How to break free from the suffocating countdown mentality.
As soon as we are able to grasp the concept of time, we begin counting it down, always in search of some distant but ideal future that we presume must be better than now.
We can’t wait to be grown-ups so that we can buy candy whenever we want. We can’t wait until summer break or until we’re 16 so we can drive. Until we’re 18 when we can stay out past curfew, until we’re 21 when we can legally drink, and so on.
Then you enter the adulthood countdown reel, notably marked by 9 to 5s, or bills or biological clocks. We count down to lunch break from which we return only to countdown until clocking out only to return home to count down the spare hours before you must retire only to begin the countdown all over again. We set our mental timers for payday and then for bills day and then for payday again.
And all that time spent counting down, basking in the anticipation of fleeting moments, only for the fleeting moment to pass as quickly as it came, leaving us to count down towards some other effervescent time. And then one day we finally look up to find a life of defined by moments wished away. We speed through time as if it is a renewable resource, only acknowledging the value of the present when it’s too late.
One day, you emerge from you neverending countdown only to realize that the incessant timer was never worth the time lost. And hopefully, this awareness isn’t realized when you have no time left.
Your life will be a hamster wheel, running in a circle to nowhere, if you do not abandon your mental timer.
Live in the present
We tend to grow bored with the present if we are not being entertained or stimulated. That is because the brain, if at rest, begins to ignore redundancy, at least until triggered by a new stimulus. So you have to keep your perception fresh. No day is like the other so frame your mind around this truth. Take an active role in your present scene.
Enrich the ordinary
Make a game out of invigorating the ordinary. Even when (read: especially when) you are bored by the recurring scenes of your routine, zoom in on the details, as you are sure to uncover some unturned rocks. Try on a new perception when noticing passersby on your morning commute. Wake up a half hour earlier to write in your journal or watch the birds awake.
Interrupt the monotony of your commute by greeting a stranger or taking a street you don’t usually. Call a friend just to chat. Make what is old new again. Envision the world through the eyes of a toddler, when literally everything is new and thrilling.
Look forward to the future without forfeiting the present
Living in the present does not mean you must forfeit the future. You can still make plans and set goals—in fact, what better time to do so than now?
There is no crime in excitement for another day, but don’t forfeit the value of today. As we get wrapped up in some idea of an uncertain future, the sheer potential of it can distract us from our present.
But awaiting a moment that is not yet here is what drags the time until its arrival. Tallying up each minute, hour, day before the anticipated event robs these moments of their own value, replacing them with dread for now not being later. And then the event in question comes, yay! and goes, leaving you with your countdown clock until the next thing.
Whether it is a vacation or a promotion or a lunch break or the weekend, glancing at the clock as you countdown the time left, only leaves you dragging each minute like a ball and chain. You are not trapped. Your distraction with the future is simply making your present into a prison.
How to get the most out of the chapter you’re in now
Embracing and respecting your current chapter will allow you to glean as much value from it as possible.
This article is not attempting to condemn the natural peaks and valleys of life. I get it. There are going to be times when living in the present frankly sucks. Sometimes life is downright brutal. And perhaps that eye on the future is the only thing that seems to keep you sane. But after each of these rough chapters in my own life, after all the counting down, I’ve found that I am unequivocally better for having gone through it.
Unfortunately, the human mind rarely gives us 20/20 foresight, leaving us to our “ooohh’s,” only in hindsight. Whether it was lessons to be learned or growing pains to be conquered, I will admit that I spent the entire duration griping and whining and Disney-princess-fainting. But after all of my “woe is me” tantrums, I emerged to a metaphorical sunny day that simply would not have been as bright without that rain.
It’s difficult to maintain that kind of clarity as it all unfolds. And I don’t know what you may be going through or what you’ve been through. But it’s all a part of a triumphant plot in the Story of You. And if your current chapter is a valley, you get all you can from that valley. Valleys are where the plants grow and the streams trickle. You learn how to sustain in those valleys. And without the sheer contextual contrast of that valley, the peaks wouldn’t even exist.
Change an unfulfilling present
If you are living in a rut, it may be more a season of change than one of embrace. This is okay. Life did not promise a day-to-day joyride. But this does not mean that you are doomed to a fate of cyclical boredom or discontent.
You can’t forfeit the countdown unless you forfeit stagnancy so you may need to place emphasis on finding the silver linings of the now while cultivating a brighter future. You can make the most of your current situation, even if it is not ideal, by packing your present days with investments that will enrich the future ones. It is okay to be disgruntled as long as you intend to do something about it. Human emotions can provide life’s best hints to what needs to change. Pardon the cliche, but there is no time like the present. There is power in now.
Also published on Medium.