What would you do if a stranger interrupted you while you enjoying a few minutes of free time and demanded that you stop everything and go clean their bathroom? It happens to me all the time. It completely drives me crazy. No sooner do I get done with what I’m doing, and some guy shows up demanding that I pay his bills, make a bunch of phone calls he didn’t feel like making, and clean up some messes that he left lying about. Not only that, but I’m constantly anxious while I’m watching a show on Netflix, or playing a game…I know he’s coming back to berate me for the tasks he gave me that I didn’t get done and to nag me about more stuff that he forgot to even mention. It’s like I can’t ever focus on what I’m doing, or enjoy my time because of this jerk.
We live entirely in the present. In many ways, how we feel right now is all that matters. A happy past and a happy future may be wonderful, but I have had too many days where a miserable, depressed, meaningless present has made me unable to appreciate either the things I am thankful for, or the things I hope to look forward to. Feeling ok now is key.
Amazingly, I find that I spend so much of my present moment demanding future misery of myself. My task list has hundreds of items in it, even a category called “Someday, Maybe” that encapsulates my many regretted wishes, things I would like myself to do, but I have resigned myself to never getting done. I also spend much of my present moment wallowing in self-loathing for the many things I had been absolutely resolved to complete today, yet found that I failed to complete. Or start.
My house is full of toys and projects and promises. So many books unread, tools unused, projects unfinished, games unplaced. Even in my relaxation, recreation, and self-gratification I am a failure.
Failure. That is the dark prospection, the lamentation, and the error. Now is never done. It is always now, and now again now. You can only fail something that is over, and the present is never done (barring death, or some sort of Groundhog Day situation).
I say let go of the failure, the expectation, the laments. What gets done is what needed to get done. The other options, the other tasks, the missed opportunities, they are are worth noticing, but they can be left behind without guilt or judgement. Why not give yourself a pass?
One of my gurus goes even farther than this. He notes that one of the most common flaws in our thinking is the Sunk Cost Fallacy. We become invested in the things we’ve worked on, or spent money on, or desired, before. We have trouble letting go of that previous investment, even if it provides us no joy. However, all that work or interest we invested in the past is a gift! We have options and choices, places to start, ideas to evolve. If those gifts from our past selves enhance our happiness today, then we should take advantage of them…but if they turn out to be ugly sweaters or overripe bananas, we should have no guilt about tossing them out.
Doing something because your past self thought it would be good for you, when clearly your past self didn’t think it was necessary for them is just as silly as doing chores for a stranger that knocks on your door. But we can feel gratitude to our past self for giving us the option.
“Everything you own, all the clothing in your closet, your academic achievements and beyond is simply a gift. It is a gift that your past self is giving to your present self, and it’s up to you to decide whether you want that gift today.
It is as simple as that–you owe your past self nothing, other than the consideration of whether these gifts are helpful in the here and now.”
– Seth Godin
There are many more ways that we can interact with our past and future selves with generosity and gratitude. Taking a clean plate out of the dishwasher rather than one from the shelf is a gift your future self will thank you for. Walking a empty can to the recycling bin, rather than leaving it on the end-table makes cleaning up tomorrow that much easier. We can always do good for ourselves—past, present, and future—here in this moment, right now. But we don’t owe our yesterdays anything, and we should not live in fear that our tomorrows will judge us lazy or stupid. Live right now. It’s nice here.