Brain trap #5: why getting just the right balance between the big picture and the moment is so damn difficult
Did it ever happen to you that you are wonderfully present and enjoying the moment – perhaps on a free lazy day — just to realise that by evening you feel kind of empty, even though you had a wonderful time, because somehow, it missed a bit of more meaningful things?
Or perhaps often you get into an exciting reflection and daydreaming about the future, perhaps planning or working on it, yet the enjoyment of the moment gets sacrificed by not having enough of breaks, working too hard, or just missing out to enjoy the steps on that path towards an exciting future?
Do you ever get the feeling that being able to enjoy an amazing mindful moment, while at the same time working on something meaningful and important for your future, tends to be more of an exception than a rule?
But, hey, shouldn’t most of our life be exactly like that – moving towards a purposeful, meaningful things we are building up, learning and developing ourselves in the best possible way, but also enjoying fully every step on that road by being mindful, present and immersed in the moment?
The challenging balance between big picture or story of our life and savouring the moment
One of the most challenging bits when building a happy life is to achieve balance between being content in two very different aspects of lives:
the “big picture” of our life: how we feel about our life what kind of story we are telling to ourselves (and others) about our past and present, what kind of aspirations and meaningful goals we have for our future, does it all sounds meaningful and important to us,
and everyday moments: are we present in our everyday experiences, is our life rich with positive emotions, can we be mindful in our experiences and relationships, do we experience pleasure, savouring and fun.
Some of us – and this could also depend on a specific moment in our life – are much better at being present in the moment but sometimes at the cost of “big picture”, while others are great in finding meaningful goals and planning the future, yet too often at the cost of enjoying the present.
How to make that balance happen?
Here are some ideas on how to tackle this challenge:
• Aim to spend most of your days present and mindful – while also regularly taking dedicated time for reflection about the future and your values, vision, aspirations and checking if you are on course towards that future. How often that time should be depends on you and your preference and way of functioning, but the rule of thumb would be to do “big reflection” every six months or so, and then do a smaller “check-in” reflections every month or even every week.
• Whenever facing a choice, keep on asking a magic question “How can I be happy now AND in the future?” (as proposed by Tal Ben Shahar in his book Happier
• Spend time talking to friends who are strong at the opposite perspective than yourself – e.g. if you great with spending time in the moment but easily lose sight of the bigger picture, spend time and talk with friends who are great at the big picture.
• Notice which of the two aspects is your stronger side and work on purposefully strengthening and developing the other – e.g. if you are not great with the “big picture”, take more time for reflection and do exercises related to developing life vision and goals, and if you are less great with mindfulness, work on regular exercises of mindfulness and look into how to boost positive emotions
• Look for ideas on the “big picture” under Pillar 11 – Meaning and Pillar 7 – continuous self-development
• Look for the ideas about Moment under Pillar 1 – Mindfulness and presence, Pillar 2 – Positive emotions and Pillar 3 – engagement and flow
• Explore the concept of Flow and strengthen flow in your own life, as that is a unique state that bridges these two aspects by bringing full focus and engagement together with a meaningful goal
The key is to achieving this balance is to understand which of these two – being present in the moment or focusing on a big picture of life – is easier for you and which one you do better, and then strengthen the other one by providing space, exercises, reminders and conversations related to it.
How about you?
WWhich side of this balance is easier for you? Are you more inclined to focus on the moment, or on the big picture and the future?
How are you balancing the two? Any ideas on how you can do it even better?
Do share in comments – but also to start a conversation in our Positive Psychology Tribe virtual community for meaningful conversations.
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