Balancing the Future and the Present

Consider some of the choices that impact our lives on a daily basis:

  • Do I stay up late hanging out with friends, or go to sleep and be productive tomorrow?
  • Do I eat out because it’s easy, or cook at home and save money?
  • Should I work late and get ahead, or enjoy the beautiful spring weather?

Each of these choices boils down to a simple question. Do I want to enjoy the present moment or plan for the future?

These are all difficult decisions because both answers have their merits. The present moment is fleeting and immediate, while the future is constantly hanging overhead. Part of us is constantly begging for indulgence while another part is worried that we’re falling behind and won’t be able to recover. Satisfying both sides requires balance.

It’s tempting to simplify our lives by choosing an extreme and applying it to every decision. How many people live from pleasure to pleasure trying to “live life to the fullest”, only to realize 10 years later that they’ve wasted all their time and money and have nothing to show for it? On the other hand, who envies the miser who’d rather save a few dollars than enjoy the company of friends and family? Foolish extravagance and cold hearted stinginess both make miserable people.

Making Conscious Decisions

Finding balance is the art of living. It can’t be taught, but we can develop it within ourselves as we gain wisdom and experience. The first step is consciously examining everyday decisions. We’re so absorbed by routine that we continue doing things without thinking about them. Fortunately, when a bad decision pushes us off balance we can tell because it makes us unhappy.

Next time you feel a part of your routine isn’t the right decision, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Why did I start doing this? Does it satisfy a present urge or provide for the future?
  • Does it still fulfill the same desire it did when I started doing it? Does the benefit still outweigh the cost?
  • If not, what else should I be doing?

A simple review often provides the best answer. We already know the truth, but we’re blinded by routine. Taking a serious look at our behavior makes bad decisions hard to ignore. Asking these questions regularly helps us refine our behavior and every tiny increment of progress takes us closer to the elusive Golden Mean.