I’d like to share a very useful tool for bringing your mind back to the present moment when it is trying to cling to something that hasn’t happened yet. It realigns your perspective of whatever is pulling you into the future and reengages you with the now.
When you notice that you are not enjoying this moment because you are craving the moment when you reach your goal, ask yourself, “And then what?” The moment you have what you’ve been striving for, will everything be perfect in your life? Will you feel fulfilled for a long time, or will the cycle start over again, as it has thousands of times in your life? Will you hunger for a new goal, something new to accomplish, and find yourself back in the same inner state?
Asking yourself “And then what?” is an effective reminder that you are missing the pleasure of accomplishing your goal because you are not present in what you are doing. It’s a trigger of sorts that dissolves the feeling of “I just need to get to this next place, and then I will feel satisfied.”
Wanting To Grow and To Learn
Human beings have built into their DNA the desire to expand. The human spirit constantly wants to grow, to learn, to refine itself. This is truly one of our best attributes. However, we can all too easily misinterpret this pull as a feeling of being incomplete, and when we do, a sense of struggle arises. This is where the title of this chapter/article comes into play.
If you pay attention to your internal dialogue during the day and examine what you are experiencing in a moment of anxiousness or a feeling of being incomplete, of longing, you will most likely notice that you are trying internally to get to someplace other than where you are in this moment. You are trying to be someplace you have not yet arrived, to experience something that has not yet happened, or to gain something that you do not yet have, such as a material possession.
This kind of misinterpretation is not so easy to cast aside, since we are bombarded by an enormous amount of marketing that serves to nurture this feeling of incompleteness. If you pay attention to your feelings, you will notice this longing idling in the background. There is almost always this sense that something needs to change in our life in order for everything to be just right. No matter what we accomplish or acquire, this feeling has a way of contaminating what we are experiencing right now.
Always Wanting More, Always Wanting Better
Millions of dollars of research are poured into understanding ways to exploit this false sense within us. I recently watched a documentary program describing the psychology that went into the design of a major international airport in Germany. The retail section of the airport was placed in the center, like the hub of a wheel. All the different airline carriers’ gates exited into this hub.
The designers’ research had shown that the flights coming into this airport were generally long. This meant that psychologically the passengers had experienced an extended period of time where they felt they had very little control and therefore would feel a need for a sense of control, which they could attain through purchasing something.
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The design of the individual stores was equally well researched. The shape of the counters and the length and shape of the aisles were designed based on the findings of marketing research. Part of that research entailed bringing people in and giving them glasses to wear that had small cameras with lasers mounted on them so that their eye movements could be tracked as they walked through the mocked-up retail centers, which essentially mirrored how the finished retail centers would be constructed. This showed the designers exactly how the layouts affected people’s attention.
If you are aware that this type of manipulation is being used on you, it has little to no impact on you, but most people just participate in the scenario. For example, one of the major stores in the mall near my house had a floor plan that was deliberately designed to get people lost in the store. Of course, people didn’t realize this when the store was first built. Every aisle looked like every other aisle. You would say, “Do I want to go this way?” and shortly thereafter you were asking yourself the same question because you had no idea where you were.
People couldn’t find their way out of the store. This was great for business because it kept people in the store longer than they intended and made them walk through departments they weren’t planning to shop in. However, once you recognized this intentional design (and people did over time) it lost its effectiveness. The people who recognized this would pay close attention to visual cues that would allow them to find their way directly to the department they wanted and then back out of the store. This feeling of being incomplete may serve business, but it does not serve us.
Observation Brings Detachment and Choosing Your Response
Daily thought awareness training will connect you to the observer more and more, allowing you to be more fully engaged in this moment and to notice this feeling more quickly when it begins. This detached perspective gives you the opportunity to choose your response to those thoughts and feelings instead of just being absorbed in them and carried along by them as an involuntary participant. In that moment when you notice you are experiencing this misinterpretation, say to yourself, “Okay, let’s pretend I have this thing, I have gotten to this place, I have achieved this. And then what?”
You will find that the “And then what?” mantra can reset your perspective. It allows you to ask yourself, “Will this feeling that I’m experiencing really go away when I have this, or will I have a short-term sense of gratification that will dissolve back into a feeling of being incomplete the moment I see something else that makes me feel the same way?” You will be able to review how many times you have experienced this cycle and recall what the outcomes were.
In that moment, because you are fully present, you will have a deep knowing that this perspective is inaccurate and that whenever you acquire or achieve what you are after, you will long for further expansion. And that is how it should be.
Our natural desire to expand who we are and what we are capable of is an asset, not an indicator of what we are lacking. When we experience these feelings we should exhale and say to ourselves, “It’s good to know that all my systems are functioning correctly. I can relax and get on with the process of expansion and just enjoy the experience.”
Being Present and Fully Engaged
I’m not saying that when you truly need something, such as a new car, you shouldn’t be fully engaged in the process of acquiring it and enjoy it to the fullest. Nor am I implying that it’s wrong to want (and subsequently buy) something that we don’t particularly need but that we can afford. You may not need a vacation to a specific location, but it’s to a place you’ve always wanted to visit. You may not need a new job, but you’re ready for a new challenge.
What we’re trying to accomplish is to be the observer of what we are experiencing in this moment, to be fully conscious of how it is making us feel, and to know where that feeling is coming from. In this way we are a conscious choice maker and can choose whether or not to participate. When you have this perspective you know that you are in the present moment and not being manipulated. When you notice yourself feeling incomplete, you have in a sense woken up to the fact that you are not in the present moment and can now bring yourself back to where you have full power.
With practice the feeling of incompleteness becomes the trigger that automatically fires off this simple question: “And then what?” We want this to be our natural response to those feelings.
©2016 by Thomas M. Sterner. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA.
www.newworldlibrary.com or 800-972-6657 ext. 52.
Fully Engaged: Using the Practicing Mind in Daily Life
by Thomas M. Sterner.
Being fully engaged results in less stress and more satisfaction in every aspect of life...
About the Author
Thomas M. Sterner is the founder and CEO of the Practicing Mind Institute. As a successful entrepreneur, he is considered an expert in Present Moment Functioning, or PMF™. He is a popular and in-demand speaker and coach who works with high-performance industry groups and individuals, including athletes, helping them to operate effectively in high-stress situations so that they can break through to new levels of mastery. Visit his website at thepracticingmind.com