Have you ever noticed that when you get close to the end of something hard, you wish you were at the finish line? I notice this feeling the most in a mountain bike race. It doesn’t matter how long the event is, but when I’m 70% done (or sometimes even before), I start dreaming of the finish line. It also happens during a workout or a project, or even with something good! Some examples: I’m excited to have another baby. I’m excited for my parents to come visit in a few weeks. I’m excited about warmer weather. I’m excited about finally getting my new computer I ordered a few months ago!
There are usually three scenarios I’ve noticed that make us wish time to go faster- excitement or discomfort. And one that might not be as obvious: boredom.
For the fun stuff we are excited about, we even have a neurotransmitter in our brain that wires us to anticipate the future and wish for it. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that makes us want to anticipate a reward in the future. It gets released when something potentially unexpected or exciting might happen. If you listen to Andrew Huberman’s Podcast or have read The Molecule of More, you may have gone deeper into the role of dopamine and I wanted to share them as resources if you were curious.
The thing I’ve learned through racing that applies everywhere else in my life is that the uncomfortable moments never last (and neither do the exciting ones). We wish away the present moment in exchange for something that seems more favorable. The patience and presence of riding the wave through the moments of boredom and discomfort pay off. Catching that next wave teaches us that we are resilient. It doesn’t mean you have to enjoy the discomfort, boredom, (insert how you feel and why you might be wishing it away). I used to wish time away when I was winning a race because I felt like I had everything to lose and felt vulnerable.
How can we savour more moments in life, even when we find ourselves wishing it away? One way is looking for small moments of gratitude or what we can learn from a situation. During the pain of an interval workout, I could try to block out the pain and anticipate the interval time to be over OR I could say “the burn is my friend”, accept it, and also focus on the fact that the pain is helping me get better. Avoidance rarely helps. Acceptance and looking for how this might help me or what it might teach me can help you stay in the present moment a little longer. This is something I’m really going to try to embrace with giving birth. If it’s anything like last time, it’ll be the ultimate challenge of saying “yes” when I want to say “no” to an intense experience or moment.
If we spend too much time anticipating the future, we miss the present moment. Real life only exists in the present moment, but sometimes the present moment isn’t as exciting as what we are anticipating…and sometimes the present moment just plain sucks.
Here are some practices you can try to stay in the moment a little longer instead of wishing it away.
- Simply having the mindful awareness that you are trying to rush time or wish time away is a good place to start
- Ask yourself why you might be wishing it away. When I catch myself wishing time to pass with my son until naptime, it’s because I want a break. When I wish time away at a race, it’s because I either feel vulnerable to something bad happening, I’m bored, or things aren’t going my way and I just want them to be over. I wish time away when I’m pregnant because I don’t want to be pregnant anymore but also because I’m excited about meeting my child. What insight can you get from noticing you are wishing time away? What might you be avoiding by wanting to rush time?
- Ask yourself how you can savour the moment. What joy can you find, if any? How can being present and not wishing it away serve you later? What can you learn?
- Remind yourself “this is what I came for.” When you do an interval workout and you are suffering and just want it to be over, that’s what you came for. If you are out doing a sport, this is what you came for. If you’re a parent, this is what you came for. It doesn’t necessarily make it easy, but a simple mindset shift maybe makes you realize that it isn’t going to be perfect or feel good all the time. How will the future you feel if you savoured the moment?
- There is wisdom in discomfort as long as you aren’t damaging yourself.
- There is a texture of acceptance for what is when you try to savour instead of wish it away. Learning how to accept things are they are, but also knowing that they will never stay the same can be the difference between discomfort and suffering.
Another note is that sometimes we won’t know when the finish line will be (think of the pandemic) or other challenges in life. We can try to appreciate the here and now while still gently holding onto the idea of a finish line (to maintain hope). We can hope for the future or a result, but also find a way to savour even difficult times or moments, accept what is now, and live in the present a little bit more.