There is a trend in the self-improvement industry about Mindfulness. It’s the idea that we need to focus on the “now” rather than having our heads in the future or worse, the past.
I love being the outsider in my field, so I don’t agree with the Mindfulness Movement for the following reasons.
- Time doesn’t solely exist in the “now”. We have our past and our past helps us to remember our mistakes, lessons, and traditions. We also have our future. For most of us, this is a source of excitement, of creativity, and of motivation. And of course, we have now. Now is great for focus and concentration as well as being fully immersed in the event or activity in which we are engaging. All time is important.
- Mindfulness doesn’t work in all situations. The Mindfulness Movement is like a blanket that we wrap ourselves in and pretend the future & past don’t exist. For me, when we are constantly focused on the here & now, we are forgetting, procrastinating, & ignoring the commitments we’ve made to ourselves & others in the future. We also hide away from learning from our mistakes of the past.
- Our autobiography creates our identity. Memory experts will tell you that it’s very important to keep a healthy memory of our past and to revisit these memories often. Why? Because it helps us keep the connections and associations we have with other things in our minds. It keeps are neural pathways engaged. It also keeps our identity in place. Just think about it. One of the worst things to happen to someone with Alzheimer’s is losing touch with who they are. They lose their person-hood. They no longer remember who are their relatives and who are their friends. It’s terribly frightening and confusing. Just imagine that happening to you. By replaying and reliving the stories of the past, we help maintain the neural connections that keep our memories and identity alive.
There are two things that I ask my clients to do (& myself to do) instead of focusing on just mindfulness. The first is to use the NLP presupposition called the law of requisite variety. That’s just a fancy way of saying, “when you have the most flexibility in a situation, the more control you have over that situation.” Being aware of how mindful you are at any given time is one way to exercise this flexibility. Sometimes it will be important to allow your mind to associate and connect to past memories. Sometimes it will be important to plan and strategize for the future. And sometimes it will be best to just be here and now.
Let’s take the example of a father being with his family such as at a family dinner. This is a time when mindfulness is very useful. The father brings his full attention to this time by playing with children before dinner, preparing dinner, connecting with his wife through conversation during dinner. This means he isn’t picking up his phone every time it buzzes. It also means that he isn’t remembering the conversation he had with his team the day before while his wife is talking to him. For some this takes discipline. These are the times that I fully agree with the Mindfulness Movement. Practice the discipline of being mindful.
The other technique I teach my clients is the art of being associated and dissociated. When you are associated, you are in the here and now. You are present. You are focused. Being associated lends itself to happy moments, creativity and concentration. On the other hand sometimes it’s handy to be dissociated. This is like you taking a step back and looking at a situation and thinking about it instead of being in it. Dissociation is really good for negative emotions and uncomfortable events. It’s also good for making plans and thinking through future events, consequences and alternatives.
Cherish all the time you have. Be mindful when it’s useful to be in the moment. Be future oriented when it’s time to plan and imagine. And keep telling the stories of your past because that is always useful. Most importantly, be flexible and aware of your outcome as well as the feedback you receive.