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The Power of the (Intentional) Present

I spent the first two weeks of April in a whirlwind of all of the things – taking my daughter to Dallas for Taylor Swift, taking all four of my kiddos for a few days in the mountains of Rocky Mountain National Park and then seven hours southwest of there to Ouray (a small mountain town in southwest Colorado), navigating Passover away from home (including always being just a little bit worried we wouldn't have enough matzah – even though we ended the holiday with an extra five pounds). And doing my best to live into my values and my renewed commitment to be present for my kids.

When we made the decision to close Einstein Academy and go into independent work, it was for a variety of reasons, including that I wanted to be able to take a vacation with my kids and not feel like I had to work the whole time. I didn’t want to feel like I always had to be glued to my phone in case someone needed something from me, giving my kids only a portion of my attention (at best). My son still refers to the “skiing incident” where I was literally texting with my board chair about a security issue while skiing down the slope with my sons. That was not okay and served a major wake up call, indicating a huge misalignment between my stated and lived values.

Being present for the present has always been a challenge for me. As an over-thinker with an incredible memory, I tend to relive experiences and conversations over and over and over again in my mind, attempting to draw every possible morsel of insight from them. As a planner, I live by my calendar and to-do list and am always six months ahead in terms of scheduling and goals.

Which, while there are certain benefits involved, all makes it very challenging to be in the present.

I was listening to a book this morning about mindset that referenced the following quote by Lao Tzu:

If you are depressed you are living in the past.

If you are anxious you are living in the future.

If you are at peace you are living in the present.

While I agree that there isn’t value in “living” in either the past or the future, I do firmly believe that we will never be successful unless we build both into the present.

In terms of the past, I listened to a podcast recently that talked about how to quickly address the past. The speaker (a business leader who is well-versed in misses and failures) discussed his trick – let yourself feel the feelings, consider what you can learn, and immediately make plans to implement the learning. His methodology gave space to be fully present for experiences and feelings at the time, with an eye to the future. He argued that we are more likely to dwell on the past when we don’t give the proper attention to the present when it’s the present. Through his process, there is no need to “live” in the past because you fully lived the moment (whether it be a success or setback) at the time…and integrated into the present and future.

Similarly, during a course I listened to on InSight Timer on the Law of Attraction and the power of our beliefs converting into actions, the facilitator discussed what he called a daily “Power Move.” Each morning, he advised, think about where you want to be in a year and think about one thing you can do today to get you closer to that – and don’t go to sleep that night until you’ve completed it. By keeping the future in mind and aligning it with our actions of today, we are able to live in the present while also preparing for the future.

Through approaches like this, we are able to live in the present (at peace) while not forgetting about either the past or the future – we’ve integrated them into the present in a way that is empowering and within our control.

When I work with clients, our first step is to better understand what is the problem or challenge we’re trying to address in the present – whether we start with an identified need or a general feeling of unease or an unattained goal or a list of symptoms.

This requires taking a deep dive into the present with questions such as:

  • Who are the key stakeholders involved?

  • How is this challenging holding the organization back from being as successful as possible?

  • What are the symptoms of the challenge?

  • What is the challenge – at its core? (Have we clearly and accurately addressed the “right” challenge or goal?)

  • Why is it important to address this now?

And then we think about the past:

  • What is the necessary background information surrounding this area?

  • How has this area shifted or developed over time?

  • What has been tried before from which we can learn?

  • What elements of institutional history or culture need to be considered?

And then we think about the future:

  • If we are successful, what will that look and feel like?

  • How will tackling this challenge lead to a more effective and joyful environment?

  • Thinking backwards, what steps will need to be taken to get us to that future version?

  • Why is tackling this challenge so important to the future?

And then back to the present: What can we get started on right now to move us forward?

Only through considering both the past and the future and integrating them into the present can we truly be “at peace” in living in the present.

So, I ask you – How can you be at peace living in the present?

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