the past.

woman smelling flower thinking about living in the present

Accept that you can’t change the past

Finally, reject everything you do in the present that is aimed at changing the past. We must accept that the past cannot be changed – whatever happened, happened for a reason. Whether it were good or bad.

As we don’t have the power to change things that have already happened, it is useless to experience emotions that would only be useful in the past.

Nor is it worth criticizing or hurting others, begging, or brooding on things that have happened. The only thing that is profitable from the past is whatever we can learn that can help us avoid making the same mistakes again.

So, concentrate on living in the present, on what is happening around you, the people you are seeing now, the objects you are touching, smelling, eating, hearing. There is nothing else, at least for now. Live this out today and free yourself from your past.