The Secret of Life
Posted on 19th May 2019
“You can’t hit and think at the same time.” Yogi Berra
I’ll cut to the chase: The secret of life is living in the moment. It’s making fast friends with the present and fully investing your thoughts, feelings, and actions in what is happening now.
Nothing new, right? You’ve heard this before. It’s only been around for thousands of years. For some people, it’s profound; for others a big yawn. Yet somehow each generation needs to rediscover this truth decade after decade, century after century. Maybe that’s why it’s a truth.
So, you might ask, what does living in the moment have to do with work? Well, if it is the secret of life, how could it not be relevant to how we go about our business? Bear with me while I piece a few ideas together. . .
I was watching the TV recently and saw a report on sun flares – huge arms of flame that erupt on the sun’s surface and stream out into space. Scientists have only had the equipment to study sun flares closely for thirty years. In that time, they’ve learned that other stars the same age, size, and composition as the sun produce enormous flares, as much as 100 times greater than the largest recorded flare of our sun. Scientists conclude that it’s probable, if not certain, that the sun will produce such flares, which would irradiate the earth and – zip – no life on the planet. Maybe some cockroaches or jellyfish. Hold that thought.
My grandfather was a fairly well-known man in our county. When I was a boy, everybody seemed to know him. He lived to a grand old age, making friends, fixing furniture, and cooking cabbage soup to the end of his life. Everybody loved him and had a kind story about him. He died many years ago and is remembered fondly by our family. Yet over time, his memory fades. My children have distant memories of him and, within a generation, no one alive will have known him. All his words, all his deeds, all his country know-how and humor will be lost to the past. The same is true for each of us. Hold that thought, too.
People often talk with me about their job stress. They ask, “How can I manage all the work, deal with the pressure day after day, and still have a life when I drive home at 7:00?” We talk about time management, setting priorities, resolving conflict, etc., but I hesitate to bring up living in the moment for fear of being seen as a Left Coast, crystal-channeling, aroma-wafting business consultant. The funny thing is, I get a bigger “Aha!” from button-down East Coast business people when I bring up living in the moment than nearly any other topic. It’s as if they’ve been waiting to discuss it. That’s the last thought to hold.
You know, a tool is just a tool. In one person’s hands, it can create a masterpiece; in another person’s hands, a mess. The difference is a little talent and a lot of practice. Living in the moment is also a tool. It’s a very simple idea that has profound implications when put into practice.
Face it, we’re just passing through in this life. We have no idea how long we’ll be here as individuals, or even as a life form on Earth. And even if we live a good, long life, no one will remember us three generations after we’re gone. That’s not gloom and doom, it’s reality. We place enormous value in our reputations, our legacies, our stamps on society. We worry constantly about what has happened and what will happen. Yet all the while, we neglect what is happening right in front of us.
All we ever have is the present. We live our entire lives in the present. Why not explore it? Why not enjoy it? The difference between how we usually live and living in the present is this: In the present, we can fully experience the richness of our lives without distraction or needless worry.
So, how is it done? How is this ridiculously simple concept put into practice? There’s the rub. Try it. You’ll find, like everyone else, that your thoughts race along and carry you in every direction. And feelings? They rise and fall like waves on a choppy sea. Actions? We’re usually on autopilot. Now isn’t that an interesting way to go about our lives?
Staying in the present means clearing your head of all the static and experiencing what’s happening around you. To paraphrase Leo Tolstoy: The most important time is now; the most important task is what you’re doing; the most important person is the one in front of you. Invest in the here and now. When at a meeting, be at the meeting. When talking with an associate, be in the conversation. When writing a memo, attend to the writing. When planning, plan. As Yogi Berra reminds us, you can’t hit and think at the same time. Don’t let your runaway thoughts interfere with your experience of the moment you’re in.
With practice, you’ll find that your awareness has increased across the board. You’ll be more aware of what you’re thinking and what others are saying, more aware of how you’re feeling and what others are feeling, and more aware of how your actions and the actions of others affect a situation. You’ll be at the helm of your life.
Is this good for business? Of course it is. It allows you to make good decisions, manage time effectively, build relationships, deal with conflict, and minimize stress. You’ll see mountains for mountains and molehills for molehills. But let’s be clear: This is not a quick fix; it’s a lifelong journey. And when you get to the end of your life, you’ll be able to say that you really lived it. Isn’t that exactly what wise elders have telling us for centuries? Smell the roses. Engage in your life. Live it. Now. Or, as I once read on a bumper sticker:
“Having a wonderful life. Wish I was here.”
Gregory Powell, Ph.D., 2019