Five tips for living in the moment and embracing short-term goals

Many people have felt out of sorts since the pandemic – whether it’s the cancellations, disappointments or endless restrictions, and being challenged by something none of us could control.

As a result, right now, we might not be as focused on longer-term lifetime ambitions as we were two years ago – and instead feel more determined to seize the day and live for the moment.

A recent survey of 2000 adults by BMW, to mark the launch of the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer, found 68 per cent felt more driven than ever to ’embrace life and step out of their comfort zone to try new things’. The poll reveals a shift in outlook, with half of respondents saying they’re concentrating on shorter-term attainable goals that provide instant pleasure, rather than future aspirations.

Friends hiking at sunrise
Feeling the urge to live more in the moment? (Alamy/PA)

“We were suddenly challenged with a situation we couldn’t control,” observes behavioural psychologist Jo Hemming. “We couldn’t control our responses to it – and a curveball such as a pandemic makes people think about life.

Read: 101 ways to holiday in Australia: Do something epic!

“They go for that dopamine hit, the instant gratification and immediate burst of pleasure,” she adds. “Perhaps they’re fearful the long-term goals don’t matter as much.”

According to the survey, this new-found zest for life includes a host of pursuits people are thinking about – such as surfing, sky diving or conquering a mountain range – with more than half saying getting older has given them perspective too and made them more driven to achieve their ambitions.

“It’s a good thing we’re doing the things that please us,” says Ms Hemming. “It’s the balance between having the everyday pleasures in life, the rewards, and balancing that with your longer-term goals.

“But if your longer-term goals are weighing you down, if they’re really restrictive, then you’ve got to go the other way – the small bursts of pleasure you can afford to do, and give you that dopamine hit.”

We’re not saying ditch all your sensible long-term aims. But perhaps the pandemic has reminded us that there’s a lot to enjoy and be grateful for right now too.

So how can you let go a little and live more for today?

1. Break down longer-term goals into smaller ones

Cheerful little girl playing with older grandfather
It’s about balancing short and long-term goals. (Alamy/PA)

Ms Hemming says to think about things you want to do this year, not just in the future. “So you’re getting a sense of stepping out of your comfort zone, especially if you’re used to holding on to everything and saving.

“Use what’s happened to us in the last couple of years to understand why we need to cherish the moment. With our families, those who’ve lost people or been seriously ill, it’s in our mindset that we can’t take everything for granted.”

Read: How to set goals to kick unhealthy habits

2. Don’t feel guilty about self-care
“Self-care is very important,” stresses Ms Hemming. “I think people confuse self-care for self-indulgence, especially when they’re trying to save money and have long-term goals.

“It’s those little bursts of pleasure, doing something for yourself that actually contributes to your wellbeing. And if your wellbeing is in a good place, then your perspective on life generally improves and you feel less guilty about either spending money, doing that thing or taking time out.”

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These aren’t necessarily things that involve a financial spend. “They’re actually time,” says Ms Hemming. “Taking time out for yourself to do something that pleases you – and not to feel bad about it.”

She thinks people sometimes find it very hard to do that – “because they see it as some sort of self-indulgence, or straying from the path of their long-term goal. But actually, to me, it’s a very healthy thing to do, and we should all do it.”

3. Work out a short-term pleasure plan
Where to start? Ms Hemming says to “work out what pleases you. What gives you that dopamine hit. What are the things you’ve missed that you haven’t done, for whatever reason?”

Just reflecting back on what you were doing in a different time – perhaps when you were younger, pre-pandemic or didn’t have so many money worries – can be helpful.

Thoughtful man having a coffee in outdoor cafe
Think about what lights you up. (Alamy/PA)

“What was the thing that pleased you? And how can you adapt that to something which: A, you can afford, and B, you have the time to do,” says Ms Hemming.

4. De-stress by keeping it to ‘two worries’ a day
If you’re stressed out by life, whether it’s the pressures of daily woes or an onslaught of not great news, Ms Hemming suggests trying to limit yourself to a couple of ‘worry windows’ a day.

“So that’s taking your news in at certain times – so rather than listening to rolling news all day or constantly watching news on TV, decide you’re going to have two worry windows a day,” she explains.

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That might mean watching breakfast TV or listening to a radio show in the morning, and then watching some news in the evening. “So you’re informed and you’re up to date, but you’re not bombarded. You’re not … [bombarded with] bad news, which we absorb like a sponge – and it makes us stressed out,” Ms Hemming explains. “It’s something that just busies our brain. It invades our momentary pauses in life, which we need.”

She says to stop and breathe out slowly and if we’re taking in news constantly and it spikes our cortisol levels, one of the key stress hormones. “And it’s very difficult to take time out for yourself when your cortisol levels are high,” notes Ms Hemming. “They’re quite hard to self-regulate when there’s a lot of bad news around.”

Read: Could you be addicted to stress?

5. Get out and maximise your opportunities
Because we’ve been under restrictions and spending a great deal of time at home, we’ve had to readjust our comfort zones – and maybe you’ve forgotten how to embrace life.

“Our confidence has narrowed to kind of our own four walls, or what we can do online,” says Ms Hemming. “So it’s getting out there. Doing something in real time, because now we can.

Man fulfilling his ambition of learning to surf, one of the nation's top ambitions in a poll conducted by BMW
Barry Smith fulfilling his ambition of learning to surf, one of the nation’s top ambitions in BMW’s poll. (Barry Hayden/BMW/PA)

“Don’t forget there’s a life beyond restrictions and it’s open. We should be maximising our opportunities of doing something outside of our homes, from walking to swimming to riding a horse.”

She says people want to do adventurous, slightly dangerous things. “You know – monitored danger, if you like, because we need to get it back. We’ve got a lot of adrenaline and that’s not a bad thing if it’s moderated and we have bursts of it. But if it’s constant, it causes stress.

“So when you do something such as a sky dive or a roller coaster, whatever it is, your adrenaline spikes, but in a good way. It’s called eustress.”

Ms Hemming says to think about this as a ‘good’ type of stress. “It’s the things we volunteer to be stressed about. It’s a good feeling. It’s a challenge. We know we’re going to get a bit scared, we know we might scream, but we’ve willingly volunteered to do it, so it’s in our control,” she explains.

“And the reason we want to do so much of that now is because our life in the last couple of years has been out of our control. We need the thrills we’ve been deprived of.”

– With PA

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Written by Sam Wylie-Harris

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