So much has happened in the past. We’ve messed up. We’ve been hurt. We’ve missed opportunities and we’ve embarrassed ourselves.
So much can happen in the future, as well. Not only can all those same mistakes happen again, but we also have to contend with the uncertainty of the weather, the economy, family obligations, and politics—all of which loom in front.
It’s amazing that anyone can get anything done with all that occupying their mind. Indeed, that’s sort of the point the Stoics were trying to make. They knew that a person busy kicking themselves over what has happened in the past, or biting their nails over what might happen in the future, is a person who is not busy with life. It’s a person who is not able to be philosophical, productive, or present.
As Marcus Aurelius wrote to himself—and by extension, to us:
“Remind yourself that past and future have no power over you. Only the present—and even that can be minimized. Just mark off its limits. And if your mind tries to claim that it can’t hold out against that…well, then, heap shame upon it.”
We have to limit our focus. And the key is to focus on what is immediately in front of you. Don’t be paralyzed by the past or intimidated by the future. Don’t be distracted by them either. Even the troubles on your plate can be minimized if you break them into smaller pieces—don’t worry about the big, busy “day” you have to get through, just get through the morning. Just get through the first item on your to-do list.
And if your mind wanders, if you start to get distracted, say to yourself, “C’mon. I’m better than this. I’m just going to focus on what’s in front of me. That’s plenty.” That’s what Marcus meant by heaping shame, after all.
So get out there and get after it!