The title of the 1980s sci-fi movie classic, Back to the Future, got me thinking about how we can focus on a future goal and miss the life we’re currently living. When we set goals, and fixate on them, we tend to grasp for an imagined future reality.

We can also shift our focus “back to the past.” We look back at our youthful years when we had strong bodies and climbed our hardest. Instead of enjoying our later years as a seasoned climbing veteran, we post images on Facebook from our youth, clinging to experiences lost in time.

This future- or past-focus diminishes the quality of our lives. If we’re future-focused, then we react when we don’t achieve goals or progress according to our expectations. We get frustrated because we can’t close the gap quickly enough between our present reality and the future reality we’re fixated on. If we’re past-focused, then we can get depressed because we can’t go back to a nostalgic chapter in our lives. Either way, this has a negative effect on our attention. Whether grasping for the future or clinging to the past our attention isn’t focused in the present.

A more effective approach is finding ways to focus our attention “back to the present.” We set goals to give us a vision to work toward, but then we let go of the goals and focus on the present. A present-focus improves the quality of our lives. We don’t react negatively to outcomes because we’re not rushing to some future or wishing we were still in some distant past. Where we want to be is right here, right now. We value learning so we respond to unexpected outcomes with curiosity. There’s no gap between our present reality and where we want to be. If our attention gets distracted to the future or past, it’s easy to bring it “back to the present” because we’re not grasping or clinging to a different reality.

Valuing the present and living there allows us to discover the unexpected turns on our path that we didn’t know existed when we began our journeys. I set a goal the beginning of this year to redpoint Born on the Fourth of July, a sport climb at The Obed in Tennessee. I developed my plan of doing hang-board training, max hangs, and bouldering to build the power I’d need to succeed. But, I recently injured my knee while bouldering. Such events can be frustrating because the achievement of the goal is delayed. Frustration distracts our attention because we’re focused on the future or the past. If I have a future-focus, then my attention is distracted because I’m grasping onto a future achievement that I was making steady progress toward. Likewise, if I have a past-focus, then my attention is distracted because I’m clinging onto a past when I was injury free.

By being more interested in the present than the future or past, I can pay attention to how I’m being directed now. Since Born on the Fourth is a sport climb, bouldering may not be the best training for me. Perhaps it’s too stressful on my old body and I’m being directed to less stressful training? Whatever the reason, I use this injury as an unexpected turn in my journey, as an important indicator that helps me refine my training program, rather than as an interruption of it. I can re-evaluate my strategy, change it, and reengage my training, and that’s what I’m doing. I’m letting my knee heal while still doing my hang-board training and max hangs. Then, I’ll do ARC (Aerobic, Restoration, Capillarity) training on rope climbs to build endurance. This adjustment to my training strategy will allow me to improve and enjoy the process as I work toward my goal.

We’ll always have unexpected turns on our journeys. What matters is how we respond to them. By not grasping for the future or clinging to the past, I can be present for my life now. If I get distracted, I can bring my attention “back to the present.” Doing this lets me enjoy my journey no matter what turns it takes.

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  1. A reminder that impacts of facets of our lives.

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