These days, it’s easy to let your days be shaped by whatever’s in front of you: another bill, a scary news alert on your phone, a misinterpreted Slack message. In a way, it can be numbing, going from distraction to distraction without stopping to check in with yourself. It’s also stressful.
But what I’ve learned as an organizational psychologist is that the only way to reclaim the present, to make your right now more connected and meaningful, is to keep your eyes on the future.
Four quotes remind me how to do this. They come from two of my favorite thinkers: Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor whose book Man’s Search for Meaning changed psychology, and Dan Sullivan, who has coached successful entrepreneurs around the world. If it feels like the days are speeding past you, these words can help you regain a sense of control. They definitely help me.
“The only way to make your present better is by making your future bigger.” — Dan Sullivan
People often talk about the importance of sticking to a process. But processes are worthless if there’s no “why” behind them. Think of who you want to become, and then develop your habits and routines with that future self in mind. Let that person guide your actions, and act with intention on your way to becoming them.
Once you can do that, you’ll be able to better contextualize the present. What have you been doing with your days? Have you been pushing your limits or just going through the motions? Have you been learning?
“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.” — Viktor Frankl
One of Frankl’s most powerful observations from his time as a concentration camp prisoner was that the moment a person lost a sense of purpose for their life, the present became meaningless and their suffering became too unbearable for them to go on. We need a sense of purpose to survive.
Frankl came to his conclusion amid horrifying circumstances, but his argument — that the struggle for a better future is what gives our present meaning — is one that continues to resonate. As he notes, a better present doesn’t mean an easier one. In fact, creating a better present can be mind-blowingly hard.
You want a good life? Then strive like crazy for something beyond your current reach. As the late Douglas Malloch wrote in his poem “Good Timber,” “Good timber does not grow with ease: The stronger wind, the stronger trees; The further sky, the greater length; The more the storm, the more the strength.” There can be incredible joy and profound meaning in the journey.
“Happiness cannot be attained by wanting to be happy — it must come as an unintended consequence of working for a goal greater than oneself.” — Viktor Frankl
Happiness is a byproduct of challenge. Humans are built to strive, to be stretched. We are emotional beings, and so if we stay in our comfort zone, we begin to shrivel inside.
Put yourself through emotionally draining experiences. You have to feel the full weight of what it means to live. You need to really give your soul to something, to open yourself up to scrutiny and defeat. That’s what courage is: the willingness to try something that might not work.
“Personal confidence comes from making progress toward goals that are far bigger than your present capabilities.” — Dan Sullivan
Confidence is a belief that you can do amazing things. It comes from making progress, even small progress, toward goals beyond your current self.
The more confidence you have, the bigger your future will be. As a result, with every uptick in confidence, your future will expand, thus enhancing your present. You’ll stop being so confined and limited by your emotions. This doesn’t mean everything will be easy. Instead, it means you’ll be more willing to be courageous. You’ll face whatever is out there. You’ll handle the uncertainty. You’ll try, adapt, and make it happen, no matter how long it takes.