Mindfulness Exercise: Past, Present, or Future?
Mindfulness exercises are a way to give your brain a job to do – what I call giving the elephant a stick. (Click here to read more about what that means.)
Where does your mind spend most of its time? This short exercise can be an eye-opener.
- Sit comfortably.
- Let your mind wander – don’t try to control it.
- Every thought you notice, label it as Past, Present, or Future.
- After your session, whether it’s 1 minute or 10, get a general sense of your time. Did you notice being in the past or the future more often?
Here are some examples of how to label your thoughts…
- That’s so cool I ran into Joe the other day = past
- I need to get eggs when I’m at the store = future
- Ack, my nose itches = present
- What’s going to happen if I lose my job? = future
- Will someone please stop that car horn?! = present
- My foot fell asleep = present
- I can’t believe she said that to me = past
- What if I had done this instead? = past
- My breathing sounds a little raspy = present
The Present = Mindfulness
Many self-help books talk about the Now. Now is the only part of time that we actually have any influence over.
(By the way, did you know “now” lasts approximately 3 seconds?)
The past can’t be changed. The past is often full of regrets or resentments.
Thoughts of the future are basically fantasy because it hasn’t happened yet. The future is often full of worries.
The present is all we can influence.
And so what?
You don’t necessarily have to “do” anything with this exercise. It’s simply a practice of awareness.
But if you want to take it a step further, ask yourself a second question.
The first question is where do you spend your time – past, present, or future?
The second question is does the thought make you feel good or bad?
Does the thought from the past feel bad (regret, resentment, frustration, etc.)? If so, think a different thought. For example, “the past has passed, I don’t have to change it.”
Does the thought from the past feel good (fond memories, warm fuzzies, etc)? Keep thinking that thought.
Does the thought from the future feel bad (worry, fear, anxiety, etc.)? If so, think a different thought. For example, “there’s no guarantee that’ll happen, I’m actually okay right now.”
Does the thought from the future feel good? Keep thinking that thought.
It takes practice to release bad-feeling thoughts but feeling better is so worth it!
Want to try another meditation practice? Click here for ideas.
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