Present in the Present

Thanks to fellow blogger Diana Schwenk for her suggestion some months back when I had written a post inspired by the Rolling Stones song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. If I go back to the moments from that blog I remember Diana commenting that perhaps another good song to write about would be “Tiiiiiiimmmmmeee is on my side, yes it is.” Yet another Stones classic!

And I started to think through whether it was more important to know whether time is indeed on our side, or whether it is a greater advantage to know what side time we are on or in at a given moment.

One must be present to smell the roses!
One must be present to smell the roses!

Past, future or present?

What happens when our thoughts are in or about the past? Certainly there are some good things that can come from this place in time. We learn from the past by examining thing that went well or maybe not so well. We use things that happened in the past as motivation for providing praise and encouragement to others. But things from the past can also spawn regret, wishing for different outcomes, self-doubt and perhaps casting eyes and thoughts in the direction of others.

Thinking into the future can have its ups and downs as well. The future is a field for dreams … glory vacations, celebrations, family etc. We make plans for great successes. We anticipate acquiring new things. But we may also look to a darker side of the future by entertaining our fears. Fears of loss, of failure, of struggle, of scarcity and perhaps even of conflict with others.

So what happens when we are present in the present?

Let’s face it … wherever and whenever I go, there I am!! In any given moment where I am with others our thoughts may be in the past or the future. When those thoughts are of a positive form such as celebration of the past or anticipation of the future I still feel present … I bring those warm feelings to the present and enjoy them here.

It is more when the thoughts aren’t as positive and may be formed from fear, self-doubt, regret, scarcity, etc. that I find it important to consciously be present in the present.

Wherever I go, there I am!
Wherever I go, there I am!

How can we do that?

The first thing that comes to mind for me is to be present in thinking. To me that means when I hear/see/read things that may be driven by fear, scarcity, self-doubt or loss I need to ask questions that are about me, right now. Questions like:

  • Is what I am hearing/seeing/reading true for me?
  • What might be happening for those others involved in this event?
  • What else might possibly be happening here?

These questions force me to examine the issue in a current light and in a present tense. I must look at how this issue sits with me right now, and then to try to understand the present state of the others who are involved, and what other potential explanations exist. By doing so I engage the issue from a perspective of what can be done about this now.

The next thing that I think of is to be present in listening. This is especially important when the issue at hand is one that affects me personally, or someone important to me, as I am more susceptible to being caught in the same negative emotions. The process of being present in listening to me involves being mentally still and releasing all of my own thoughts and opinions about the situation and then listening with all available tools. Not just my ears, but my mind, my heart, my gut, my physical being. Without going into detail here, this process is described well in a Deepak Chopra article I re-posted here a few months back.

Such a form of listening forces me to monitor all my senses in the present, making it pretty much impossible for my mind to wander off somewhere else. And by doing so I am much better able to find the answers to the questions I pose when present in thinking.

When I’m able to put these two things into practice, I’m amazed by what I see and learn, and by the possibilities that are uncovered for the group to contemplate, many of which have very positive outcomes attached. Most importantly, taking action only happens in the present, so this process also leaves us in a place where we can do something about the issue.

I think I’ve also come to learn that people have an expectation that this is the way leaders engage with them. That actually makes much more sense when you consider what unpleasant things might happen when leaders don’t engage in this way!!

Even more important for leaders is what a coaching opportunity this presents for those practiced in this art. Instead of asking these questions with our inside voice, what if we were to ask them of our colleagues in our outside voice? “Is that true for you?” “What might be happening for others you are involved with in this event?” “What other explanations do you see are possible here?” By taking this second person approach we are actually teaching this technique to others while broadening their perspective on problem solving.

How great would life (and work) be if every time we engaged with anyone we were all present in the present!

And while we are present … take a moment to enjoy a great tune from a great band … The Rolling Stones – Time Is On My Side!

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Ian Munro @

Ian Munro is a leadership and vitality coach with a primary passion for working with senior professionals who wish to improve their connection to and vitality in their career, or who wish to make a transition to a meaningful and rewarding retirement. His methods are focused on helping clients understand why they present as they do in day-to-day life, discover their authentic self and give themselves permission to build a meaningful and rewarding future, both professional and personal. Ian’s love for this work has developed naturally as he built his career as an executive and leader in the IT services industry, serving in many roles and facets of this industry over 25 years. As he reached the pinnacle of his career he began to search more deeply for meaning and alternate rewards from his own career and to begin to plan for his own “first retirement”.

10 thoughts on “Present in the Present

  1. I love this line: taking action only happens in the present, so this process also leaves us in a place where we can do something about the issue.

    We all do this, but I had never really thought about it Ian. If I am stuck in the past with regret, I can act now to change my thinking about it, look for things I can learn from it etc. If I am looking ahead and thinking about all the things that can go wrong, I can think about and take preventative action now. And it grounds me, brings me back to ‘wherever I am, there I am!’

    Oh by the way; when I was a teenager the Stones were my most favourite band!

    1. Thanks Diana … you were the inspiration after all!!

      Two more reasons why to stay in the present … you can’t change the past and the future hasn’t happened yet.

      1. Amen to that Ian! I read somewhere once that most people live in the past, then in the present and then a small group in the future. Also, I read that we are not wired to think more than a year into the future which makes me wonder about strategic plans. What do you think? We build say a 3-5 year strategic plan and review it annually and in my experience it has to be modified or changed completely given current circumstances at the time.

      2. I think there is merit to this line of thinking. I think there is a value to thinking into the future as it allows us to debate the merits of the investment of assets such as time, money and energy into certain areas.

        However I feel it is important to avoid the Jean-Luc Picard syndrome of “Make it so!”

        Ian Munro Vice President, Procurement Services (403) 515-3297

  2. This is interesting from a leadership perspective as much of a leader’s tasks can be evaluating and reporting on the past; and planning strategies, outcomes and budgets for the future. Even though taking action only happens in the ‘present’, that time is actually in the future when presenting or discussing those actions with the staff.

    It was from one of your posts that I took hold of the phrase ‘Face Everything And Respond’ (FEAR) which brought me to the conclusion that ‘everything’ includes past regrets and concerns for the future. Those fears need to be brought into the present in order to be dealt with. It is often advised to ‘live for today’; meaning to stop feeling sad or regretful about the past and anxious about the future and live for the happy present moment. That only lasts for so long and eventually one needs to face the realities of the real world, and the real world includes facing a maybe uncertain future and planning a better way forward.

    I suppose in summary what I am trying to say is that even though I agree that thinking and listening in the present is essential and ideal, it is also necessary to keep a healthy eye on the thoughts of the past and future, or at least bring them into the present moment to deal with. Brushing them aside does not always work.

    (And I learned that concept from you by that post on FEAR).

    1. Thank you for this very thoughtful comment. It has taken me a day of mulling it over to respond. At the end I think we are saying the same thing. Truly taking action can only happen in the present, and truly we can’t ignore our learnings of the past or our aspirations for the future. They shape our actions. I think what differentiates here is that regrets from the past or fears of the future truly distract us from being present, and thus any action we take at that time cannot involve the application of our full conscious mind.

      1. You are so correct of a balance being needed. “Regrets from the past or fears of the future truly distract us from being present”. This applies both to being tuned in to the actions required in the present, and also any enjoyment of leisure time.

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