Steve Gilliland is sitting in an airport in Salt Lake City, enjoying the day. There was a time when the North Carolina-based motivational speaker and author of several books including Enjoy The Ride might have been worrying about where his next billings would come from, working the phones to boost business. Or he would have been fearing any possible delays that could complicate his schedule.
But over time, he has trained himself to enjoy life as it comes, rather than worry about what's ahead or behind. "As I told the audience in Vancouver yesterday, you have to live more for today and less for tomorrow or yesterday," he said in an interview.
And by today, he means now – this exact moment. Don't live your life for 30 minutes from now, as many of us tend to do, planning, rehearsing, plotting, and just generally anticipating.
After one of his talks, in Cincinnati, a 97-year-old man came to shake his hand and say he wished he had learned that advice as a youngster. His wife had died, his kids were grown up, and he had squandered his time with them because he was always living for what was ahead not what was happening at the moment. "At the age of 97, I've officially lived my life 30 minutes ahead – 30 minutes ahead of whatever I was doing at the moment," he sadly admitted.
Mr. Gilliland gives another example from his own life: The many Friday nights he watched his kids playing sports and wishing the games were over. Those were actually golden moments, and can never be retrieved. He failed to live fully in the present.
Being in the moment also means being with the people around you, not the devices you have brought along. Recently in a restaurant, Mr. Gilliland saw an all-too-familiar sight: A family of six, two parents and their children, all hunched over their devices rather than talking to each other. He timed them: It was nine minutes before any live connection transpired. "We don't enjoy the ride as we're too busy with yesterday or tomorrow or the distractions of today," he said.
That means knowing what's important to you – and what can get your goat. He suggests writing a list of the most important things in your life. Then write in sequence the numbers one to 168, to signify the hours available in a week, and estimate how you spend that time. Compare that time allocation with your priorities, and inevitably you will see yourself sucked into endeavours you should eliminate or reduce.
Such scrutiny usually reveals the family getting short-changed. And he suggests it's worse than the list indicates, since often families are watching TV or studying their e-mail and Facebook accounts at mealtimes instead of interacting with each other. "You have to match your actions to your beliefs. A lot of people have a belief system but don't act accordingly," he said.
To enjoy the ride, you have to stop giving people permission to ruin your day. That's why he turns off his phone on airplanes – not just airplane mode, but totally off – and when home with family. And he has learned to assign the appropriate value to situations, to control his reactions. If a flight is delayed, for instance, most people get upset. He takes it in stride. It's part of travelling, and needs to be accepted as normal. Don't overreact. If you let yourself become emotional, you'll probably make bad choices.
"It's important to control your emotions and how you react to situations and people. Often when we don't like people, it's because they are a mirror – they have a little bit of us in them that we don't like. Don't let people get your goat," he said.
People can't get your goat if you hide it – from them and from yourself. Take an all-too-familiar situation: You wander into a supermarket, eager to get in and out, but only two of the 12 cash registers have a clerk receiving customers. You can become irritated – you can let the store, or the situation, get your goat. Or he says you can accept that, in a period of downsizing by business and given the time you came into the store, such meagre service was to be expected. "Don't expect you can get in and out fast. Enjoy the ride," he said.
Rather than starting the day in a frenzy – feeling rushed and irritated when things don't come together neatly – build a positive framework, taking time to reflect on what's good in your life. Try to understand your goat. Make a list of what and who gets your goat, and then ask "how" and "why?" What is it about you that adds to the negativity of the situation? After determining your contributions, figure out what you need to do in order to change the way you think. Remember, he says, that for every 60 seconds you are unhappy, you lose one minute of happiness.
So herd (or fence off) those goats. Live in the moment, not 30 minutes from now, let alone further in the future or ruminating about yesterday. Enjoy the ride that is your life.
Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column, Balance. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org