Thinking Across Time

It was not too long ago that we were constantly looking at our watch or phone to check the time. Checking to see how many minutes we had left at the gym before rushing home in time for dinner. Doing the math on how many more times we could push our snooze button. Pre-Covid life was in many ways a big stack of events, each moment passing onto the next like dominos falling down and knocking each other over. With our busy lives there was so much emphasis on time or rather the lack of it.  

Then in March of 2020, it seemed like time stopped as the whole world shut down.  We were instructed to stay within our houses and told to not interact with others outside of our “bubble.” In the ensuing days there was lots of uncertainty. Will things ever go back to normal? What will our new daily routines look like? When will this pandemic be over? Though there were many social media posts encouraging individuals to focus on the present moment to maintain mental health, we couldn’t help but reminisce on the past and look forward to the future.

Throughout the pandemic, many people including myself have had to learn how to balance our focus on the different phases of time for self-development purposes. Learning when to focus on the past, present, or future provides an opportunity to take the optimal outlook to benefit from our experiences. Having the right perspective will make the pandemic—as well as other chapters of our lives—a period of progression rather than stagnation.

There are benefits to discover when we think about the past. It is our past experiences that shape who we are as individuals. Properly reflecting on the past not only reinforces our foundation but also develops our toolbox for future actions. Appropriate reflection allows us to learn from our previous successes and failures, and influences later actions and decisions. A sense of nostalgia also emerges when reminiscing on happy memories. Nostalgia can inspire a pursuit to ensure the recurrence of similar positive feelings. The desire to re-enact the feelings of the past requires a mindset of conscious thinking. If we don’t notice, we won’t remember.

Conscious thinking is an opportunity to benefit by paying attention to the present moment. We all go through periods of our day where we find ourselves in autopilot. This robotic feeling can sometimes limit our ability to process information around us, restricting our ability to feel gratitude for the little things in our lives. With conscious thinking, we will notice and be able to feel greater appreciation for everyday things like the taste of the herbs in the soup we made, the sensation of our toothbrush against our teeth, or the scent of the shampoo we rub into our hair. However, each moment provides so much information and infinite potential realities that sometimes it is tough to decide what should garner our focus. With a solid plan of what we would like our future to be, this decision of where to allocate our focus is made a lot easier.

Looking into the future can set a game plan and provide a sense of direction. In order to feel progression there must be a goal that we are trying to achieve. There should be intrinsic value in whatever future we are hoping to experience. The intrinsic motivation will give us a needed push to persevere when things get tough. With a positive mindset, looking into the future can provide hope and happiness. It must be noted that focusing too much on the future can create tunnel vision and push us towards that previously mentioned autopilot mode.

So, with each phase of time having its own benefits, how should we allocate our thoughts to each? Throughout the pandemic, there have been many ups and downs. Focusing on specific phases of time (past, present, or future) can keep the good times rolling or help us get out of a rut. When things are going well, it is time to focus on the present moment. In this period we should pay attention to micro-actions and adjustments because they are what will add up to the big goals we are trying to achieve. When things are going poorly, we should focus more of our attention on the future. Even just saying these goals out loud or writing them down produces dopamine, one of the brain’s pleasure chemicals, and establishes accountability which can motivate us to get out of the down period we are experiencing. Regardless of the situation, there must be some input from the past. It will allow us to make better decisions by learning from what was in our control that brought around the good or bad times, along with being a resource to make sure we stay true to ourselves. For self-development, strategically balancing our thoughts of the different phases of time can propel our progression even during the wackiest of times.

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