We fail at creating new habits because of fantasies.
We procrastinate because of fantasies.
We get frustrated with other people, with ourselves, because of fantasies.
We miss out on the wonder of the world because of fantasies.
We all live our lives in delusion most of the time. That might not seem true, but consider:
- When you wake up and start thinking about what you’re going to do today, your plans aren’t really happening, but are all in your head.
- When you fear the failure that might come when you tackle this big work task, and you procrastinate, it’s not failure that’s actually happening but it’s all in your head.
- When someone does something that irritates you, this is because they aren’t acting as you think they should (they should be more considerate), but this "acting how you think they should" is not reality but an ideal you have, in your head. The frustration stems not from their actions but from how their actions differ from your fantasies.
- When you start out with a new habit (let’s say exercise), you are motivated by a fantasy of what your life will be like when you create the habit … but that’s not real. When the reality of the habit happens, it never matches up with your fantasy. It’s often harder, sloppier. Less idealized. And so you quit.
- When you move through your home or office, your mind is not on the action of walking and the things around you, but elsewhere. In fantasy.
- When you eat, you’re not paying attention to the food most of the time. Your mind is somewhere else, in fantasy.
- When you talk to someone, you aren’t focused on what they’re saying, but thinking of what you’re going to say, or thinking about something else.
Of course, some of the time we’re here in the present moment, but it’s probably less than you think.
The fantasies take up most of our time, and they are not usually helpful. They cause us to fear, to procrastinate, to become angry, disappointed, to quit.
Instead, try this: let go of the fantasy and pay attention to this actual moment. See it for what it is, not what you’d like it to be. Accept it exactly as it is, warts and all.
Move through the day practicing this seeing things as they are.
Do your work without thinking about the fear of your failure fantasy, or what might happen in the future, or how hard this work is gonna be … and just do it, in the present moment.
Do your new habit (exercise, meditation, healthy eating) in the present moment, seeing it for what it is, not how it measures up to your fantasy of what it should be. Not how it will be hard in the future. But as it is.
See other people for what they are, and accept them without judgment. Strangers included. Warts and all.
We can fantasize all we want, but the fantasy never happens. This present reality is all we have. Let’s learn to love it.
This article originally appeared in Zen Habits and is reprinted with permission.