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MyView: Are you living 'out of phase?'

September 02, 2013

By Gary Chan, D.D.S.

He was a WWII veteran who had recently lost his wife to complications associated with diabetes just shy of their 60th wedding anniversary.

His face lit up every time he reminisced and spoke of her, especially how they first met on a blind date at a soda shop when he was in the Navy in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

As he finished his last story, he smiled, sighed contentedly, and then said it all: "I have no regrets." I considered what was embodied in his statement with an almost reverent, envying awe.

I thought further about how often we wish that we might have the chance to do things over again, differently.

But this man had "no regrets." He would not change anything. He had hit it out of the park when it actually counted. I purposed to make some changes.

Typically, health professionals are driven individuals who regularly set goals. Patterns begin early in life as we observe and emulate people who are goal motivated. There is a tendency to adopt the strategies and behaviors to which we are exposed.

Our daily energies become divided between present and future goals. We map out the future—planning what we are going to do in an hour, tomorrow, next week, next month.

However, if we begin to focus disproportionately on the future—we start to live "out of phase" with the present. Our frame of reference begins to shift more to the future—away from the present. Some of us become aware enough of this imbalance that we negotiate with ourselves that we will start to enjoy life—as soon as we set up our practice, get out of debt, get married, have children, etc. Conversely, some of us live more in the past than in the present or future.

As goals lose clarity or become seemingly unattainable, we relive and recall past successes and experiences; some call this "getting old!"

What can we do to live more "in phase," more in the time frame of the moment?

Some of us never realize that while we are waiting for the variables of life to line up ideally, life is actually going by. How often do we hear phrases like, "Enjoy your children; they grow up too fast!" or "Where did the time go?"

Many of us live our lives as if we are living in a dress rehearsal—as if there will be a second chance—not realizing that in fact we are on stage in the actual performance. Some of us treat life as a series of goals—like points on a graph, or a series of photos—intermittently interacting with the present. Instead, consider life as a dynamic, continuous line, rather than a series of points.

Life might well be seen as a video in which every moment is
captured in high resolution to be relished and appreciated. Our perception of our environment becomes our reality.

Simply put, life is what we choose to make it! We make choices that define how we relate to our family, our work and to those around us—though the dynamics are not always obvious.

How can we turn things around so that we are not among those who get to the end of life with our list of goals accomplished—only to find that we never really lived, that we never really appreciated the passage of time, that we misdirected our energies and we lived our life "out of phase?"

Opportunity and choice are on a continuum, but it requires the realization that we are "out of phase" to make the effort to realign ourselves with the present instead of continually planning our future at the expense of the present.

Similarly, why should our work get the best of us? When we leave the office and go home, too often those closest to us get what is left over.

Developing strategies that help us reserve some of our energies for those we come home to at the end of the day is a necessity. We need to treasure each moment.

It has been said that the optimal life would be lived if we spent each day as if it were our last. At the end of the day the doctor would say, "Though you have a terminal illness and will die, you have been given a reprieve and will live another 24 hours."

If such could be our perception of life, what really matters in life would remain sharply in focus. Remember, no death bed confession ever included the phrase, "I wish I had spent more time at the office."

We can make the choice to realign ourselves, to live in a healthy, happy, balance of past, present and future—to live "in phase" with an appreciation for "living in the moment" to savor each day. Cherish those close to you.

Let the past be the past. Plan for the future, but live and experience the present. And when all is said and done, like my patient be able to say consummately, "I have no regrets."

Dr. Chan is the president of the Loma Linda University Alumni Association. His comments, reprinted here with permission, originally appeared in the summer/autumn issue of Loma Linda University Dentistry.