This is a post about a major shift in my thinking that occurred several years ago, a shift that caused a dramatic improvement in my enjoyment of life. If you’d like to experience more joy in your life right now instead of merely hoping things will get better in your future, you might find this story helpful.
Many years ago when I was developing computer games, one of my goals was to become very wealthy. I figured that would be a very positive goal to achieve, one that would give me a lot more freedom. However, I noticed that even though I was running my own business, I wasn’t enjoying much freedom in the present. I had to answer to publishers, customers, and other stakeholders. I had to meet deadlines set by others. And I had to do many tasks I didn’t particularly like. When I gazed into the future, I saw the potential for wealth and freedom, but in order to reach that point, I would have to endure a definite absence of those qualities in the present.
Initially this plan of delayed gratification seemed sensible and intelligent to me. Shouldn’t I make sacrifices while I’m young in order to create a better future for myself? Wouldn’t it be great to become a millionaire in my 20s?
But something about that mindset didn’t sit right with me. My intellect liked it, but my intuition kept fighting it. I experienced a major head-vs-heart battle as I pondered the issue of sacrificing freedom in the present in order to achieve supposedly greater freedom in the future. I figured it was just a matter of discipline and self-sacrifice and that in the long run, all my efforts would pay off. But after years of hard work and encountering some major roadblocks along the way, I felt like I just wasn’t getting any closer to my goal. It always seemed to be just a few more years away.
While browsing through a bookstore one day, a certain book practically jumped off the shelf at me: Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now. I had such a strong intuitive sense about the book that I just bought it right away.
The Power of Now is the sort of book that continues to swirl about in your consciousness weeks after you’ve read it. It left me permanently changed.
The basic principle of the book is quite simple — nothing exists outside this present moment. But that’s a very different way of thinking than I was used to. I used to think of my lifetime as a line segment from birth to death. The present moment was a single point on that line moving slowly forward. The past was the part of the line behind that point, and the future was the part ahead of it. After reading The Power of Now, I stopped thinking of my life in this way. I finally understood that this model was extremely disempowering.
The Power of Now taught me that there is no line segment. The point is all there is. The past and the future are illusions. They only exist to the degree we focus our attention on them right now. We create the past and the future by imagining them in the present. But we don’t even exist outside the Now.
This might seem like just a semantic difference, perhaps even an erroneous one, but it was a radical new way of thinking for me, and I was eager to test it. As I grasped the idea that nothing exists outside this present moment, I turned my overall life strategy upside down. I understood that if I am to experience anything in life, I must create it in this moment. It must exist in some form right now, or it doesn’t exist at all. So the idea of creating freedom and wealth in the future by constraining myself in the present was nothing but a fool’s errand. That future would never arrive as long as I was creating confinement and scarcity in the here and now.
The future is certainly a convenient mental construct, but I found that projecting too much of what I wanted into my future was hurting the enjoyment of my present. What’s the point of working to create a future of joy and freedom if my present reality is just the opposite? If I wanted freedom and wealth in the future, I had to seed its creation right here, right now. The only power I have to create anything is here in the present. I adopted the mindset, “If it doesn’t exist in some form right now, it never will exist.”
This shift in thinking produced a significant shift in my priorities. I began focusing more of my energy on improving the quality of my present reality instead of projecting all those improvements into the realm of someday. I started asking questions like, “How can I experience more joy in this very moment?”
My present reality didn’t transform instantly, but it did change massively over a period of years. As part of this process, I eventually stopped developing computer games and shifted my focus to personal development full-time. Why? Largely because I enjoyed personal development more than game development. I got rid of my office and began working from home. I stopped doing deadline-oriented project work and started blogging and writing articles I could complete in a single sitting. I started taking more time off. I began doing more things I enjoyed, such as exercising, reading, meditating, and spending time with my wife. I became less stingy with my cash and began spending it more liberally when the situation warranted.
I was initially concerned that focusing too much on the present moment would make me shortsighted. But my experience has been just the opposite. I’m still able to make plans for the future and work on long-term goals. In the past I would set goals because I believed that achieving those goals would increase my happiness. But now the flow goes in reverse. Today I set goals to increase my expression of the happiness I’m already enjoying.
Consider the goal of building web traffic. With my games business, I wanted to build web traffic because of what I thought it would bring me: more leads, more sales, more money, more success, etc. With this personal development business, I also want to keep building web traffic. But now it’s mainly because I’m so passionate about the work I’m doing that I want to share it with as many people as possible. Again, the flow has been reversed. I don’t look to this business to make me happy. I look to this business to express my happiness outward and to share it with others.
The big irony is that my future is in much better shape even though I focus most of my attention on the present. By making my present reality as enjoyable as possible, my motivation has just been soaring. I’m working from a state of joy instead of a feeling of obligation. I write because I enjoy writing, not because I feel I must keep writing in order to make money. If I don’t feel like writing, I don’t write. Whenever I feel like taking several days off, I do that.
I’ve actually created the very situation I was hoping money would someday grant me. I imagined what I would do if I was already rich beyond my wildest dreams. I saw myself spending lots of time working on personal growth, doing all sorts of interesting experiments, and then sharing what I learned with others. I thought to myself, “That would be a truly incredible life for me.” But instead of waiting to become rich first, I decided to find a way to make it happen right now, even if I’d only be doing it for free in my spare time. I realized that telling myself I would do certain things after I was rich was just an excuse. Do you ever catch yourself saying, “Someday when I’m rich, I’ll do X”? Deep down you know that it isn’t a lack of money that’s holding you back though — it’s just fear. Why not find a way to do those things right now, if only on a small scale?
This line of thinking produced some amazing results for me. Even though I don’t have millions of dollars in the bank, I feel like I’m already living the way I would live if I were financially set for life. If I won $100 million in the lottery, I’d keep doing what I’m doing right now. The money would simply expand my capacity but not the essence of what I’m doing. What would you do if you were already set for life? Figure out what that is, and find a way to begin doing it on some level right now.
Today I’m so happy it’s almost ridiculous. I couldn’t even have imagined being this happy on a daily basis five years ago. And I certainly wasn’t depressed back then — I was at least content. But now my default emotional state is highly positive, not just neutral. I stopped seeking happiness in the future and instead looked for ways to create it right now.
I’ve noticed that the happier I feel, the less attached I am to outcomes. Instead of trying to acquire money, possessions, or other externalities, my focus has shifted to self-expression. I have a burning desire to create. Instead of having a craving to eat, it’s like I have a craving to cook. But of course by focusing on expressing instead of acquiring, I end up doing the very things that enable me to easily acquire whatever I want. Really I’m just doing what I love most.
How do you feel about your life right this moment? Are you gushingly positive and overflowing with passion?
Or do you find yourself stuck in the same situation I was in several years ago, sacrificing your present happiness for the hope of a better tomorrow? How is that strategy working for you? Are you becoming significantly happier and more fulfilled with each passing year? Or are you just running on a treadmill while trying to convince yourself that someday things will be better?
There is no someday, you know. There is only right now. If your current life path isn’t a joyful one, turn around and take a different path. Other people will probably whine about your decision — no one on the treadmill of unhappiness likes being reminded that it’s possible to get off at any time. But I’ll tell you that a few years later, those same people will be asking you for help to make the same choice, especially when they see how disgustingly happy you are.