just focus on the present

Sometimes it pays off to take a few steps back and look at the bigger picture. To look back at our most impressive and courageous feats. To reacquaint ourselves with the lessons that we have learned from our past. To let our ambitions loose and know what we want and how we want to live in the next few years. And to also let our imagination run wild, acknowledge our most dreadful fears and meditate on the adversities we may come across, like the Stoics did, in order to prepare ourselves. But at the same time, it’s best not to dwell either on our past or our future for too long, otherwise, it may steal our joy and paralyze us from taking action in the present.

Marcus Aurelius was well aware of this truth and he expressed it in these words:

“Don’t let your imagination be crushed by life as a whole. Don’t try to picture everything bad that could possibly happen. Stick with the situation at hand, and ask, ‘Why is this so unbearable? Why can’t I endure it?’ You’ll be embarrassed to answer.

Then remind yourself that past and future have no power over you. Only the present—and even that can be minimized. Just mark off its limits. And if your mind tries to claim that it can’t hold out against that…well, then, heap shame upon it.”

Sometimes looking at the big picture can be overwhelming. But when we simply focus on the present, we distance ourselves from experiencing any negative or fearful thoughts. 

A good example is a climber performing a free solo. He tries not to think about how high up he has come, or how he’ll celebrate when he reaches the top. Or how he’s one mistake away from potentially killing himself. He simply can’t afford to let his focus and attention dwindle, his life depends on it. So, what does he do? He just makes one climbing move after another, and tunes everything else out.

That’s what we do when we stay focused on the present. We let go of everything that’s extraneous and just focus on our job at hand.