The Psychology of Now: Why is the future more tantalising than the present?
We live in a ‘Buy Now’ culture. One that rewards impulsiveness and instant gratification. The buy now, pay later marketing phenomenon is so successful, that multi-million pound campaigns are designed to specifically target those who are vulnerable to temptation. Spend your hard-earned money now, and repent at leisure.
Why is living in the moment so difficult to achieve?
We live in the Age of Distraction, where multi-tasking is an expectation, a skill to acquire. Employers seek individuals who can complete tasks adequately, but in record time and frequency. Good enough is preferable to perfect. We are sold the minimum viable product, with a promise of unlimited upgrades in the future. How have we learned to accept poor quality over expediency?
We are bombarded all our waking hours with a sensory overload of input. Check the notifications list on your smartphone, and every application from maps to games wants to beep and ping at every opportunity possible. We become so plugged into this stream of useless information, that to unplug is simply not an option. Deprived of this energy draining plethora of cat videos and trite memes, and we feel its loss acutely. Perhaps we are missing out on a fantastic offer, another gadget that promises the earth and delivers nothing but eye strain. Maybe we have missed the start of another boastful trend, or be the first to create a post to lament a life lost, a missing dog, a clever pun about drones and airports.
Manipulation of the human psyche.
Self-consciousness and anxiety over our own inadequacies fuel this constant, goal orientated society. You hear primary school children, worrying on a Sunday night, because they have failed to achieve their target of learning the nine times tables off by heart. The teenager who keels over having starved themselves to their optimum weight, or the online entrepreneur who dies from a heart attack at twenty-eight.
The Three Types.
The way I see it, there are, on the whole, three types of goal seekers. The first group are the Empire Builders, those who look only to the future, sacrificing every opportunity for happiness in pursuit of their goal. Where time is too precious to waste on fine experiences or cultivating relationships with people who matter. Those things can wait until the target is reached, except, every time they get close to the point of achievement, they raise the target ever higher. Contentment is for wimps.
The second group are the Butterflies, whose distracted minds paralyse their abilities. As soon as they focus on achieving one goal, a better or different goal pops into their heads, and becomes the new target. These are the easily influenced, the new gadget, grass is greener brigade. These are a marketer’s dream audience. Given enough persuasion, they will buy warm ice, beautifully packaged in a transparent container, just for the name on the label.
Then we have the Emotionally Seized. These people are so fixated on potential future issues, that they fail to achieve anything in the present. The problems may not even exist as anything more than a remote possibility, but still it engages every waking moment, until they cannot rein in the fear. The impossible goal becomes their tormentor. Their thoughts control them instead of the other way around.
How can we take back control?
I recall an extended family occasion, where the buffet table bulged with plates and platters filled to capacity with exotic foods and nibbles. One of the attendees was a dapper man, sporting his Sunday best, with his empty plate resting on his knee. He was from the make do and mend era. The times of rationing and true sacrifice. His daughter asked if he would like anymore of the delicious food. I remember his words exactly. He said, “No, thank you, my dear. I have had an elegant sufficiency.”
To me, that says it all. His kin were still shovelling in so much food that all the flavours blended into one. Most felt uncomfortable or sickened at the end of the party. We have lost the ability to feel contentment.
The same can be said for boredom. As a child, if I complained of this state of affairs, my mother would simply point to my arts and crafts kit, or the book shelves, and she’d say, “then find something to occupy your mind.” Boredom was the gateway to creativity. It was not my parents’ responsibility to provide endless entertainment for my overstimulated brain. It was to guide me towards independence.
This inability to relish the feeling of serenity, the moment that is now, is so often the default setting of most children in the western world. A failure to achieve stillness, a restful state of calm, to stop fretting and fidgeting and relax in the moment. Buddhists refer to this as having monkey minds; the flitting of one disconnected thought to another.
Light at the end of the tunnel.
The current trend of ‘Mindfulness’ is sweeping through towns and cities like a virus. It has even made its way into some British Schools, in an attempt to address a lack of emotional resilience. It aims to provide children with the time and space to acknowledge how they think and feel. To awaken them to life’s experiences and face them head on.
My view is that this is just a new label on an old idea. If educating easy-going, inquiring youngsters requires a title of Mindfulness, then I who am I to judge? What is sad, is that it now takes an ‘expert’ and numerous school workshops to teach kids how to react to the challenges of life, where once this was a parent’s domain.
Empathy was acquired by listening to friends’ problems in the schoolyard. It is now timetabled via role play activities and called an ‘enrichment activity.’
And yet hope remains, while families stay true to their ideals. This time of year, is ideal to begin new traditions. Perhaps reinstate the Sunday Roast, or a family games night, a walk in the park together or shared hobbies.
My niece recently informed me, that for her college applications, she needed to show that she had an interest which developed manual dexterity. It only took a few minutes to teach her one of the stitches that forms the basis for most crochet patterns. She sat for more than two hours with her tongue sticking out, mastering the repetitive stitch and hardly glancing above the wool. When it was time to leave, she hugged me and said how amazing it was, and that she had not looked at her mobile phone once during the entire time.
Perhaps there is great value and wisdom in the old ways. We may be able to buy a cheap scarf made in China, right now, but there is far more value in one made by a relative over many weeks of mistakes and dropped stitches.
This yule tide, I hope that everyone has the chance to live in the moment, enjoy the boredom and bickering, and most of all, the now.
Sam Nash is the author of the thriller series, The Aurora Conspiracies, available from Amazon at http://mybook.to/AuroraMandate You can find her at https://www.samnash.org or on Twitter @samnashauthor or Facebook.com/samnash.author. Alternatively, you can download her free prequel novella series from: Kindle: mybook.to/T-A-J-P01 ePub: books2read.com/u/4jwjJo