Three Times

Anticipation, Activation, Reflection.

While being present in the moment is another of those things that's surprisingly difficult to achieve and sustain despite our having a whole set of verbs to indicate being -- and we actually call ourselves human beings -- humans actually get three cognitive positions from which to experience our being. I call them Anticipation, Activation, and Reflection.

When we set out to do something, we often imagine it. This is the Anticipation stage. What will it be like? How will I feel? How important is this to me? When will I do it?

Then we have the experience itself. This is the Activation stage. Maybe.

Very often, we anticipate something to have it slip away. We change our minds. Something more pressing appears. Then again, what we anticipated may happen, kinda, mostly. Maybe some of you experienced something you anticipated in the exact way you imagined, as though you had been clairvoyant. That doesn't happen to me. The real world at a real-time is a dodgy place. It was this season in November when Robert Burns accidentally turned over a poor mouse's carefully made winter's nest, leading him to reflect on how often, "the best laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley."

However, it turns out, that once the experience ends, we may have a memory of it. This is Reflection. What's interesting is reflection may be as unreliable as anticipation. Anybody who has tried to get the facts from a group of witnesses knows how different those memories can be. It's also why Judith Martin, writing as Miss Manners advises hosts not to sit partners together. She notes they tell the same stories, but tell them differently.

In order to be present in the moment. embrace the three cognitive experiences of a moment. Here's an exercise to become acquainted with the practice.


You have a plan to accomplish a task. Let's say you plan on engaging it on Thursday at 10 am. In your imagination, observe your future self at 10 am. Where are you engaging in this task? What materials do you need? What are you doing just before this task? What's your energy level? Do you feel excited to start? Dread? Ambivalence? What's likely to interrupt you? What preoccupations will be fighting for your attention? What will success look like?


Note when you start. If you feel compelled to do something else instead, reconnect with your purpose for having chosen now for the scheduled task. Ask your past self what it thinks. Then ask your future self how you will feel about renegotiating this commitment. It's okay to renegotiate with yourself. Just be sure to include your past and future selves in the negotiation and not just your present self.

If you move forward on the planned task, note when your attention first drifts. Our attentions have a natural arc. Just the same way you are unlikely to schedule gym time to do a single exercise for 90 minutes, but do repetitions and rests, you want to learn to engage your seven attentions: associative, sequential, listener, observer, mover, reader, talker, in cycles of repetition and rests.


This is where learnings are created. Reflect back on your anticipation. How accurately were you able to imagine your planned experience? Could you have been better prepared? What did you learn that would allow you to anticipate the next task more accurately? Now reflect on the doing.

How did your time, attention, and energy actually show up? What did you follow through on, and what did you renegotiate? How did your definition of success change? As it turned out, was it the right thing for that time? Capture your learnings for the next round.

I don't suggest it's possible to engage the three positions in a fully conscious way very often. However, the exercise is powerful. And when you practice being as conscious as possible about your anticipation, activation, and reflection, they begin to become part of your way of being.


Francis Sopper

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