The Dangerous Escape

Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia. You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape it one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.

John Green, Looking for Alaska

If we compare the quality of an adult’s days with that of the children, the single most important difference I have observed is their relationship with present time. While we can say that an adult has several responsibilities and corresponding tasks to fill their 24 hours, the fact is that their lives are less busier than they pretend to be. In fact, I’ll go as far as saying that most adults deceive themselves by convincing their minds about having a productive and busy routine.

The reality is very different. The reality is that children just stay in each moment during their 24 hours. They are hardly thinking about the next thing or getting rid of the task at hand.

On the other hand, we are constantly escaping from the present moment. Think about it: why are most people checking their Facebook feed, emails, news and WhatsApp messages a million times a day. Hardly because these outlets present them entertaining opportunities on every indulgence but because they want to escape from the present moment and rather be somewhere else, for which the Internet world provides a convenient solution. The urge to be there in the Internet world rather than the real world is nothing but escape from Now. That is the root cause of an impulsive behavior in other aspects as well – leading to a stressful life.

The book 10% Happier brings forward an astonishing point about this issue.

Make the present moment your friend rather than your enemy. Because many people live habitually as if the present moment were an obstacle that they need to overcome in order to get to the next moment. And imagine living your whole life like that, where always this moment is never quite right, not good enough because you need to get to the next one. That is continuous stress.

A sad manifestation of escaping the present moment is that early in the morning around the world, millions of people walk towards their city offices in a zombie mode doing the jobs they don’t like much. They are left with no other choice but to keep doing the same things over and over again. After many many years, they realize that it’s not what they wanted from life. But by that time, it’s too late for most.

Solution: Aim for a purposeful life defined by one or more big projects. Break it down into small actionable steps and execute them daily. Remember what David Allen said in his pioneering work Getting Things Done,

When the only thing on your mind is the only thing on your mind, you’ll be “present,” in your “zone,” with no distinction between work and play.

The best theory about enjoying the present moment I have seen is Flow, a theory the great Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi devised after two decades of research.

“Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.”

It says that we are most gripped into a task if it is

  • neither too easy (otherwise, we get bored),
  • nor too difficult (otherwise, it creates anxiety).

Finally, it is very important to remember that this escape can also arise due to many choices in the form of multiple tasks asking for our attention. Reduce your choices to get your head clearer about what the most important tasks are.

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