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.
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.
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!