Living in the Past? 6 Ways to Start Living in the Present

I recently wrote about 9 signs that tell if you are too future focused instead of living for the present moment. Instead of trying to control the future ourselves (which we can’t), we can trust God to show us the path of life we should take (Psalm 16:11), one that will design a future with peace, joy, and fulfillment. The company Allstate may say, “You are in Good Hands” – but in this case, you are in God’s good hands!  

Being too focused on the future distracts us from really living in the moment; however, so does dwelling on our past.

We all carry baggage, some of it heavier than others. It may have been a rough childhood, some type of abuse, or wounds from a relationship. Past hurts can dictate our present by decisions we may make and emotions we experience — and it can feel like we’re stuck.  

That feeling becomes a distraction from living well today. In the book, When the Past Won’t Let You Go, counselor and author H. Norman Wright says that if we wonder why we waste so much time not living in the present, it’s because we are distracted by the “there and then rather than the here and now.” (1)  

We can’t let our past overtake how we want to live today. We can’t put the past in place until it’s reconciled.

We can’t change the past, so those hurts need to be resolved because it keeps us from experiencing joy and peace in the present. The past is a silent companion that accompanies us wherever we g0. (2) If it isn’t a good companion, it’s time to change your relationship with it.

This is when counseling or therapy is a best practice – professionals can provide support and tools to help you heal and move forward. They help you navigate difficult memories and change your responses to them so the past will look different. Each memory we have is only a chapter of the larger story, the one lived today.

As we work on making peace with our past, we also must steer our minds to the present. How? By focusing on what is happening around us and who is around us.

6 Ways to Start Living in the Present

1.  Make a point of expressing gratitude. This may seem cliché, yet it’s been shown that gratefulness for what we have has benefits for our emotions, socialization, personality, career, and health. Ralph Waldo Emerson, an American essayist and philosopher, says this about gratitude:

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you,
and to give thanks continually. And because all things have contributed
to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”

In a letter to the ancient Thessalonian church, rabbi and apostle Paul reminds the new believers “rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) Through this practice, the Thessalonians were able to get through numerous hardships, including persecution from their own people because of their faith.  

2.  Create spontaneity for fun and relaxation. While it sounds like a contradiction, sometimes we need to make a reason to get active — to “seize the moment” or “stop to smell the flowers.” Change your outlook by spending some time outdoors. Grab a friend or your kids and be a tourist in your hometown. Surprise your family by serving breakfast for dinner.

3.  Intentionally connect with people around you. We may be in contact with people all day, but that doesn’t mean there is connection. That comes from giving personal attention to someone.  

If you feel disconnected from someone, consider past conversations. Do you continually “talk it out” or vent about your past to your spouse or friends? Even while empathetic, they may begin to withdraw from you because of the negativity. Improving your relationships may mean concentrating more on listening and less on talking.

Take a moment today to arrange a time to reconnect with a friend over coffee this week. Make a point to speak to the person checking out your groceries, whether a compliment or observation. Now post-pandemic, return to meetups, pick up hobbies, and volunteer.

4.  Spend time helping others. Nothing brings you into the present more than helping someone and learning their story. Volunteer with a charity in your area — not only will you serve others who need aid, but it’s an opportunity to connect with other volunteers.

Paul taught this lesson to churches in ancient times: “Encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and everyone else.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14-15) Also be compassionate to each other so that we can help others who have all kinds of troubles, using the same help that we ourselves have received from God. (2 Corinthians 1:4b) You may have been through some tough times, but from your experiences, you can be an inspiration to someone else.

5.  Purposefully connect with family. We may be busy daily with our kids’ schooling and activities or watching TV with the spouse at night, but that isn’t real connection. That takes thoughtfulness and purpose.

How can you show your family they are loved and appreciated? When did your family last do something together that created laughter, fun, and relaxation? (If you have younger children, get ideas by reading the 6 Steps to More Family Connection at Family Life.)

6.  Join a support group. Along with therapy, attending a support group is valuable. One such group is Celebrate Recovery, no matter what “hurts, hang-ups, and habits” you may have. Support groups provide a safe space to share struggles and improvements.

In the comments, share a way you keep your mind in the present.


References used:
1. When the Past Won’t Let You Go, H. Norman Wright (2016) p. 8
2. Ibid, p. 13
Bible references link to

2 responses to “Living in the Past? 6 Ways to Start Living in the Present”

  1. These are fabulous suggestions to start living in the present. I also use gratitude, affirmations, and mindfulness. I like your suggestions for being social. Great work!

  2. Hello Angie, I love your list on ways to stay present. I usually start with gratitude as you suggested. I have been practicing being grateful for the good, the bad, and the ugly, and that is helping me accept the past/future and stay in the present. Thank you for sharing. Sending love. Jaime

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