How to Live in the Present Without Annoying Yourself
Later is a lie we tell ourselves.
I can’t stop thinking about a short email I got from a friend a couple weeks ago. It read:
“Can you do a story on Janis Joplin? I mean, she’s the best. I loved her before but, after seeing her documentary on Netflix, I’m moved to tears. A quote handpicked for you: ‘Tomorrow never happens. It’s all the same fucking day, man.'”
I’ll admit that I know little about Janis Joplin and, in the time since I received this email, that hasn’t changed nor have I pitched a story about her. Sorry, friend, but also, thank you. I haven’t gone a single day without reflecting on that little handpicked quote. It’s followed me like the back of my head.
Tomorrow never happens.
It’s all the same fucking day, man.
It’s wild, isn’t it? Particularly because the agenda those words are pushing isn’t remotely novel — ALL WE HAVE IS NOW — but the spin is so original it leaves me captivated. It’s all the same day. When I turn it over in my brain, I think of the tumultuous relationship I’ve fostered with the future since I was a kid. One where regardless of my relationship with “now,” I’ve always been (at best) curious about and (at worst) haunted by “later.” It started when I begged my mom to take me to a psychic at age seven and, in the 20 years since, I’ve left almost no future-oriented concern unturned. But later doesn’t really come the way I think it will. I’m always just me. Here. Now.
Remember the moment you realized your life was happening? That, actually, your life was the things you were doing every day and the things you were thinking and feeling and all of it wasn’t some preamble to your actual life? The moment that hits is like a punch to the gut. It’s like ripping the mask off reality.
It’s a difficult mental exercise, but one worth practicing. Maybe that sounds new age-y or Drake-ish, but living for today doesn’t have to look like meditation or hedonism or YOLO or carpe diem. It can be an easy everyday practice. Here are eight ways to live for today that don’t give you permission to run up your credit or eat 34 cookies, but do help you avoid the dangerous mindset that life will happen later.
Because tomorrow never happens. It’s all the same fucking day, woman!
Maybe I’m writing a story about Janis Joplin after all.
Buy and keep clothes that fit you. If the desire or intent to lose weight is something that informs your shopping habits, reconsider buying clothes that fit a thinner version of yourself or holding on to clothes that flatter a smaller you. Don’t body-shame yourself. Think about the items in your closet that have seen your body through its ebbs and flows and have a relentless ability to make you feel okay and like yourself.
Clean as you go. Have you ever head the expression, “If you clean your bathroom every day you never have to clean your bathroom?” It’s such a ridiculous thing to say but I love it so much and can’t wait to shout it when I’m a cranky old grandmother. But that’s later. OOPS. Cleaning up after yourself in real time is the easiest hack ever. It increases your capacity to handle chaos and disorder in other areas of your life, which are more inevitable and unpredictable than the physical space around you. In other words: Stop leaving shit around for YOU to pick up later.
Be willing to forget. I’ve always maintained a fear that I was forgetting my life and have formed habits to prevent this. Journaling, photos, videos, etc. Only recently did it occur to me that in the future, I’ll have a new reality more worthy of my attention than the past — so why don’t I stop trying to desperately capture what’s happening now for later review?
Try enjoying something without documenting it. Free yourself from that fear and the present might feel more special.
Call the people you keep meaning to call. How many times do we hear, from people who have lost parents or loved ones, that they wished they’d called more? Whatever is holding you back from making the call now is probably still going to be there later. Screw it and do it. Feel free to take that as your personal slogan.
Start working on a project or dump it forever. Rarely do you hear of someone finally getting to a project because everything in their life lined up perfectly to allow it. They realized that was never going to happen and just decided to start one day. Approach your dreams and projects with the same attitude. The timing will never be perfect. Start it now or dump it and move on to something you’re willing to put your energy into.
Practice eating in moderation. Extreme diets that are only sustainable for a short period of time (I’m looking at you, juice cleanses) aren’t helping you develop healthy habits and are a perfect example of living for tomorrow. They’re also typically followed by an equal slip in the opposite direction. Newton’s third law, etc. If you eat sane amounts of stuff that brings you joy but doesn’t make you feel like you want to sleep for three hours in the afternoon, you’re recognizing that now is forever.
Be realistic about your inbox. If you’re anything like me, you say “I’ll deal with that later” for 95% of the emails you receive. But SURPRISE, this imaginary later at which point dealing with email actually sounds fun will obviously never arrive. And when you’re finally forced to deal with them because you have responsibilities, you realize they were SO FREAKING EASY to handle and now you’ve spent the past two weeks with an unnecessary anchor on your mental to-do list. AVOID.
Be willing to learn the hard way. So many of us hold ourselves back from doing things now because we’re worried it’s not the right move or we’ve seen how it hasn’t worked out for others. But are those fears serving us? Maybe we have to move forward not because we’re sure it’s right, but because we’re willing to find out for ourselves. Be willing to learn the hard way.
We’re always better at remembering the lessons we learned ourselves, anyway.
Illustrations by Lily Ross.