One of the flaws of being human is that we compare the present to the future which is the unknown. We trick ourselves into believing that the future is better than the present, and by cascade, better than the past. What does this do? It creates the impossible scenario that today is less than tomorrow and tomorrow hasn't come, so the past must be at fault for the present. That may be a bit convoluted but the message is this, if we strive for tomorrow and always find ourselves in the less desirable present, our past must be the culprit. Is this why we make excuses? I think so. That being said, I also believe it's deeper, and much more sinister than that. If we are not satisfied with the present and blame the past for never achieving the desirable future, than we will keep our mind focused on the transgressions of the past, derailing the possibility of achieving the future state we are striving for.
The major variable here is velocity. If you really want a new car and go to the dealership this weekend and buy one, that's going to feel great. Your less desirable present, (no new car) didn't have enough time to blame your past for your failure to achieve the desirable future, which is a new car. Well, what happens when the desirable future is farther away such as financial freedom, a C-level promotion, or a family? Your mind must find a way to justify why those don't exist in your present and it has a very nice scapegoat, the past. As you have probably gathered, this is a never ending cycle. A cycle, that we participate in every minute of every day. We do this for big desires like starting a family, and little desires like having better clothes.
There are a few common ways that people respond to this cycle. Some chose to reduce their focus on the future and take that energy and apply it to enjoying the present. Others will spend time focusing on the past and making peace with the actions of their past self in order to free themselves of that baggage. Finally, people may find themselves obsessed with the horrors of their present and allow the cycle to run freely, putting blame for the present on the past and redefining the future to match the present. "Why not? The present cannot be less desirable than the future if the future and the present are the same." I like to categorize these as modernized, departed, and stagnant. Modernized people, develop a deep appreciation for the present to remove the desire to compare it to the future. Departed people, disconnect from the past to remove its impact on the present. Stagnant people, reshape their future expectations to match the present reality. It's hard to call any of these "good" or "bad" because if the result is peace from the cycle, then a positive state of mind has been achieved. That being said, they all have an impact on your ability to reach your potential. I have an answer to this cycle that I learned from my father when I was a kid, I call it "now what?"
"Now what" is a simple concept that is a lot more profound than my father meant it when he first introduced it to me. I was having trouble with a teacher in school, I felt that she was being mean to me and I didn't want to be in her class anymore. I remember telling my dad something along the lines of "I don't want to be in Mrs. Teachers class anymore, she hates me." My dad asked me why she hates me and like all young kids I said "for no reason!" The truth was most likely that I was the most obnoxious child in her class, but I digress. My dad listened to me complain about everything, "she gives me bad grades, makes me stay after class, held me in for recess, and gives me extra homework". I went on for a while and my dad tried to argue "Kyle, she is doing that for a reason. You must not be behaving well in her class." I fired back quickly "that's not true!" and listed off multiple examples. My father finally interrupted me and said "Ok Kyle, lets say all that is true... Now what?" I didn't understand "what do you mean, now what?" He than laid out the concept that I carry with me today.
"Lets say that everything that you just told me is true and she really does hate you. You cant change your teacher, you cant force her to like you, so let me ask you again... Now what? Is your plan to complain all year?"
"no." I replied.
"Then focus on what you can control. Ask yourself 'now what' and execute on what you can control to make a better situation out of it."
That phrase "now what" is so powerful. It kicks you out of complaining mode and forces you to aim your attention to what's next. Whatever the excuse for why you're not where you want to be can be combated with now what?
"I was never taught how to save money so I spend beyond my means...” Now what?
"I don't have the experience I need for the job I want...” Now what?
"My boss doesn't like me so I wont get that promotion...” Now what?
Things happen when you focus on the aspects of it that are in your control. Those uncontrollable aspects may very well be having an impact on your ability to improve your situation. That being said, the only way you can circumnavigate those blockers is by putting all your energy and focus on what you can control, the "now what."
We all run into challenges and obstacles in the present that prevent us from achieving our desirable future. Those obstacles may come from the past or in the present. Either way, you have two choices for how you go about overcoming those. You can focus on the fact that there is an obstacle or you can acknowledge the obstacle and ask yourself, now what?