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  • Writer's pictureLinda Buchanan

Change Your Story-Change Your Life: What Verb Tense Are you Living In?

Updated: Apr 9, 2020

"Don’t let yesterday take up too much of today." Wil Rogers

"Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself, each day has enough troubles of its own." Matthew 6:34

What tense are you in? Are you in the moment that you are currently having? Does that sound like a crazy question? It reminds me of an old Lilly Tomlin skit on Saturday Night Live when she played a telephone operator whose famous line was "Is this the party to whom I am speaking?" But as silly as it might sound, it’s true that much of our time is not spent in the moment we are having. A classic example is when you get stopped at a stop light. Do you sit and enjoy the pause in your day or do you fuss and fume until it turns green?

Yeah me too... when I’m operating under the false sense of control that my irritation with the light can somehow make it turn green faster! I’m getting better at pausing and finding something to enjoy. When I remember to do it, it's such a relief to throw myself into a song or seeing the clouds in the sky and enjoying a break from the busyness of life. Yes, even when I'm running late, this makes sense because not appreciating the break will not get me there on second earlier.

Sometimes near the beginning of a group, I’ll ask the members if they are in the room and often they realize that their minds were elsewhere. In these times, they are almost always worrying about something to come or something that has already passed. One person shared that she was worrying about all the things she had to get done later and I teased her asking if she had been able to get much checked off her to do list. I asked her if she might be able to choose to either be here now or go get stuff done. She chose to work on being present.

Have you ever stopped to notice what tense you’re in at any given moment?

Living in Past Tense

For instance, when you’re feeling guilty, your thoughts often sound something like:

"I shouldn’t have said that.”

”I wish I didn’t do that.”

"I can't believe that happened."

It doesn’t take an English Major to realize that those thoughts are past tense. Often times we are plagued by reliving uncomfortable moments from the past. Maybe our brain is trying to make sure that we have learned from our mistake and won’t let it happen again. But your brain can continue on this path sometimes beyond the point of effectiveness if you don’t purposely shift your thoughts.

The following questions may help pull you back to the present:

"Is there anything else I need to do about it?"

"Is there anything else I can learn from it."

"Is it actually someone else’s mistake and can I begin the process of forgiveness?"

Living in Future Tense

Similarly, when we’re feeling anxious or afraid our thoughts are usually in the future tense:

"What if I can’t do it?"

"What will happen next?"

"What if I don't get it all done?"

Many times we actually feel a false sense of control when we are in the future tense. We believe that by over-preparing we can make things happen the way we want. Of course there is a place for preparation. Here's a simple test: When our preparation is effective, we usually feel grounded but as we start feeling anxious it’s often because we are trying to control something in the future that we can’t control. We keep coming back to the future!

Living in Present Tense

As often as possible, we actually need to come back to the present. Asking yourself the following questions may help with getting in the present tense in your mind (notice the word that is repeated in each question:

"Is there anything else I can do right now?"

"Have I done enough for now?"

"Would it be more effective to focus on something else right now, maybe rest or do something I enjoy?"

"If I weren’t worried about that, what would I be doing or feeling right now?"

We have the greatest potential for being calm and effective in life when we are in the present tense. We also can only truly have any control over things that are happening in the present moment. It's one of the great tricks of our mind that we can gain control by focusing on the past or the future. When we focus on the present, our thoughts may sound like the following:

"I am here doing this."

"I don’t need to be doing anything other than what’s happening right now."

"I choose this now."

"What am I grateful for now?" (You knew I had to throw that in this close to Thanksgiving)

As you read this your thoughts may have changed tenses several times. It's a great skill to develop simply noticing this and bringing your mind back to the present.

I am currently publishing a book titled I'm Not Good Enough: How the Stories You Tell Yourself are Ruining Your Life. By following my blog, you will be notified when it is ready for purchase. I would love to hear from you. Please scroll down to the bottom of this page (past the banner of recent posts) to leave a comment.

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