Time travel is possible. We all do it occasionally, but some people do it more often than others. People who time travel spend a large portion of each day thinking about all the things they should’ve done yesterday, all the things that went wrong in the past, and all the things they’re supposed to do tomorrow. As a result, that’s where they live, in the past or in the future. They rarely pay attention to what’s happening to them right now, so they miss living in the present moment—the only true moment in which anyone can really live. For example, notice what’s happening to you right now as you read this. Are you thinking of something else? Are you thinking of something that happened in the past or something that’s coming up in the future? What does your body feel like right now? Pay attention to it. Do you notice any spots of tension or physical pain? How are you breathing? Are you taking full, deep breaths, or are you breathing very shallowly?
Often, we don’t pay attention to what’s happening to us. We don’t pay attention to what
people are saying to us or to the things that we read. We don’t even pay attention to who’s around us while we’re walking. And to make it even more problematic, we often try to do more than one thing at the same time, like driving, eating, and talking on the phone simultaneously. As a result, we miss a lot of what life has to offer and we often make easy situations more difficult.
But even worse, not living in the present moment can also make life more painful. For
example, maybe you anticipate that the person with whom you’re talking is going to say something insulting, which makes you feel angry—even though the person hasn’t even said anything yet! Or maybe just thinking about past events makes you feel physically or emotionally upset, which then interferes with whatever you’re trying to do at the moment. Obviously, both types of time traveling can make any event unnecessarily painful.
Try the following exercise to help you live in the moment and tolerate distressing events more skillfully.
“Where Are You Now?”
The next time you’re in a distressing situation, ask yourself the following questions:
- Where am I right now?
- Am I time traveling in the future, worrying about something that might happen, or planning something that might happen?
- Am I time traveling in the past, reviewing mistakes, reliving bad experiences, or thinking about how my life could have been under different circumstances
- Or am I in the present, really paying attention to what I’m doing, thinking, and feeling?
If you’re not in the present moment, refocus your attention on what’s happening to you now by using the following steps:
- Notice what you’re thinking about and recognize if you’re time traveling. Bring your focus back to the present moment.
- Notice how you’re breathing. Take slow, long breaths to help you refocus on the present
Notice how your body feels and observe any tension or pain you might be feeling.
Recognize how your thoughts might be contributing to how you’re feeling. Use
cue-controlled relaxation to release any tension.
Notice any painful emotions you might be feeling as a result of time traveling, and
use one of the distress tolerance skills to help you relieve any immediate pain.
From DBT Skills Workbook pages 53 – 54