The Problem of Now

growth health productivity Mar 10, 2019
Thanks to Eckhart Tolle and his mega-best-seller, The Power of Now, people focus a lot of attention on living in the moment. I’ve even heard it said…the only thing you really have is Now.  Well, let me tell you, Now is not all it’s cracked up to be.  
Although it is true that we can allow our past to weigh too heavily upon us or we can spend all of our time worrying about what the future may bring.  Over-emphasizing the past or the present can cost us the contentment and joy that is available right now, in the present moment.  Too much of a good thing is still too much.  It is is possible to over-emphasize the Now.  In fact, I think the shadow side of Now may be the more pervasive and insidious problem.  Let’s explore the darker side of living in the moment.
I’m reading the book, Strategy and the Fat Smoker, by David Maister. The premise of the book is that when given the choice between pleasure in the moment versus a denial of that pleasure in exchange for longer-term benefits, we often choose the former.  We do this even though we know the decision is a bad one in the long-term.  The habit of smoking offers the starkest example.  We know the that smoking is detrimental to our long-term health, yet people continue to smoke and new smokers take up the habit every day.  And this is the case when everyone agrees about the long-term consequences.  What happens when there’s less consensus about the long-term costs? 
We need to be on the lookout for ways in which we are de-emphasizing the long-term, either because the pleasures of our immediate experience are so good or because the potential disruption in the short-term feels too significant.  We need to get better at balancing the long-term-life-equation.  We need to get better at this, because no matter how much we enjoy the pleasures of today, the bill will come tomorrow.  
No, I mean Right Now
The other Problem of Now is related to our need for immediacy.  As our tools and technology make everything more accessible, our need for instant gratification is growing stronger.  When we want something, we want it now.  If we can’t, we become frustrated.  Then what?  Of course, we share our frustration on Facebook or Twitter where we are guaranteed to find immediate reinforcement and validation.  This kind of thinking invades every aspect of our lives, but perhaps the most obvious is in the realm of our consumerism.  If we want it, we buy it.  For some, this results in crushing debt and for others, a garage that is overflowing with crap we never use.    
Time for an Upgrade?
It seems the software we’re running in our brains has some serious bugs.  We are unable to perform complex cost-benefit calculations when they span anything beyond a 4-hour window.  We overstate the urgency of our basic needs and we underestimate our ability to endure scarcity of any kind.  What can we do about this?  
It doesn’t seem to me there is any way to get a massive software upgrade to our personal operating system, so perhaps the best we can do for now is to pick one or two small components of our life and try to affect change there.  Hopefully, as we make progress in these small areas the positive changes will go viral, in the best way.  
Call to Action
  • Identify one area of your life where you are favoring the short-term at the expense of the long-term.  Spend some time examining the costs and benefits, both short and long-term.  Whether you can or cannot make the math work to favor the long-term doesn’t matter.  Pick one small thing you can do to tip the equation slightly in favor of the long-term and commit to doing that thing regularly.  Make it a habit that you no longer think about.
  • Identify one area of your life where you find yourself addicted to immediacy.  Identify one practice that you can implement to challenge yourself to resist the urge for immediate gratification.  Experiment with this practice for a few weeks and see what happens.  Maybe you’ll find you have more will power than you thought!
Additional Resources
  • If you are struggling to identify specific ideas, check out the handy Problem of Now cheat sheet, available in the Life Design Center Downloads Section.  
  • If you feel like you need to take a big step back and look at your entire life system, I highly recommend taking the Life Design Assessment.  This will give you an entirely new perspective on your Life Design.  The assessment is available with the free Life Design Jumpstart Kit.  Check it out.
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