Why Living in the Recent Future is Good for Your Mental & Physical Health

Have you ever considered the possibility that there are two distinct ways we show up in this world? And moreover, how the way we show up can be impacting our emotional and physical health?

As a personality type and neuroscience junkie, as well as a coach and therapist-in-training, I know full well that boiling it down to two types is nigh to impossible. However, I do believe that these two types — or ways of being — impact our mental and physical health quite significantly. Let me first explain what I mean by “types,” which have been shaped by my experience with giving the Highlands Ability Battery assessment to clients over the last 8 years.

Type 1: The Future Planners

There are those who spend a considerable amount of time plotting, planning, and often, worrying, about the future. These folks tend to have the long game in mind with a high level of awareness concerning how today’s actions impact tomorrow’s outcome. They also can get bogged down by regret about the past, lamenting what is left undone, what ought to have been done, and what shouldn’t have been done at all.

Type 2: The Momentary Existers

This group is able to live in the moment, neither preoccupied with the future nor regretting the past. Carpe Diem is their mantra. They seem to simply float from thing to thing, not worrying about what is left undone nor striving to get very far ahead. Somehow, they get to where they need to go, most of the time, but maybe not on the same timetable as everyone else.

The great irony is that each group often finds fault with the other one, especially when trying to function in a family unit or work environment.

Consider the accusations you may have received or directed at a loved one or colleague.

You worry too much.

You are never prepared.

You are missing out on this moment.

You are not ever going to get anything done if you don’t plan.

How interesting that both types are not free of criticism or concern. In fact, both types share a problem. Consider how both over-worrying and under-planning can lead to stress, disappointment, discontentment, and conflict. Studies have shown that stress and conflict can impact mental and physical health, which makes this something to take note of and worth the time to find a healthier way of approaching life.

We need to learn from each other’s “way of being” as we strive to live in the “recent future.”

The expression “recent future” may sound unusual, but stick with me for a moment. I picked up this expression from a new friend, Cathy Woods, at her Body. Mind. Equine. retreat. At first, I was hung up on the language — how could something be both “recent” and “future.” It wasn’t until I applied the concept to my horseback riding, that it made perfect sense and has since translated into a new way of living life outside of the saddle.

Let me paint a picture: When I am mounted on my horse, going around the arena, I need to be fully aware of what is happening a few strides behind me as well as what is going on a few strides ahead of me. To ride without awareness is simply foolish — and can result in a collision with another horse and rider.

Living in the present moment is achieved when we have a balanced awareness of the recent past and near future.

Being present like this rarely happens, because we are prone to worrying about what might happen based on what we’ve previously been through. Can you relate? In psychology, we call this a prototypic story, in which our previous experience creates a narrative through which process our present moment.

In other words, we face this moment with a bias because of what happened only a moment . . . or many moments . . . ago.

That’s exactly what happens in my riding when I approach the corner where I fell off after a bad spook. It is so hard to stay present, even when I am on a different horse than the one who spooked, since I can’t help but feel I have to protect myself from pain. Rather than staying in the present moment while riding my horse through the corner and noticing when he might break in his trot and need a little leg to keep him going, I’m checked out worrying about falling off and then my heart starts racing. Now my horse feels that anxiety and starts reacting to me. I’ve changed the whole situation in my mind! And I’ve created a brand new problem in the present because I was living in the past. Ack! Can you relate to doing that in everyday life?

The problem with reliving the past is that we activate our nervous system in a way that makes the present experience feel like the previous one all over again.

Think about how often that happens in your life, as you replay an embarrassment, failure, or conflict in your mind’s eye right before walking into a new situation. Suddenly, your heart starts racing and you feel flush, yet nothing has changed at that moment to illicit such a response.

It is amazing how the mind influences the body, creating a survival response when none is needed.

The last thing we want to do is live in a survival state unnecessarily. It is damaging to the mind, impacting our cognitive function, locks up our feelings, and hinders our ability to connect. It also hurts the body, creating all sorts of stress-related health problems. To break this cycle, we have to first recognize it. We can’t simply push through the fear (and here is why). Rather, we have to notice what is happening in us at the moment while also making tried strides toward living in the recent future.

3 Ways to Live in the Recent Future

When we live in the recent future, we live fully integrated into our mind, body, and soul. Yes, it will take time to transition into this new way of living. But if you don’t start today, you won’t ever get there. These simple steps will set you on the right path:

  1. Define Your Stride: Set a period of time that makes sense for you to focus on. For example, Sunday to Saturday is a natural “stride” of a seven-day period for planning and functioning.
  2. Change your Thought Cycle: Allow your thoughts to move freely from Sunday to Saturday, but anything that comes up that is prior to the most recent Sunday or ahead of the upcoming Saturday gets put on a list for a weekly “regroup and reflect” time.
  3. Regroup and Reflect: Set aside an hour each week, ideally on the last day of your seven-day period, to reflect on what was and plan what is to come. Go back in your mind’s eye. Learn. Forgive. Heal. Hope again. Dream forward and set a goal. Make a list. Write it down. Pray it up.

Try this for a week and see if you don’t find yourself breathing a little easier and laughing a little more freely. If you are stuck, that’s where mental health coaching, equine-assisted coaching and learning, and therapy can come into play.

With a support system in place, you can learn how to heal from the past while awakening your senses through grounding in the here and now. Yes, you can change how you do life, and deeply care for your mental and physical health in the process. Together, we’ll find a way for you to live in the recent future so that you can arise, stabilize, and thrive.

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