Quick Takes:

  • Modern philosophy tells us that the present is most important
  • But, our past actions directly result in our present situation
  • And our future is what drives those past actions in the hopes that we achieve our ideal future
  • So, therefore, equal focus on the past, present, and future, lets us live a purposeful life

My weeks are never pulling me backward, they’re always pushing me forward. Because of that, I don’t need to look back into the past to try and understand why I’m here today. I already know that I’m in this position today because of the actions of my past. All the information I need to move into the future is here in the present.

If I complete a task, for example, I know that it’s just one task woven into a larger tapestry of life’s design, and that there is a proceeding step that needs to be completed next. In this way, I always know what I’m doing next because there is always a task that directly follows the completion of another, until the tapestry is completely woven.

If a task isn’t completed, well, then I know that I have to keep focusing on it week over week, until I complete it and move to the next step.

Writing a weekly to-do list, and then every day breaking it down into a daily task list, so that at the end of the week, all your daily task lists combine to complete your weekly to-do list, ensures that you’re pushing yourself forward. If something isn’t completed within the week allotted to it, you move it over onto the next week’s to-do list, until it’s crossed off.

This, though, brings up an important point.

If you’re always living in the present, with the intention of pushing yourself into your future, can you learn from your past?

If what I say is true, and that there’s no reason to look into the past, and that everything you need to make sound decisions are here with you today, then does the past even matter?

I think the answer is clear in that of course we can learn from the past. We can course correct, avoid mistakes, build confidence, and instill wisdom, all from the past. But I also don’t think this negates the fact that we do have everything we need here in the present. 

If built correctly, your life can have fail safes in the present that literally force you to be successful. Little things like weekly to-do lists and daily tasks lists, although small, keep you moving. You never stall when you have a list to complete.

A lot of times it’s people’s lack of direction that causes them to become stationary, or even backslide. Putting constraints around your path ensure’s that you won’t lack direction. But to even know and to do this, you have to be conscious of the past.

It’s only through the repeated failures of not having a productive week that I realized something needed to be done about my weekly tasks. By looking at my past mistakes, and seeing which ones were repeated (i.e unproductive weeks), I’ve been able fix deficiencies in my life. It’s not that I’m more productive than other people, it’s just that I have a more defined direction, which has forced me to place constraints around where my path is headed, so I remain on course.

But maybe, with this logic, it’s not just an argument of the necessity of past or present, but that the future is the most necessary component of life, with the present and the past being a function of the future. Or maybe it’s the future that’s a function of the present, which is a function of the past?

I wonder this because our direction, which gives drive and motivation in the day-to-day, is a direct result of our vision of the future. If we want something bad enough, whether it be status, a thing, or a feeling, we’ll find a way to work hard every day to get it, all because of what we want in the future, which, to me, seems most important.

Hmmmm. Consider this line of thinking: If the past gives you learning, and the future gives you direction, than would the present be the least important? Or is it that the present is just the translation of you past into the vision of your future?

Yeah, I think that’s it: The present is just the translation of your past into the vision of your future.

So where does that leave us? It’s proof, perhaps, that the past, present, and future and equally important in a life successfully lived.

In this new era, with inescapable cell phones, fast cars, blaring tv’s, and a ton of people, there’s been a movement toward the present. I’ve written about philosophers like Echart Tolle, who preach the value of always living in the moment. And while we’ve proven that the present is important, we’ve also proven that we shouldn’t forget about the past or future, either.

But, to the point of Tolle, all our negative thoughts or emotions come from our past and future.

Our embarrassment, jealousy, envy, and hatred, all come from the past. Think about it: Think about the angriest you’ve ever been. It was a direct response to something someone had done or something that had happened. Nothing in that present moment was angering you, but a past action or event was.

Our anxiety, fear, and greed, all come from the future. Think about the most anxious you’ve ever been. Your anxiety was a direct response to something you were dreading in the future. It was a future moment that was causing the present emotion; nothing in the present itself was causing the emotion.

So, when seen in this light, it’s the present that’s ultimately most important. And I take stock in that. If we’re looking too far on the future for a moment in time when we’ll become happy, or dwelling too far into the past, we forget why we’re here: for continuously uplifting emotions.

It’s important to remember to breathe every once in a while. Take it easy, enjoy the moment. But, as this argument goes round and round, I’ve been able to identify times when I need to relax and live more in the present by learning from the past. There have been too many weeks and weekends where I’m neurotically focused on the future, so much that I forget to enjoy being alive.

Through my past, I can identify when I need to be more present, and therefore increase the value of the present. But then the present is only enjoyable when I’m consistently marching toward my ultimate goals. When I’ve worked hard all week, and know that I leapfrogged myself closer to the successful vision of my future, I can take solace in the weekend, and truly enjoy being.

In that regard, it’s the march toward the future that’s important, otherwise the present would feel unearned.

So it seems like the past, present, and future are all equally important, and are all equally connected. Learn from your past, so that you can better yourself in the present, so you can get closer to your ideal future.

And as you move toward the vision of your future, remember that the whole point of it all is to be.