Bill Abbate

Do you spend much time thinking about the past? What about the present? How about the future? Time is an amazing thing to contemplate. Like a river, it constantly flows into the present, while the present continuously flows into the future.

There is no stopping this flow, at least not in the dimension of time and space. What is past cannot be changed. What is to come cannot be seen. One thing is certain — time waits for no one, so you must move forward.

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.” Albert Einstein (1879–1955)

While you can’t change what has happened, you can do something now that will play a part in creating the future. The crux is this — the better you understand time, the greater the opportunity to create the future you desire.

I love the following definition of time:

“The indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole.” Oxford Languages

Time is a single entity composed of three continuous, never-ending parts. Let’s look at these three distinctions in the flow of time.

The past

When spending time looking back, you can lose track of where you are going. Think about driving a car. You spend far more time looking out the windshield than the rearview or side mirrors. You couldn’t drive otherwise unless you are backing up. Who wants to go through life in reverse? Better to be in drive moving forward. If you are on the highway, you can even hit overdrive.

“Always focus on the front windshield and not the rearview mirror.” Colin Powell (1937–2021)

The past is a critical component in every life. Were it not for the past, where would you be? There would be no learning, understanding, or wisdom. It is because of the past you can plan in the present for the future.

The past shows you where your heart lies. It shows your frame of mind, attitude, and everything else about who you have been up to the present. But it is up to you to examine it closely if you are to make sense of it.

Learning from your past is the most important use you can make of it in the present. When you become curious and ask the right questions, you learn who you are, what, and why you did what you did. This allows you to do more or less of the same or to change course.

“Never erase your past. It shapes who you are today and will help you to be the person you’ll be tomorrow.” Ziad K. Abdelnour

The past is memory. Your past consists primarily of our memories, aided by images, videos, sculptures, art, what you write, and the memories of others. Your brain is an amazing creation. In it is stored most of what has happened to you.

Technology has nothing on the brain when comparing the two. According to Scientific American:

“For comparison, if your brain worked like a digital video recorder in a television, 2.5 petabytes would be enough to hold three million hours of TV shows. You would have to leave the TV running continuously for more than 300 years to use up all that storage.”

According to Science Focus, the big four, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook, store a total of 1200 petabytes of information. It would take only 480 (1200/2.5) brains to store this vast amount of information!

As of this article’s date, there are about 8 billion people on earth, so 480 brains represent an infinitesimal portion of the potential capacity of every brain on earth. The brain truly is a marvel of creation!

The past can hold good memories and, at the same time, be filled with sadness. I loved my life with my wife before she died, and saddened she suffered from cancer and is no longer alive. Yet I am also happy about Jane, my wife of 15 years. We have many wonderful memories and are at an amazing time in our lives. We are hopeful and looking forward to our future together.

The past contains many things, yet what we do now will create our future, and it can be almost anything we want it to be. Some things in our past were out of our control. Some things in the present and future will be as well, but that is no cause to be alarmed. If we learn anything from the past, it is that once it is over, it is over. There is no changing what occurred. Yet, we have control in the now and can create the future we want.

The past is past, the present is present, and the future is yet to come.

The present

The present is where the past and future converge. As a river flows in one direction due to gravity, time cannot defy the laws of physics. Time flows in one direction — from the past through the present into the future.

The present is the point where change begins. It is where you have some control and can alter the course of your future. It is where you plan. What you do in the present determines how much time you will spend on things in the future. It is well known an hour of planning saves many hours to come.

“An hour of planning can save you 10 hours of doing.” Dale Carnegie (1888–1955)

Best to start planning now. As a collector of proverbs wrote in 1790:

“No time like the present, a thousand unforeseen circumstances may interrupt you at a future time” John Trusler (1735–1820)

Let the past be past. Do whatever it takes to rid yourself of everything that can hold you back. Now is the time to let go of past hurts, bitterness, hatred, bad habits, regrets, and anything else that can weigh you down. If you carry these past events into the future, their weight will only slow you, making forward progress more difficult.

Let past lessons motivate and move you into a better future. Now is the time to use good things from the past to create better things to come.

The Future

The future is a double-edged sword. It brings hope on one side and despair on the other. Each of these is brought from the past into the present.

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” Albert Einstein (1879–1955)

The future can simultaneously hold hope and worry (the anxiety of despair) in the present. Some of what we hope for may happen. Little of what we worry about will ever come about. Hope and dread come from thoughts and conditioning of the past into the present, projected into the future.

While hope in the future can help us act in the present, worry can stop us in our tracks. Worries often come from expectations of future outcomes. Most of what we worry about has yet to happen and never will.

Despite the unlikely chance that a worry may come true, too many choose to worry anyway. Like it or not, it’s part of the human condition.

“I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” Mark Twain (1835–1910)

Instead of thinking about the bad that could happen, focus on the hope of what you can do. In other words, don’t waste time focusing on what you can’t control, invest time focusing on what you can.

Don’t worry about what can go wrong. Instead, get excited about what can go right!

Final thoughts

What you do with your past, present, and future is your decision. It is your responsibility and yours alone. Your past, present, and future determine your life and its legacy.

“Declare the past, diagnose the present, foretell the future.” Hippocrates (c.460-c.375 BC)

What you do with your life is serious business. Who doesn’t want to make the best use of their time, other than those who give it no thought? Don’t be one of them!

A word from the wise is:

“I just want people to take a step back, take a deep breath, and actually look at something with a different perspective. But most people will never do that.” Brian McKnight (1969-present)

Refuse to be one who never stops long enough to sort out their time and life. Become one of the few who makes the best use of their time. Do it for yourself, and do it for those you love.

Please take these final words to heart and live the best life you possibly can!

“The future hasn’t happened yet, and the past is gone. So I think the only moment we have is right here and now, and I try to make the best of those moments, the moments that I’m in.” Annie Lennox (1954-present)

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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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