Life is complicated and uncertain. None of us knows what each day will bring. However, we do know what yesterday brought to our lives, and often we predicate our future on yesterday’s message.
Trying to predict the future can lay a trap for us. We either try to make sure what happened yesterday doesn’t happen again, or we hope we can re-create positive experiences, forcing a battle between fear and hoped-for happiness. We simply cannot control our destiny so both options can only lead to anxiety and disappointment. We can only be present in the here and now.
For most people, living in the moment is the best way to follow life’s path. Life happens in the present and our responses to where we are at that given point is what creates our real world.
So often people spend every present moment talking about a past or future event. In her book, Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert writes about a friend who is visiting a beautiful place and remarks, “I want to come back here again someday.” Gilbert writes, “It takes all my persuasive powers to try and convince her that she is already here.”
What is happening with Gilbert’s friend? She is so trapped in thoughts of her future that she cannot experience the present to feel the joy of the moment. All she senses is her future need to experience something again. This thinking steals present happiness and Gilbert’s friend cannot “see” where she really is at that moment in time.
If $1,440 was magically deposited into your bank account every day and you were told you must spend it all each and every day, what would you do? The obvious answer is, “I would spend it!”
You do have such a deposit every day, but it is not in money, it is in minutes. You have 1,440 minutes to spend every day of your life, and whatever you don’t spend quickly becomes the past and is no longer available to you.
Try walking your life’s path in the present. Relish and luxuriate in what you are doing now, right now, and throw yourself into the passion of the moment. Use all your senses. Living in the moment involves a profound paradox because you will be forced away from thinking in a future mindset.
Focusing on a future reward subverts the present-oriented process. Instead, be confident and trust that rewards will come. The paradox rests in letting go of the need to control future outcomes to get what you really want in life.
Researchers discovered people who live in a present-oriented mindset are happier, more secure, have higher self-esteem, and can accept their weaknesses better. Additionally they will enjoy more satisfying relationships with less conflict. They will also have healthier coping skills to better navigate the uncertainties of life.
Choosing vs. Following: The True Path to Happiness & Success
Do we choose our own path? Or does it choose us? Are we creating our lives? Or are we following some grander plan that’s already been laid out? Are we in control of what happens to us? Or are we simply in control of how we respond?
Big questions to be sure.
I was raised to believe we not only choose our own path, but we’re in charge of making it all happen. I was taught to set goals and achieve. Needless to say I’ve always been very independent. I moved out and got married at age 19, put myself through college, and eventually started my own business.
Sounds like the definition of choosing a path, doesn’t it?
But as I look back at my life, I have to ask myself: Did I choose that path or was it chosen for me by society, conditioning, or my parent’s influence? If I’m being honest, I have to say that path was largely chosen for me.
Yes, I had free will and made choices along the way, but the overall path was not a choice. It was just what you do when you grow up. You decide what you want, set goals, and go after them. On that path, I was very often frustrated and disappointed. Often it seemed that no matter how hard I worked, there were times that things didn’t go according to my plan. Times I was disappointed. Even heartbroken.
I’ve been told that’s because I was too close to it.
If I had the 30,000-foot-view of my life—and I could see the entire life journey, and not just the part I’m experiencing right now—I would appreciate that it’s all part of a grander plan. Well, if that’s the case it sounds like the path has already been mapped out. Some may call it destiny. Others credit God, spirit, or the universe. Whatever it is, it sounds a lot more like following a path than choosing one.
It may sound like semantics to you, but I would argue it’s much more than that.
Choosing a path means deciding what you want and taking action to achieve it.
Following a path means being open to what shows up, listening to your heart, your higher self, that little voice of inspiration, and doing what it leads you to do, even if it doesn’t make sense (which it often doesn’t!).
Choosing a path means you know where you’re going.
Following means you have no idea where your destination is. Instead, you take it one step at a time, and trust you’re being led exactly where you’re supposed to be.
Both require courage, but following also requires trust and faith. And that can be the exciting part. Because very often where you end up is much grander than you could have ever dreamed up on your own.
The Path Chosen
The path is always right, no matter which one you choose, for with every choice comes a direction with the potential to inspire and challenge the best of who you are.
Purpose and direction are key elements in the coaching process when we work with clients. We encourage our clients to define both a life purpose and a work purpose. In doing do, they clarify the reasoning for choosing a specific direction.
A life purpose is a little bit like a theme for a party. Bear with me here.
Let’s say you are planning a party and have chosen the theme “Mexican Fiesta”. When you are out at the novelty store looking for items to use for the party decorations and favours, it’s a no-brainer. You start looking for items from south of the US border and no matter how cool the sci-fi decorations are, you KNOW they don’t go with your theme. Now imagine what your brain will begin to do now that your Mexican Fiesta Theme is selected… suddenly you begin to creatively envision the party.
You’ll see sombreros, tortillas, maracas, hot-pepper lights, pottery, Mexican blankets, and a mariachi band. Your caterer has a clear direction for the food offerings. You already know your signature drink is going to be a margarita and everywhere you go, you keep seeing brightly coloured dishes you could use for this party. You can envision in your mind’s eye what kind of invitations to use and the music you will play. Are you seeing how this works? Once you are clear on your theme your brain begins to go into overdrive to seek ways to live that theme out. Once the party’s started, you will also find your guests getting into the theme. They’ll be attempting to add their choppy Spanish into conversation, wearing the sombreros and performing their greatest attempt at Latin dancing. The party, a smashing success!
Without clarity on your party’s theme, you might just start purchasing what looks cool and fun – whether they go together or not. This can be expensive and you might find yourself with items you don’t use or worst case scenario have trouble finding ways to break the ice or engage your guests in a little fun from the get-go because your creative energies are all over the place.
Our brains work that way, once we make a clear decision, our brain focuses on it. Our brains act as a filter, there are literally billions of things going on around us and we cannot process it all at once, so the brain looks to find relevance around us for what it already knows. Just like never seeing a particular model of car until we buy one, then we see them all over the place – relevance to your current knowledge. It’s that way with your purpose. Once you are clear on your purpose, your brain goes into overdrive focusing its attention toward what you know.
Having trouble choosing a path? Define your life purpose and continue to post it somewhere you will see it every day, this will keep you from being distracted by the sci-fi decor and put you straight in the path of the Mexican fiesta! Once clear on your purpose, every decision, every choice, every turn of the road then gets weighed against whether it serves your purpose or not. If you get distracted by a choice that frays from your purpose then re-evaluate both the choice and the purpose and remember: No choice is a wrong choice, it simply acts as a redirect and you selected it for a reason, whether to learn a lesson, to revisit your purpose or to test out a new direction. Life is too short to beat yourself up with past choices; your time is better spent directing yourself toward your purpose.