How to have gratitude for your present while dreaming of the future

Today I discuss how to get over the annoyances and have gratitude for your present life while working towards your future goals.  

Use this simple, three part technique:

  1. Identify the causes of your present dissatisfaction
  2. Reframe them and see how they’re bringing you closer to your goals 
  3. Allow yourself to feel gratitude

Investing is the epitome of delayed gratification.  You put away money now for rewards later on.  Instead of using that thousand dollars today to buy a nice flat screen TV and speaker set, you’re stashing it away with the hopes that it’ll grow to a larger amount many years down the road.

There’s a theory that most Americans aren’t very good at investing their money because it’s hard for us to visualize our future selves.  Basically, we have a hard time identifying with that future person, so why save money now for that future jerk to spend it later?

To combat this, I try to picture myself five and ten years in the future. 

My SMART goal, for example, is this:  “I must have $100,000 of tax-free annual cash flow from rental properties by 2025 to have the freedom to work less hours.”  

But I picture more than just my financial situation.  I also try to create a comprehensive and vibrant picture of everything else that’s going on in the future.  What’s going on with my job?  What’s the Dr-ess doing with her time?  Where do we live, and how are my kids dealing with all these changes?

While my life might look fairly similar in just 5 years, I have a feeling that my life in 10 years will be very different from my current day to day.  With this in mind, I recently wrote a letter from my future self to my two kids when they notice that I’m home for breakfast more often than usual.

Dissatisfaction with the present

One side effect of my intense visualization of this bright future has been mounting dissatisfaction with my present life.  Dissatisfaction is a sour and bitter feeling that can poison an otherwise great day.

I noticed that whenever I pictured a more interesting and varied life 10 years down the road, annoyances in my present life felt less tolerable and more… annoying.

This phenomenon was most noticeable at work.

I’m an employed surgeon in the first decade of my practice. I still enjoy most of what I do at work, but recently a few things were really bumming me out.

I do a lot of my deep mental work on my commute to and from work.  During the drive, I usually listen to podcasts or think deep thoughts while I sip my coffee. On one of these drives, I came up with a simple framework to combat the dissatisfaction I felt with my present day life.

How to have gratitude for the present

I came up with this simple, three part technique:

  1. Identify the causes of your present dissatisfaction
  2. Reframe them and see how they’re bringing you closer to your goals 
  3. Allow yourself to feel gratitude

It’s a simple and effective way to get more gratitude in your life. Who cares about gratitude? I do, and so should you!

Studies have shown that people who focus on gratitude feel happier and more optimistic, and even exercise more! 

Identify the causes of your present dissatisfaction

When it comes to my job, it didn’t take too much introspection to identify the things that really bum me out: The overnight call is exhausting.  The patients can be emotionally draining.  My administrative duties often spill over into my time off and vacations.  

After formally identifying the major causes of my job dissatisfaction, I moved onto the next step.

Reframe them and see how they’re bringing you closer to your goals

This step takes some mental flexibility, to be sure. But if you can reframe the causes of your dissatisfaction in a positive light, it opens up a world of benefits. I found that the easiest way to do this is to connect the causes of your dissatisfaction to your future goals.

Here’s what that looked like for me:

The overnight call is definitely the worst part of my job, but when I get called to the ER at midnight, I get paid for my trouble.  These bonuses are adding additional fuel to my retirement accounts and active real estate investing.  Eventually, these investments will completely free me from the necessity of work.  Also, the ER physicians are calling me because they need my skills. It’s fulfilling to practice my expertise.  

The patients can indeed be demanding and drain my emotional wellspring.  But without these patients, there would be no job!  It would also be unreasonable to expect that my patients are always smiling and grateful.  By making my job necessary, patients allow me to get closer to my financial goals, regardless of their demeanor.

Finally, my administrative duties are time consuming and challenging.  I sometimes feel like I’m careening from crisis to crisis, perpetually putting out fires and mending bridges.  I worry about the time it takes away from my family, writing, and investing.  But I do feel pride in my work as a leader.  It brings variety to my days, which makes my job more tolerable and even enjoyable at times.

Allow yourself to feel gratitude

After the analytical part of this process, it’s important to just sit back and feel gratitude.  Mentally reframing the causes of your dissatisfaction as links to your future goals can give yourself permission to actually feel gratitude about these same things.  

But you have to take the moment and feel that warm feeling of gratitude. As it fills you with that calming sensation, the annoyances become less bothersome and the dissatisfaction fades away.

Conclusion

It’s terribly difficult to be objective about things like this, but I really feel like this exercise has had a positive effect.  I feel more resilient against dissatisfaction.  I have more gratitude for my present.

I’ve reframed the sources of my dissatisfaction as things that are helping me achieve my future goals.  This has freed me to feel gratitude and enjoy my present life, annoyances and all.

–TDD

What’s bothering you about your present life? Can you reframe these things and feel gratitude? Please comment below and subscribe for more content!

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Medimentary
1 year ago

TDD,

This is a very timely post for me and has a larger meaning for me as a citizen and also as a practicing physician.

I am grateful for my own health as well as my family’s health in a time of COVID. Far too many have been negatively impacted. I appreciate my station in life, the opportunities I have and I’ll be dreaming for a future that I want as I cast my vote in-person tomorrow.

From a career standpoint, I have placed an emphasis on time freedom and so I’ve cut my schedule to part-time. It is the best decision I’ve made in medicine. Gratitude is truly the attitude and I’m glad you are sharing this message!

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[…] potential downside is that sometimes, our dreams for the future can eclipse our life in the moment. In this article, the Darwinian Doctor discusses how we can practice contentment in the present while still pursuing […]

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[…] potential downside is that sometimes, our dreams for the future can eclipse our life in the moment. In this article, the Darwinian Doctor discusses how we can practice contentment in the present while still pursuing […]

Brett Levine
3 months ago

I have discovered that gratitude changes everything. It’s hard to be thankful and bitter at the same time. My patients remind me every day of all I have to be grateful for and to appreciate today because of how unknown tomorrow can be. Thank you for affirming my belief as I grow toward my future.

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