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Tiny Wisdom: Living in the Now and Planning for Later

“As for the future, your task is not to foresee it but to enable it.” -Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

It’s a common misconception that being fully present means not setting goals. After all, if you’re truly connected to the now, you’re not thinking of building for later. If you’re awake instead of living on autopilot, you’re more concerned with the wonder of what’s in front of you than the wonder of what’s ahead of you.

I’ve spent a lot of time weighing the options, as if I needed to choose one way of being: peaceful or productive. This left me feeling conflicted, because instinctively, I want both. I want to feel awake in my everyday life, while still allowing myself to have dreams and work toward them. I want to accept and appreciate what is, while imagining and creating what could be.

I’ve realized that while mindfulness can help us feel a greater sense of happiness, life satisfaction generally requires a balance of being and planning.

As beautiful and freeing as it is to immerse ourselves in the moment, we do ourselves a disservice if we don’t devote a least a little time to shaping the ones to come. As liberating as it is to simply be, we risk growing complacent and stagnant if we forget we are always evolving.

There is a reason abundant research shows that goal-setting leads to happiness: recognizing our potential and then utilizing it gives us a sense of empowerment, growth, and pride. Life happens now, but our lives are more than any isolated experience. We owe it to ourselves to question what it is we really want to do, and how we’re going to do it.

John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” He was right. But sometimes planning is a perfectly beautiful way to experience life, particularly when it comes from a sense of fullness and possibility, not an sense of dissatisfaction and lack.

So I say dig your heels in today, look around, and appreciate what is. But remember, while enjoying the present, that the future is ours to create.

Photo by Katy Moeggenberg

Avatar of Lori Deschene

About Lori Deschene

Tiny Buddha Founder Lori Deschene is the author of the Tiny Wisdom eBook seriesTiny Buddha's Guide to Loving Yourself, and Tiny Buddha: Simple Wisdom for Life's Hard Questions. She's also co-founder of Recreate Your Life Story, an eCourse that helps you change your life. For inspiring posts and wisdom quotes, follow on Twitter & Facebook.

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  • De Stow

    The trouble is when you get old you don’t have much future to plan. It is only when there IS no tomorrow that you can realise the importance of today.

  • ZenRiderZen

    Lori, thank you for this post. In my personal life I have recently been so determined to focus on the now that I have been reluctant to consider possibilities like apartments together, marriage, etc. I do find peace in not worrying about the future in such matters but this does create conflict with others who find it difficult to embrace the “live in the now” mantra.

    Professionally I always must be thinking about the future. As a contractor, I move from project to project and as one project nears completion I must be looking for the next one. This makes living in the now more challenging but I am fortunate enough to have pursued a career path that I LOVE. As a teacher, instructional designer, speaker and voice-over artist I am happy and content. Sometimes, though, I think complacency may keep me from aggressively pursuing that next skill set that may be needed on the next unknown project.

    Today’s post was very helpful to remind me that living in the now does not mean being unmindful of the future.

    Thank you.

  • Pat Flynn

    Important to note that planning for the future can be something of a “in the now” activity. Obsessing about the future is when you start to experience the pain of craving. You are in the now when you are planning on your calendar, and even setting goals. One of my goals is to share my experience of mindfulness with others. How that manifests is irrelevant, and I dont spend hours ‘in the future’ thinking of how it will all unfold. I have kids, so I do have to plan about what I will be doing this weekend because there are others it effects, and if my plans change later I can roll with it. 

    Not sure this makes any sense, but that last paragraph is in the past ;)

  • Meredith, Healthy Voice

    Lori – Love this one. As you always do, you met me right where I’m at today. I posted my thoughts on it on my site which is right now http://findyourhealthyvoice.com/ but becoming healthyvoice.org.
    I love your work and I think there is some room for partnership. Hope maybe we can connect sometime soon. Thanks for being a Healthy Voice to so many people.

  • Quatrejeudis

    Lori, I am a little unsure about this post. Whenever I’ve sought a goal and “achieved” it, I was always left with a sense of dissatisfaction, not immediately but a little while afterwards. I would ask myself later , “Was that ALL there was to it? THAT was the reward?” Sure, I liked the taste od “achieving” my goal but then a little hollowness crept in. That’s not to say that I have abandoned ambition. Not in the least. Maybe it’s meant that I am trying to more love into the “process” of trying to get things done (In my case, making documentary film) and less in anticipating the reward of the final outcome.

  • ZenRiderZen

    Hi Quatrejeudis: I hope you don’t mind my replying to your post. I completely understand your frustration and I think, for me at least, the problem lies in my expectations. If I expect to have a sense of accomplishment or if I expect accolades from my peers or supervisors, or if I expect increased riches as a result of completing the project and these expectations are not realized, then I am left with a sense of wondering… “was that worth the effort?”

    In your post you use the word “reward” which is another type of expectation.  What sort of reward were you expecting?  One of my favorite quotes is: :The key to unhappiness is expectation while the key to happiness is gratitude.”

    To turn this around, then… be grateful that the project reached fruition, be grateful for any accolades received (but not expected), be grateful that you now have time to focus on your next project, be grateful that you learned something new along the way. 

    If you do something with an expected reward, be sure that reward is written into the contract up front. If you do something because it is in your soul and you feel you must do it, regardless of the rewards, then try not to have any expectation of reward, even if you are very proud of what you have created.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    I’m glad this was helpful to you! I have been having similar conversations with my boyfriend, actually–trying to determine if the idea marriage contradicts the commitment to live in the now. Professionally, I find I am happiest when I feel that I’m growing; it’s only when the pursuit of that growth comes with anxiety that I need to focus less on the future and more on the present.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Thanks so much, Meredith. What kind of partnership did you have in mind? Feel free to drop me a line at email(AT)tinybuddha.com!

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    I have definitely found that process-based goals are more satisfying than result-based goals. For example, rather than saying, “I am going to lose 3 pounds,” I might say, “I am going to exercise 3 times this week.” Or rather than saying, “I am going to earn x amount of money as a writer,” I say, “I am going to write my second book this year.” In this way, the goals aren’t about the rewards–they are about the acts themselves. It’s not about arriving somewhere; it’s about growing through the journey. I’ve found this makes a big difference in both my happiness and overall satisfaction!

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    It does indeed make sense. =) I think you hit the nail on the head by differentiating mindful planning and obsessing about the future. Our intentions and state of mind make all the difference!