Right now, you're likely chasing something that's eventually going to kill you.
Not that huge semi-truck that you really shouldn't be following so closely. I'm talking about the future, as in the limitless possibilities it holds and how we are absolutely addicted to daydreaming about what the next hour, day or decade may bring. Heck, the same even applies to obsessing over the next notification to arrive on your screen.
"For your daily routine, the brain is operating largely on heuristics. This frees energy to allow the brain to do its favorite thing: imagining future scenarios," explains author and biologist Bill Sullivan in Psychology Today.
This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. At earlier stages in our development as a species, focusing on "mindfulness" and "being present" would have been a good way to get killed. Instead of living in the now back then, we always had to worry about what or who might attack us next and where our next meal was going to come from.
But if you're reading this, you're probably among the fortunate 54 percent or so of the world's population that doesn't have to struggle to meet your basic needs.
Ideally, once we're comfortable enough that we don't need to worry about just surviving day-to-day as humans, you'd think we would be able to flip a switch that turns off our preoccupation with the future. This could allow us to focus on being productive in the here and now and hopefully doing something to bring the other 46 percent of the population over to our side of divide.
Instead, our minds remain hard-wired to wander in and out of countless imagined futures for ourselves. Sometimes what we imagine comes to pass, we get what we'd dreamed of... and we just keep on living in the future of our minds.
"We're not very good at quelling our never-ending desires. We're not very good at recognizing and appreciating what we already have," Sullivan says in the article.
Eventually though, the future kills all of us, taking all of our unrealized daydreams as well.
Like many entrepreneurs, my life as a freelancer has been built around this little brain quirk. For a few decades now, my days have been structured around finding and chasing the next story or the next gig in a never-ending loop. At times, though, the focus on the next thing takes away from the task at hand, which is supposed to be the point, after all.
Reading Sullivan's insights into how our brains naturally push us to be this way got me thinking about another mental state that's also been pre-programmed into all of us by evolution. It's most often referred to as flow, and it is pretty much the opposite of the instinct that pushes our minds to wander into the future.
Basically, flow states are states of intense focus. You've probably experienced it playing a sport, doing some other involved physical activity or when you're really into any kind of project, from art to writing to programming. Sometimes people refer to it as "being in the zone," when time seems to fall away and you are completely immersed in what you're doing.
This is another hold-over from evolution and our fight or flight instincts that require us to lock in and focus on what needs to be done at certain times in order to survive.
There's lots of advice out there on how to live in the moment and fight back against our future obsession, and most of it is good, but none of it is as fun as finding a way to take a break from daydreaming and spend some time in flow, whatever that might look like for you.
For me it can be blocking out time for a mountain bike ride (certain trails are described as "flowy" for good reason), a run or going deep on a writing project with no distractions. It can even be a drink with a good friend that you connect well with.
The truth is we need both of these instinctive brain functions. We need to imagine and plan for the future, but we have to get things done and enjoy life in the present. Unfortunately our brains' default is to daydream and we have to make an effort at the latter. But as it turns out, I find making time for a little flow in the present improves my planning for the future, and how I enjoy those plans when they finally arrive.