How Far Ahead Are You?

Whether you’re a “plan-ahead planner” like me, or an “addictive over-achiever,” or even a “procrastinator-extraordinaire,” we all suffer from walking ahead of ourselves on a fairly regular basis.

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What that means is that at some point during our days/weeks, we spend a quantity of time thinking about situations or conversations that are looming on our horizon. Some of us do this almost constantly, while others dabble – but no matter how much or little, any time spent thinking about (playing it out in our heads) an upcoming situation or conversation we expect to have is time spent not paying attention to the NOW.

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While I might justify the benefits of thorough planning ahead for everything from the next day to a trip months away, others can equally justify their choices to play it by ear and “wing it.” There’s pros and cons to both styles. But even if you “wing it” I guarantee there are numerous times you think about how you want a conversation or event to happen. This sets up expectations that, if not achieved, can cause disappointment, anxiety, or the dreaded “confrontations” that so many claim to hate.

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I’ve talked before in my blog about confrontations and how they do not have to be seen as a negative (Confrontation Or Communication), so that aside, my issue today is that moving further down your path – in your head – sets up a false future that often doesn’t match up to reality. Experiencing repeated situations or conversations that don’t live up to your imagined outcomes can cause self-doubt in your choices. The irony here is that we’ve imagined how things will go – forgetting that the imagination is supposed to be creative and not realistic!

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So how do you stay in the present – stay focused on the path directly in front you in the now? That’s a question that millions tackle on a daily basis. What I do know is that for me, when I catch myself playing things out ahead of time – I stop and focus on what I’m doing NOW and do my best to keep my attention there, and only considering what needs to be done as the very next step.

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One of the tricks I learned during my Dramatic Arts training is to NOT try to ignore the pink elephant in the room. The more you try to ignore it, the larger it grows. Instead, we learned to turn our focus to something in front of our face that we create right on the spot. I would imagine a purple giraffe and delve into the details of that giraffe, which would cause me to completely forget about the pink elephant.

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While it takes practice, this trick works great when applied to the topic of this blog.  Just today at the gym I found myself focusing on a conversation I want to have with a friend. I was rehashing all my bulleted points, filling in their imagined responses. I shortly realized I wasn’t paying attention to my workout. I shifted my focus to analyze my form and the tempo of my movements and in short order I was thoroughly engrossed with the exercise at hand and enjoyed my workout all the more.

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Try it for yourself and let me know the results.  I guarantee the next time you find yourself traveling down the road in your head, just pull over and think about something relevant to right now – delve into the details of that and you’ll quickly shift your focus away from that false future that you were creating.

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