Atlanta, GA

How the Past, Future, and Present Can Work for or Against You

Bill Abbate
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

How often do you worry? If you are like most of us, you worry off and on. Worry adds little if anything to our lives, yet it can steal the most valuable thing life has to offer, time. Every minute spent worrying is a minute spent living in another time, either the past or future, robbing us of being in the present moment. Let’s look at how worry affects our past, future, and present.

The past

When we worry about things in the past, they can pull us back, push us down, and make us feel bad about ourselves. In other words, they can depress us. What sort of thing causes this? Do you regret something you did long ago or more recently? Have you ever feared your past may catch up with you or that someone may uncover it? Do feelings or things you did in the past haunt you?

Worries about such things that manifest as guilt, regret, sadness, grief, anger, hopelessness, fatigue, remorse, and any form of contrition can lead to depression. They can push down on you in an unrelenting way.

Let me introduce you to a profound quote from Lao Tzu, who lived about 600 years before Christ:

“If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.” Lao Tzu (5th to 6th century BC)

I have heard people say such things for some time now. But when I first read the original quote, it spoke to me in a new way with astounding clarity and simplicity. I had thought it was a recent revelation from modern psychiatry. Yet, as Solomon said three millennia ago, long before Lao Tzu was born, “there is nothing new under the sun!”

If you are often depressed or in a regular state of depression, please seek help. Why continue to suffer when you can get relief? There is no shame in seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist (a medical doctor), and the help they can provide can absolutely change your life.

The future

From where do worries about the future come? Do they come from worrying about your job, marriage, kids, house, car, paying the bills, or other things that could happen or need to happen?

Worrying about what is to come or what may be creates anxiousness. A worry is a care. It is about something you care about that may happen, or that could go wrong. Whenever you are anxious, pay attention and notice what is creating the worry or care. It will inevitably be about something yet to happen.

As recorded in scripture nearly 3000 years ago:

“Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.” Proverbs 12:25 NIV

Confront whatever is worrying you head-on. Ask yourself, “What is the chance such a thing could actually happen?” Then remind yourself of the following wisdom:

“Worry a little bit every day and in a lifetime you will lose a couple of years. If something is wrong, fix it if you can. But train yourself not to worry: Worry never fixes anything.” Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)

It is true; worrying adds little to life, yet can detract a great deal from it. Take the following advice of scripture to heart:

“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.” Luke 12:25-31 NIV

Finally, remember study after study shows 90% of worries will never happen. The likelihood you are worrying about nothing is very high!

The present

The solution to worry and anxiety is simple yet requires effort and a willingness to remain in the present. As Tzu pointed out, “If you are at peace you are living in the present.” We can learn much from the past, and it is good to plan and dream of the future. The key is to learn from the past, not dwell in it, and plan and dream about the future, but not live in it.

“It is difficult to live in and enjoy the moment when you are thinking about the past or worrying about the future. You cannot change your past, but you can ruin the present by worrying about your future. Learn from the past, plan for the future. The more you live in and enjoy the present moment, the happier you will be.” Roy T. Bennett (1939-2014)

One way to live more fully in the present is through easy-to-do mindfulness exercises. Becoming mindful focuses you on the present moment and can provide tremendous benefits in your life.

You can find a great deal of information on the web about mindfulness. Try the simple exercise in the following article to find how useful being fully present is in your life.

How to Embrace a New Perspective About Your Life and Why It Is Important

Final words

The better you understand yourself, the fuller your life can be, especially as it relates to worrying. The simple way to understand worry is to recognize: depression comes from living in the past, anxiety from living in the future, and peace from living now, in the present.

Choose as often as possible to live in the present moment, and you will enjoy a far more rewarding life. Heed the words of a very wise man:

“Sorrow looks back, Worry looks around, Faith looks up.” Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

I wish you a full, wonderful life filled with joy. Remember to look up often!

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Semi-Retired-Leadership/Executive Coach -Personal & Career Growth Expert -Editor and Leadership Writer at Illumination -Author

Richmond, VA

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