Unlocking the Full Potential of Mindfulness: Rethinking Thoughts about the Past and Future

Explore how integrating hindsight and foresight into your mindfulness practice unlocks resilience, open-mindedness, and a richer understanding of what it means to be human.


Countless mindfulness instructions emphasize not getting caught up in thoughts about the past or the future. Instead, stay in the moment! This is sound advice, of course. For one thing, if you’re chopping vegetables and obsessing about an unkind remark you made to a friend last week, you might chop into your finger instead of a carrot. 

It’s also true, though, that this advice can be unhelpful if it is presented and understood too simplistically, as it often is. It can promote the idea that the present moment is a kind of dreamy state of vacuous joy where no thoughts of the past or future intrude. You can just leave them out of the picture. This is honestly ludicrous. If we had no thoughts of the past, we could not remember where we live. If we had no thoughts of the future, we could not make a doctor’s appointment or plan a vacation. Strictly speaking, all thoughts happen in the present. That’s choiceless. The problems emerge when thoughts carry us out of our bodies and off into a la la land where we imagine we are in the past or the future rather than forming thoughts about them. Let’s dig…