Perfecting the present

Jan Aitken
Jan Aitken
I have to be honest about this: 14 years ago when I attended the CoachU coaching school I struggled with the concept of perfecting the present, writes Jan Aitken.

I just didn’t get it. If I wasn’t where I wanted to be or didn’t have what I wanted to have then how on earth could the present possibly be perfect. I mean, honestly, what a stupid idea! But I did get it eventually and I think the concept was a little before its time. Now the idea of being in the present, of not being caught up in the past or so focused on the future we forget to live now, is well understood. The concept of mindfulness has certainly helped me understand this life lesson more easily.

Many of us are either striving to create a fantastic future for ourselves or spending time on resolving issues from the past that are hindering us. When they become our primary way of living it’s important to realise there are some limitations to what we can then achieve. The hitch is that neither approach is about the present moment. It can be very worthwhile to go back to the past and forward to visualise the future. However, that’s best approached when our feet are grounded firmly in a healthy present.

What do I mean by the present? I mean the simple reality of your life as it is today. The present is what "is" right now, not what "could" be or "should" be or "was" but actually what is, whether you like it or not. There’s a richness in the present and when it’s understood it can help place both the past and the future in a meaningful context.

To help get a grip on this more quickly than I did, it might be a bit clearer if we break the concept down.

The first step is to accept where you are in life right now. That doesn’t mean you’re necessarily thrilled about it, but it is what it is! It’s important that you acknowledge your part in being where you are in life and accepting the circumstances and the actions that contributed to getting you to where you are today. How does this point in your life set you up to move forward? What can it teach you?

Secondly, think about what it is that you want to be different. Be careful with your choices, make sure they match your core values, strengths and needs (if you need reminders you can find more information of these on the Fit for Life Coaching website).

Lastly, take responsibility for what you do have control over, for what you can do to make changes and then do it! Take action: if you do nothing then nothing will change. As the old saying goes ‘‘if it is to be, then it’s up to me’’.

It’s easy to look at others and think their life is perfect.

"Look how well they’re doing", "look how much money they have", "look at what cars they drive". That’s a dangerous route to travel down. No-one really knows what someone else’s life is actually like and comparison, especially material comparison, breeds discontent. Learn to be content with what you have and where you are while intentionally taking action to move yourself in the direction you want to go. Successful people are intentional about their lives, they don’t just let life happen to them. Be grateful. Gratitude helps to keep you grounded, present and defeats discontentment. Start a gratitude journal or use one of the myriad  apps available for smartphones/tablets/computers.

Use what you see in others as inspiration for what you can achieve, rather than being jealous or envious. Jealousy and envy will cut you up emotionally and cut you off from others. Don’t forget that a well-balanced life is made up of a mix of personal qualities, e.g. humour, perseverance, kindness, generosity etc, as well as acquiring material goods. To help get you into the swing of things, here’s an exercise you can work through. It’s a good thing to do periodically, especially when you’re unhappy or uncomfortable about an aspect of your life.Make a list of four or five things that aren’t perfect in your life right now.

Next to each item write how it sets you up to move forward, what is it teaching you?

For example: The hours I work are too longI’m gaining skills and experience that make me a more valuable employee. I’m in a secure place to look for other work. I have other important and fulfilling things in my life besides work.

Or: My fitness is pretty poorIt tells me I don’t enjoy being unfit. I can make changes to my diet and exercise levels to improve it so I can live longer and be healthier.The short story is to look for a silver lining; not the Pollyanna "all my life is fluffy kittens and unicorns" approach, but for what is good. Most situations will have something useful in them, maybe not all, but most. I was reminded of this while listening to an interview with the president of the Tibetan Government in exile, Lobsang Sangay. He commented that the repression of the Tibetan people, their culture and religion had made the Tibetans one of the most organised refugee groups in the world and led to a widespread knowledge and understanding of Tibet, its people and its issues. In turn this meant that Tibetan culture and Buddhism would likely never die. From someone who has never been allowed into his own country, the country he is president of, I thought that was a powerful lesson in perfecting the present.

- Jan Aitken is a Dunedin-based life coach.

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