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Always looking forwards? It might be time to reflect

In a fast-paced world full of study, work and other commitments, it can be easy to focus all your attention on racing towards the next goal or deadline.

But if both eyes are always on a future prize, there’s the risk of never appreciating what you’ve achieved so far. Of course there is also the risk that you’ll simply fail to enjoy the present moment.

‘I think there is an inherent stress in always being future-focused,’ says Dr Leesa Davis, a lecturer in philosophy and religious studies at Deakin.

‘I see stress in students that are 19, 20, because they’re all the time needing to compete, needing to achieve, needing to get things done. They don’t reflect on the successes they’ve already had because it’s never good enough – you’re always projecting into the future.’

New Year’s Eve isn’t the only time to reflect

Certain occasions tend to put many of us in a reflective mood, such as a milestone birthday, the birth of a child, a marriage – or even a funeral.

New Year’s Eve also tends to be a common time to take stock, with many of us vowing (often unsuccessfully) to make big life changes in the 12 months to come.

‘We tend to do that at the end of the year because it’s a strong marker. Often people, me included, look back and think, “well I didn’t do many of the things I really wanted to do this year,”’ Dr Davis says.

‘The idea of a fresh start is always kind of liberating. But you can have a fresh start every morning almost.’

Remembering to enjoy the present

Dr Davis, who has a strong interest in Buddhist philosophy, says many Buddhist traditions deal only in the present moment.

‘This ties into the whole mindfulness boom we have now in a sense,’ she says. ‘In effect we really only have the present.

‘The past is a reconstruction, the future is an expectation. But really if we take care of the present, in many ways we have time to reflect on the past and to look forward into the future without this stress of a linear idea of time.’

'I think there is an inherent stress in always being future-focused.'

Dr Leesa Davis,
Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University

Why you should stop and celebrate

While keeping one eye on the future is of course something of a practical reality, it’s extremely important to regularly pause and celebrate your achievements, Dr Davies says.

Completing Year 12, being accepted into your dream uni course or job, or graduating from uni are all successes that take time, effort and commitment.

Then there are a host of other, perhaps more personal achievements that are also worth being proud of. They might include completing that fun run or half marathon, learning a new skill, being in a happy relationship or successfully saving for and organising your first big overseas trip.

You might have also cultivated a quality in yourself that you’ve been striving for, such as being more caring, or making more time for family or friends.

How to mark your achievement

If you can, it’s always worth marking your achievement with those who may have helped you get there, or just want to enjoy your success.

‘I think certainly celebrating with friends, even in very minor ways, is very important because it also enhances our connectivity to each another,’ Dr Davis says.

Other ways of celebrating could be treating yourself to something you’ve been coveting for a while, such as a special book – or just taking an afternoon off to head to the beach or somewhere else you love.

Dr Davis says it can be easy to overlook our own achievements as they’re happening.

‘Sometimes we don’t value our own achievements enough… except maybe a few years later you might think “hey I wrote that,” or “I did that, and it’s actually very good.”’

Don’t forget: life is not a treadmill

If you always feel like time is running out and you can’t keep up, it can definitely impact on your wellbeing, Dr Davis warns.

‘I think we’re feeling like we’re on a treadmill all the time when in fact, life is far more dynamic than that,’ she says.

So when you do have a win – big or small – give yourself a well-earned pat on the back, and really stop and savour the happy moment.

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Dr Leesa Davis
Dr Leesa Davis

Lecturer in Philosophy, Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University

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