Nourishing the Moment and Nourishing the Future
We talk a lot about self-improvement and self-mastery. These can go by many different names: self-care, self-love, intentional living, healthy living.
While perhaps not completely synonymous, these are all aspects of the path to leading a healthier, more productive, and more fulfilled existence. While seeming to strive toward the same ends, many understand and apply these paths quite differently.
It is possible to live a life of asceticism in the name of self-love. Many of the greatest joys in life come through achievement at the hand of denying short-term pleasure as an investment in future gratification. It is also possible to use self-love as a justification for over-indulgence in dark chocolate and bubble baths, or beer and football games, which ever suits your fancy. Taken to their extremes, we can either work or eat ourselves to death.
Which interpretation truly serves you best?
As much as I would like to report that the deepest fulfillment comes from sunsets with a mai tai, as you can probably guess, its both. The most productive path forward comes from striking a balance. To help define this distinction, I think of these conflicting interpretations not as hedonism vs. asceticism, but as nourishing the moment and nourishing the future.
Nourishing the Moment
Sometimes known as “treat yo’self,” this is exactly what it sounds like. We all need downtime and recharging. Rest and relaxation are just as important as the hard-charging, get-shit-done phases.
In strength and conditioning, we must learn both full engagement and full release. Knowing how and when to completely release your muscle tension allows a stronger, deeper, and more effective contraction the next time your require it. Elite movers, from dancers to Olympic lifters, exhibit, above all else, a mastery in cycling between tension and release.
Understanding how and when to relax applies to every other aspect of life. When we let go of the on-going work project to fully relax each evening, we not only feel more present in our relationships but return the next day entirely ready and able to work. When we can stop to breath, release all tension from our body for a moment, we can continue working both more focused and better equipped to meet the stressors to come. When we take an extended vacation, we return with renewed vigor to whatever projects we left behind.
Nourishing the moment goes beyond vacations, beyond breathing and meditation, beyond the occasional “treat yo’self” day. We nourish our present self through play. Play can take many forms but the best forms of play are fun but entirely free from objective goals. Whiles games from basketball, to golf, to Candy Crush can be wonderful relaxers they are impossible to do without some level of focus on achievement. Release all focus of actually sinking the hole and you are no longer playing golf but random whacking balls around (admittedly, quite fun also).
True play is entirely free of objective. It is splashing around rather than swimming laps. It is shooting hoops with a friends, rather than one-on-one. It is skiing, skateboarding, or throwing a Frisbee.
Nourishing the moment is taking the time to release tension, let go of expectations, and allow yourself to be fully present. More than a simple recharge, this is time to practice being present so that we can learn to live in the present moment always, even when work and life seem to swirl faster and faster around us.
Nourishing the Future
This encompasses many classic themes of health, fitness, and all-around achievement. Hard work. Willpower. Delayed gratification. Focus. Investment. Long-term thinking and action.
This mode of thinking allows us to be much less susceptible to the charms of physical and emotion pleasures, at least at face value. It does not mean doing things only because you think you should. It does not mean purposefully suffering by glorifying discomfort. It does not mean grinding so hard that you effect your physical or emotional health. It is not a completely ascetic existence, swearing off all worldly pleasures for fear that they stand in the way of deep fulfillment.
Nourishing the future is an understanding that many of life’s greatest joys come not from anything we can do in a single moment. Great achievement is not a decision or action but an accumulation of decisions and actions focused on a long-term plan. While every action we take happens in the present, long-term success focuses on eventual returns over present good feels. We know that cookies taste great, but we also know that consistently choosing to abstain has long-term benefits.
Remember that nourishing your future comes from small actions. No apparent change comes from tiny pebble dropped in a well. But continually drop thousands of pebbled and you raise the water level. We can ruin progress by failing to realize that investing in your future is always best done in small actions. We can try to make a huge change but ultimately burn out when we cannot maintain the rapid pace. We can also fail to make any change at all by failing to understand the drastic downstream effect of a seemingly minor course change.
Finding Your Balance
We need both modes of nourishment to find deep fulfillment. Too much dedication to your long-term health and you will never know the simple yet profound pleasure of ice cream. Too much nourishing of your present self through play and pastries and you will never accomplish anything that you set out too.
We need one type of nourishment to give meaning to the other. Your balance will inevitably shift as your life changes. Only you can determine whether you truly need a “me-day” or if you are creating a justification for sloth. Developing the self-awareness of to how to best balance care for your present and future self is more important than any individual actions that you could possibly take.