What tense are you in? Are you in the moment that you are currently having? Have you ever notioed that a lot of our time is not spent in the moment we are having? A classic example is when you get stopped at a stop light. Do you sit and enjoy the pause in your day or do you fuss and fume until it turns green?

Sometimes near the beginning of a group, I’ll ask clients if they are in the room. Often, when they really stop to pay attention, they’ll realize that their minds were actually elsewhere.  Usually, when we’re not present, we are worrying about something to come or something that has already passed. One person shared that she was worrying about all the things she had to get done later. I jokingly asked her how many of the ‘things’ she had gotten done while she sat there worrying about it.  I asked her if she might be able to choose to either be here now or go get stuff done and she ultimately chose to work on being present.

Have you ever stopped to notice what tense you’re in at any given moment?

Living in Past Tense

A common emotion that we experience when living in the past tense is guilt. Your thoughts may sound something like this:

“That shouldn’t have happened.”

”I wish I didn’t do that.”

“I can’t believe that happened.”

It doesn’t take an english major to realize that those thoughts are past tense. Sometimes, we are plagued by reliving uncomfortable moments from the past. Maybe our brain is trying to make sure that we have learned from our mistake and won’t let it happen again. But your brain can continue on this path sometimes beyond the point of effectiveness if you don’t purposely shift your thoughts.

The following questions may help pull you back to the present:

“Is there anything else I need to do about it?”

“What else can I can learn from it.”

“Is it actually someone else’s mistake and can I begin the process of forgiveness?”

Living in Future Tense

A common emotion that we experience when living in the future tense is anxiety and/or fear. Your thoughts may sound something like this:

“What if I can’t do it?”

“When will it happen next?”

“What if I don’t get it all done?”

Many times we actually feel a false sense of control when we are in the future tense. We believe that by over-preparing we can make things happen the way we want. Of course there is a place for preparation, but if we live too much in the future, our efforts to prepare can actually become ineffective and intrusive. When our preparation is effective, we usually feel grounded but as we start feeling anxious it’s often because we are trying to control something in the future that we can’t.

Living in Present Tense

As often as possible, it’s important that we prioritize coming back to the present. Asking yourself the following questions may help train your brain to remain in the present tense (notice the word that is repeated in each question):

“Is there anything else I can do right now?”

“Have I done enough for now?”

“Would it be more effective to focus on something else right now, maybe rest or do something I enjoy?”

“If I weren’t worried about that, what would I be doing or feeling right now?”

We have the greatest potential for being calm and effective in life when we are in the present tense. We also can only truly have control over things that are happening in the present moment. It’s one of the great tricks of our mind that we can gain control by focusing on the past or the future. When we focus on the present, our thoughts may sound like the following:

“I am here doing this.”

“I don’t need to be doing anything other than what’s happening right now.”

“I choose this now.”

“What am I grateful for now?” 

As you read this your thoughts may have changed tenses several times. It’s a great skill to develop simply noticing this and bringing your mind back to the present. To learn more, please visit https://www.lindapaulkbuchanan.com/post/change-your-story-change-your-life.

For more information on this topic, please check out these blogs:

  1. Mindful Moments with Dr. B: How to Accept the Negative to Create more Positivealectical Behavioral Therapy – Best Practices for Eating Disorder Treatment
  2. How Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is Changing the Lives of Those with Eating Disorders
  3. What We’re Reading: A Book Review by Dr. Linda Buchanan

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Linda is a pioneer in the eating disorder field and she is credited with training a large percentage of the eating disorder therapists in the Atlanta area. She was the founder of Atlanta Center for Eating Disorders (ACE) that is now part of Walden.  She received her Master’s degree from the Psychological Studies Institute (now known as Richmont University) in Christian Counseling and received the 1999 Distinguished Alumnus Award for her work in founding ACE. Dr. Buchanan then went on to receive her Ph.D. from Georgia State University completing a residency at the Medical College of Georgia.

Linda is a published author. Her book “A Clinician’s Guide to Pathological Ambivalence; How to be on Your Client’s Side Without Taking a Side,” provides helpful techniques in working with a population that is ambivalent about recovery. When she’s not busy profoundly impacting her clients or mentoring other clinicians, Linda enjoys traveling, backpacking and writing.