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Minh Chau Headshot

How Your Desire for Control May Be Preventing You From Living in the Present

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The only moment that is guaranteed to us is now. This very second. Then why do we always find ourselves contemplating about a past that we cannot change or worrying about a future that may not happen? While each of us may have our own nuanced answer to this question, it ultimately boils down to one thing: control.

When we find ourselves drowned in thoughts about a past event -- whether it was an unfaithful partner, a failed job interview, or spilled coffee on a white dress -- the questions that often come up are reflective of our attempts to reassure ourselves that we could have changed the outcome if we really wanted. If only I had spent more time preparing for the interview, I wouldn't have made a fool of myself. I would have done things differently in our relationship if only he had been more transparent about how he felt. I could have caught the flight if only I had gone to bed earlier and didn't sleep through my five alarms.

One common theme cuts across these hypotheticals. That is, we are either blaming ourselves for not having exercised our ability to control the situation, or blaming others for taking away that control. Similarly, when we bury ourselves with thoughts about the future -- whether it's planning for a move to a new city or daydreaming about how great a summer vacation will be -- we are telling ourselves that things will go well so long as we are in control of the situation. If I start looking for an apartment now, and call the movers tomorrow, everything will be fine. We'll have a great time this summer -- we'll go swimming at the beach, enjoy the sun, and relax by the pool. We try to control the future by setting expectations for what will be. But every second that we spend on an indelible past or an uncertain future is another second lost.

This does not mean that we should not learn from the past or that we should live day by day and let our future skate by. It simply means that we can't overthink the past or the future and forget to live in the present, because ultimately, the only thing we can control is ourselves. But to live in the moment requires letting go of the past, whether it is of hurtful actions or false hopes. It also requires letting go of expectations for the future -- expectations that things will go exactly as planned or that others will act in accordance to our wishes. We tend to like consistency, control, and knowing what the future holds, but that's not how the world works.

To live in the moment means learning to be secure with who we are and finding stability within ourselves so we don't feel the need to control the people and things in our past and those that may be in our future. This requires change within us. And change can be hard, especially when we are going through it in the moment, but it can also be remarkable. Without a doubt, we will go through moments of fear about what lies ahead, doubts about the world and the people around us, despair about our current situation, and confusion about what's right and what's wrong. But, we'll also find ourselves to be much freer as we begin to let go of the past and stop worrying about a future that is as uncertain as when nature will call again.