Past, Present and Future

by Dr. William “Marty” Martin

Life is lived in the present. Though memories take us back to the past, so do lessons learned from good and bad experiences. Wondering or worrying about what happens next is all about the future. For most of us, each day we are living in the past, present and future. This is normal. This is expected. The key is to not to live too much in any one period.

The aim of this essay is two-fold. First, I want to encourage you to live a bit more in the present and design your future. Second, you should understand the importance of respecting the future to prepare for what may come 20, 30, 40 or 50 years down the road…your road.

If you are skeptical about whether you can do anything about the future, then you lean toward an external locus of control. This means that you believe that what happens next is not within your control but due to luck, fate, or chance. Yet, if you believe that many things in life are within your control, then you lean toward an internal locus of control point of view.

This does not mean that you are a “control freak.” It does mean that you believe in the power of aspiring, planning, designing, sacrificing, saving, and investing. Ask yourself this question, “Am I more of an internal or external locus of control type person?”

Benefits of Living in the Present and Designing the Future

Reflect on a time in your life when you felt on the top of your game or “in the zone.” Were you worrying about the future? Probably not. Were you reflecting upon the past? Probably not. You were FULLY PRESENT in the HERE and NOW!

Now reflect on a time when you were absorbed in something that brought you joy, excitement, fulfillment or peace and calm. Were you focused on the future? Probably not. Were you analyzing the past? Probably not. You were in the moment.

The lesson to be learned is that to be on the top of your game and to enjoy life, there is a real benefit to being in the present and in the moment. This is a fact. Yet, you cannot stay only in the present because life unfolds by design and by chance. As such, view yourself as the chief designer or architect of your future life. This entails envisioning and planning for these life domains:

  • Health
  • Family
  • Career/Vocation
  • Recreation/Hobbies
  • Volunteering
  • Financial

This is not an exhaustive list, but as the chief designer and architect of your future life, you and your loved ones should prioritize this list. Enjoy and contribute today, while looking out on the horizon. Don’t focus on reacting to what does or does not come. Your future is partially realized based upon the aspirations, goals, decisions, and actions that you made yesterday and today.

Respecting the Future to Prepare for What May Be Around the Corner  

Preschool children were given a single marshmallow in a landmark psychological study. They were told (while being videotaped) that if they did not eat the marshmallow in a five-minute period that they would get two marshmallows. The therapists found that some preschoolers could delay gratification, but others could not or would not. Would you restrain yourself for five minutes to get two marshmallows instead of one?

The lives of these preschool children were studied over a long period, and the results demonstrated superior life outcomes for those preschoolers who delayed gratification. What does this have to do with the future and your finances? Everything. Simply put, saving and investing requires discipline. The discipline to say NO today in the belief that tomorrow will yield a better result (two marshmallows, not one).

Answer these three questions to gain insight into your ability or willingness to save and invest for YOUR FUTURE:

  1. Do you give thought to how purchasing something today will affect your long-term future?
  2. Do you know if you have the discipline to resist temptation and, accordingly, put money away from your paycheck automatically into a savings or investment account?
  3. Can you contain your impulsive or compulsive emotion to buy things, refrain from shopping to soothe some unpleasant emotion, or ignore any false feeling of belonging by spending money?

In summary, ambidextrous living is a skill. If you’re fearful of the prospect of running out of money, (not to mention the erosion of the social safety net), learn to live in all three times zones: past, present and future. Integrate all three into your life. Challenge yourself to conjure a fond memory, get 100% engaged in something that is totally immersive, and then design your future.


Marty MartinMarty Martin, PsyD, is a Psychologist in the Chicago office of The Planning Center, a fee-only financial planning and wealth management firm.

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