“How do you plan for the future while being mindfully in the present?”

Our co-op, the Viroqua Food Co-op, is going through a huge renovation right now. Been going on since last Fall. Still a few months to go. Pretty disruptive, but super cool, at the same time. I follow the project almost every day, and am just crazy excited for the improvements they’re making.

This impulse to improve things, it seems to me, is fundamental to our success, as individuals and as humans in general. We look at what’s around us, we think of ways it could be better, and we get to work, and the drive to do that is a beautiful thing. It’s the source of everything we’ve accomplished and created throughout history—and a lot of fun.

Some people are concerned, though, that the suggestion to be more “mindful and present in the moment” is somehow at odds with that impulse.

In this week’s post, I dispel that myth. (Spoiler alert: It’s not.)

This is actually something I feel pretty strongly about, so I was excited for the chance to talk about it.

FYI, I’m also in the process of launching a podcast (The David Levin Show) and the audio from these posts will be part of that. (I don’t think it’s showing up as available yet, but soon. More to come on that.)

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the post. I’m feeling good about it. :-)

CLICK HERE to watch the video

Keep up the good work!

[ transcript ]
Hey, it’s David Levin. Author of Raise Your Inner Game, co-author of QBQ the question behind the question, founder of Raise Your Inner Game Academy.

I was listening to a podcast the other day – Dan Harris again, 10% Happier podcast, and one of his listeners called in a question that I found really exciting, but not for the reason you might think.

He was a small business owner and the father of a son with special needs, and he basically said, “Look, I understand the need to be present and mindful in the moment. I’m with you on that. But at the same time, I need to plan for the future with my business, I need to prepare for various situations with my son. So how do you balance that, how do you plan for the future while being mindfully in the present?”

I loved that question, because the assumptions in it are just so wrong. I am just dying to address them.

And I don’t mean to be critical or judgmental. I totally get the question. But this whole idea that there IS a tension between those two things is just not true. It’s a huge misconception that I think holds a lot of people back from working on their inner game. Not only do they wonder if they can do it, they wonder if they even want to.

But the truth is, nothing about being present in the moment is at all in conflict with planning or goal-setting or working to improve things. In fact, it’s the opposite. When you learn to be present, you’re much more effective at planning and goal-setting and working to improve things.

So let me just take a few minutes to try to clear up that misconception, because maybe you get pushback from friends who say, I don’t think that’s for me. Or maybe you have some of these questions yourself. Either way, here we go.

So, to start out, look again at the question: “How do you plan for the future while being mindfully in the present?” What’s wrong with that question? Why do we get so confused about it?

Here’s one big reason. The call to be present and mindful in the moment sounds like the current moment is more important than the future. You’ll hear someone say “Now is the only thing that’s real, you need to keep your focus on the present moment.” And obviously, you can’t have your attention in both places at once. So, if you’re thinking about the future you’re focused in the wrong place. You want to keep your attention here on the moment. Those are the sort of arguments you hear.

The first problem with that is that it’s just silly on its face. I mean, like the caller said, of course we need to think about the future. Of course we need to work to make things better. So it’s just sort of ridiculous, and it turns people off.

The second problem is that it’s giving the wrong impression about what it means to be mindful and present. Mindful doesn’t mean you can’t think about the future. It just means don’t get lost in all the typical aimless sort of thoughts we tend to have.

Here’s the piece we tend to miss in all this. There are two types of thinking.
One is intentional. The other is not, it’s unconscious.

Most of the thinking we do, or, maybe better said, most of our thought activity, is the second kind. Unconscious thought. If you look, you will see that the vast majority of our thoughts are just aimless, random, noise about things that have happened in the past or imaginary things that might happen in the future. We spend very little time actually focused on what’s in front of us.

So when people talk about the need to be in the present moment versus off in the past or the future, that’s what they’re talking about. They’re not saying the future isn’t important, or that we shouldn’t make plans. They’re just addressing this specific question of attention. Are we fully engaged in what we’re doing, or are we off in our thoughts somewhere. I really feel mindfulness is best understood in the context of attention and being engaged.

So that’s the core definition: Mindful means being fully engaged. And that can absolutely involve thinking. It’s just that it’s intentional thinking versus the unconscious kind. That’s the difference.

An image I like for intentional thinking is that our brain is a tool. Like a hammer, sitting on the workbench. You can picture it there, ready to go. If we’re working on something where it’s needed, we pick it up, we do the work—we think, we analyze, we create. And it’s the perfect tool for that. And then when we’re done, we set it back down.

The piece most people haven’t learned yet, is the setting it down part. That’s where mindfulness and cognitive control training come in. But picking it up is intentional thinking—you’re deciding and directing your thoughts—and that is the highest, most evolved, most valuable and beautiful thing we do. It’s what sets humans apart from the other animals, and everything we’ve accomplished and created throughout history is a direct result of our ability to think.

So that’s why it bothers me so much when I hear people seeing these things as in conflict. Planning for the future, being mindfully in the present. The truth is that the best way to plan for the future is to be mindfully in the present. That’s what enables you to fully engage, and think clearly and deeply and creatively, and bring all of your capacities, everything you have to the question.

Anyway, I hope that makes sense. Being mindfully present makes a huge improvement in your ability to think and plan. It’s one of the biggest benefits of raising your inner game. Which as you know, is something I firmly believe we all should do.

All right, that’s it for this week. Here’s something sort of exciting. I believe this post will be the first blog post that is also available on my new podcast, The David Levin Show. It might not be showing up yet, but if not, very soon. So, if you’d rather get these through your podcast player, look me up over there. The David Levin Show. Subscribe. I’ll also be putting out some material that’s exclusive to the podcast. So I’d love to have you join me there.

I also invite you to join my newsletter list if you haven’t yet so I can let you know about new posts and offerings as they come out. I try to post something at least once a week. If you’re not on that list yet, come on over to davidlevin.com, put your name on there. Get the free download available there. “Three Things You Can Do Right Now To Start Loving Your Work (And Life) Again.” That’s actually a pretty great little piece.

Otherwise, thank you. Keep up the good work. I’ll talk to you next time.

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