The weakness of now
Good advice that is anti-good advice
We wizz through life one moment at a time.
The wisest of the wise remind us that now is all we have.
The past is history, and the future is a mystery,
but now is a gift, that is why it is called the present.
One of the other greatest pieces of wisdom I’ve learnt is that writing and advice is always one-sided and there will usually be perfectly great truths and things to learn from the opposite side of any advice.
So all this focussing on one single moment, albeit the one as it happens, seems like a little bit of a tunnel.
Inspecting you tunnel vision
After all, humans are so focussed on a tiny amount of things. Our vision is highly focused on a single point. The fovea in your retina creates the only vision with any clarity. The rest of what we see is a bit of a blur in the peripheral.
Similarly our mind really only tackles one thing with any clarity and can handle some peripheral stuff on autopilot. But consciousness is mainly in one place.
And so is our life.
It is lived in this one focussed moment with a bit of peripheral thinking forwards and backwards. Our peripheral scanning can impact how we feel in this one moment, but our existence is only ever really in this tiny slice.
Stuck in the tunnel that is just a portal to our future selves.
Philosophy and meditation create a stigma against thinking outside of the now. All our frustrations come from pining over losses or hoping for a future that is unrealistic and forgetting to be happy now.
Yet this skips the fact that most of our non-present thinking is about the very close proximity to now.
What do I say next?
What am I having for dinner this evening?
What am I doing next week?
Will I go nuts if I continue doing my job this year?
Our thinking rarely breaks out of the next two years. So the problem is that we obsess over “now-ish” moments.
What about five years’ time? What about 30 years’ time? Where is the lifetime thinking?
Who considers how they contribute to the next thousand years?
Bridging the long-term to now
Part of being in the now is knowing how that ties into your long-term future.
Nat Eliason encourages 30-year thinking where you look at your routines, hobbies, and job choices. Ask if you want to be doing them for 30 years and if they are contributing to who you will become.
We all have work that energises us and work that drains us. Yet often we skip the work we love to do other things because it isn’t prioritised. Long-term success comes from compounding and nurturing our talents over time.
The work we can stick with in the long term is work that energises us. So if we want to truly achieve it might mean saying no to more conventional things that pay better in the moment. Our current day-to-day priorities are clouding our real purpose.
“Finding energizing work is more beneficial than setting long term goals. A goal might be fulfilling for a moment as it's reached, but that sense of contentment quickly fades. If you don't enjoy the process , checking off goal after goal becomes tiresome.”
Mastery comes from sticking at something over a very long time. Most people can learn 80% of a skill very quickly so if you jump about you won’t be exceptional at anything.
Thus the questions you need to ask are:
What do you want to be doing in 30 years?
And is that reflected in how you spend your time?
Applying 30-year thinking
If you want to be a great writer then that means you should write every day today. Look at your time and be honest about how much time goes into your true skills and passions.
It’s easy to make excuses for putting things off. That is not what I call living in the moment, but being lost in now-ish.
Being in the moment is making the hard decisions and choosing an interesting life over an easy life.
30-year thinking extends beyond just skills and work. Are your friends 30-year friends? Will they grow alongside you and challenge and learn with you? Will your kids play together while you support and inspire each other? Or are your friends just kind of convenient?
Is your lifestyle a 30-year lifestyle? Health choices and exercise compound over the years and putting things off now just accrues problems later. Investing in learning to enjoy cooking healthily for yourself will pay you back in dividends in the age of convenience.
Also having a group of friends gather in a home to share dinner is infinitely better than going to a restaurant.
30 year thinking can provide clarity you didn't realize you had about how you should spend your time:
Is this work something I want to improve at for the next 30 years?
Is this person someone I want to see weekly for the next 30 years?
Is this habit or ritual something I want to do for the next 30 years?
Is this how I want to spend my money for the next 30 years?
Is this a topic I want to read about for the next 30 years?
Is this how I want my body to look, or feel, for the next 30 years?
Of course, people change over time and you might not have a perfect answer to some of these questions. But a good question often doesn’t have a perfect answer but helps us notice the many imperfections in our current answers.
Ultimately many of your now-ish decisions will not match your true long-term desires.
It's easy to fall in the "one day" trap.
Believing that once you make more money, have more time, finish this project, you'll suddenly be free of the obligations standing between you and your ideal self.
But "one day" never comes. We have to start creating that day now.