There are a million things we can do to improve our lives.
A couple more kilos of muscle. Better eating habits. Starting a business that we don’t feel like we’re living for someone else.
But when we strongly focus on the things that we can improve, we often experience a sense of lack.
Things can be better means that they aren’t currently good enough. Why else would you change them?
That’s not a problem per se. If change comes around quickly enough, we can surely live with the feeling of insufficiency for while.
But once an improvement comes around, the next one waits just around the corner.
As a result, now turns into a perpetual not-yet. So we end up living for the future most of the time.
Now You’re At Your Best
Feeling lack activates a lot of unhelpful emotions.
It’s when you feel present, engaged, appreciative and happy with what you, that you’re the most effective.
In other words, you are at your best when you focus on what you already have.
But if then only focus on the now, and disregard those aspects of your life that could be better, you’re not going anywhere.
The Flow: Low Risk, Low Return
Occasionally, I talk to law-of-attraction acquaintances who think in terms of “going with the flow.” Admittedly, they usually seem very happy.
They don’t have that same aggressive tendency to push forward that comes close to self-abuse.
Those who allow to let the universe guide their actions (whatever that means), manage. Their motto: everything has their time.
Usually, they don’t stay in my life long enough so that I could test whether their assumptions hold to be true. Maybe I push them away with my insistence on “forcing” progress.
Their approach may be healthier. It doesn’t seem to sacrifice positive emotion in the now as the sledgehammer-into-the-future approach.
Going with the flow is low-risk, low-return. You’ll feel better along the way. But in the end “letting things come to you” also slows you down.
The Sledgehammer: Right Risk, High Return
I naturally gravitate towards high-risk, high-return as well as to people with similar tendencies.
High-risk doesn’t have to involve a lot of money, but it means taking emotional risk. Sacrificing positive emotions in the present for the sake of future-you.
Right risk, high return doesn’t mean mindless overworking yourself either. It’s about putting pressure on yourself now, asking yourself difficult question now.
It also means changing course whenever things appear out of alignment. But isn’t that going with the flow?
I don’t really see it this way. If something is working for you, you should probably stick with it.
But HRHR suggests you abandon it in favor something that might work even better. It means to accept negative emotion and uncertainty now.
There you are, confused again. You choose to attend to your misalignment now. You take the risk now because you know that longer you wait, the more difficult it will be to let it go in the future.
The risk in the now is high, but the reward in the future is higher. Compare that to playing it safe and trying to untangle a big mess later on.
What You Appreciate, Appreciates
Ideally, we would be able to hold two conflicting ideas in our minds.
- A deep appreciation of now
- A burning desire of a better future.
It’s one of these old paradoxes of the personal-development world; Eastern versus Western thinking if you will.
But are these two really so different? Is it impossible to feel both at the same time?
When you’re focused on a goal, you are being pulled towards an objective in the future, pushing away from the present. There is something you want ahead of you and something you do not want behind you.
Appreciation always means to focus what’s here right now.
The object of your appreciation does not exist in the past (although you can appreciate past experience), nor is in the future. What you appreciate, is always right here.
And what you appreciate, appreciates. It increases it’s value simply because you’re paying attention to its existence.
Paying Attention Increases Value
Running water. A warm meal. A cozy blanket.
It’s quite easy to forget that people 200 year ago didn’t have either of them. Upward mobility wasn’t really a thing.
If you were naive enough to set goals 200 years ago, you would do so in your freezing cold hut, water dripping onto your pock-disfigured face, while you’re writing into your journal — oh no, wait, you didn’t know how write!– trying to ignore the sound of your coughing grandma and your five children that are huddled around the fireplace.
Can we be goal-focused and appreciative of the moment at the same time?
Pursuing of goals and appreciation are almost two separate parts of your mental world. The more important it is that we balance them carefully.
The persuasive state is clearly instrumental and necessary to improve your life. But unless your persuasive action is grounded in appreciation, you don’t really get a lot of bang for your buck.
We need positive emotion to fuel our actions. Grumpiness isn’t your best friend when it comes to motivation.
Contraction And Release
There’s an opportunity for developing a contraction-and-release dynamic that allows us to navigate seamlessly between two opposing mental outlooks.
Contraction, that is when your persuasion mode, means you’re tyring to get somewhere.
Release, that is appreciation, means you’re paying attention to the completeness of the moment.
Both of these state are constanly accessible. Even during a set of heavy squats (clearly future-oriented), there are a lot of things that you can appreciate right now. Your strength. The fact that you’re alone at the gym. That you can do something good for your body and your mind. Your gym-membership costs only $19 a month.
Any given moment offers unlimited opportunity for appreciation. You just have to remember that the option exists.
In the end, it really only comes to a moment-by-moment choice.
For most of us, it’s very difficult to detach from pursuing our goals. When you’re really locked in on an objective, even a moment of release can seem impossible.
When you’re focused on the future (the barbell is sitting on your back, you’re at the office, you need to finish reading this text), proactively shifting gear appears like a useless exercise.
It’s not because you don’t want to slow down. It would improve how how you feel. You simply forget that the option exists.
But it does.
Now matter what you’re dealing with right now, there is always a second that can be spared. One second to take a breath.
One thought can shift your state from wanting to having, from the search to appreciation.
For me, it often takes only a few seconds to change my mood completely.
And then, from a self-induced sense of appreciation, I can appreciate again. And from then on, things keep appreciating.