There is often a strong push to be successful and our attention is often on future outcomes. If we achieve this task, if we gain that promotion, if we reach that milestone then we will be happy. Work and family pressures can result in us constantly thinking about tomorrow and next week. ‘What is for dinner?’ ‘I don’t have time to pick up the kids… who can help us?’ ‘I am very stressed about this assignment due in tomorrow.’ These are all very normal thinking patterns, albeit anxiety is often caused from thinking about the past or the future. We rarely take a breath, pause life and appreciate the here and now. In this article we will learn more why people often have a feeling of not being in the present, we will learn more on how to be more present and how to be more in the moment. Living in the present moment more often can help us create meaningful moments with others, find more meaning and purpose in our life and can also significantly reduce our levels of stress.
Before we begin here are some be present quotes to help you gain perspective.
“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. (The past doesn’t exist anymore and the future is just a projection of the mind). Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.”Eckhart Tolle
“Suffering usually relates to wanting things to be different than they are.”Allan Lokos
Feeling disconnected, or like you aren’t living in the moment?
Living in the present moment is not always that easy and like everything in life, it requires practice and discipline. Even myself as a mindfulness teacher, I have days when I have woken up after a poor nights sleep, I have a lot of work to get through, social obligations and an array of hectic duties to carry out. As we will learn below, acceptance is a key part of our health and well-being and for helping us to be present minded. The goal here is not to be constantly at peace and we cannot be happy all of the time; the idea here is to be aware of our thoughts and emotions, to focus more on our surroundings and focus on our conversations with others intently. We want to understand why we feel the way that we feel more deeply, to not worry to much about the future nor ruminate on the past. We want to be able to appreciate the beauty around us and enjoy the here and now. We will have good days and bad days, but the more we practice being in the moment, the happier and healthier we can be.
Why you feel this way
A feeling of not being in the present can be rooted in many forms;
- Attaching our thoughts to things that we see can cause us to come out of being in the moment. If we see something and harshly judge it, an internal dialogue can start.
- Overthinking about the past or the future through anxiety.
- If we do not leave our ego at the door and look to learn from others, we can go into situations with a strong pre-judgment which prevents us from growing as a person and from being present minded.
- Lacking compassion for others can result in us not caring about their words or story, and thinking about important things to us instead.
- Guilt, shame and regrets can cause us to ruminate and fall into a depressive state.
These are just a few of many reasons we may not be mindful.
According to F. Diane Barth L.C.S.W some of the key reasons we can lack focus are;
“The things that make it hard to focus these past nine weeks will continue to make it hard to focus moving forward. On her blog on Medium, Paolo Bailey, a New York City-based psychologist, writes that there are five basic reasons for problems focusing: fatigue, stress, multi-tasking, boredom, and lack of challenge, and physical illness or injury. I would add that anxiety, depression, anger, sadness, and other powerful emotions, like the ones we’re experiencing these days in extra quantities, can also contribute to difficulty focusing.”
This is also important to understand as a lack of intention about where we are going in life can cause us to lose focus and our minds to drift, which can also prevent us from being in the present.
What you miss when you aren’t present
When we are being present minded we have a foundation to see things with more clarity. Of course, this is tinted by our view of the world and appraisal of situations, however we have a much stronger awareness of others and our surroundings. When we go for a walk we can appreciate trees, birds flying, bees hovering around flowers, nature in harmony. When we are speaking to a friend with strong eye contact and listening intently, we can become more aware of that person’s message and the deeper meaning behind their words; tonality and body language. During conversation, there will be many branches we can go down and we can observe areas where we can explore more depth and connection in the conversation. When we are in a deep meaningful conversation with someone it feels like a harmonious bubble is around us and we are very aware of what they are saying. In contrast, if we were half in a conversation thinking about the future, we may miss the chance for a deep connection and we may miss important facts that that person is sharing. If we were walking and glued to our phone we may miss inspiring views, opportunities to speak to people, awareness of new food places to visit or even exciting opportunities might be missed. reminiscing about past positive moments and also aspiring for the future are very healthy for us. This must however be in balance with being present minded more often. This is quite different to being anxious about the future or ruminating about the past.
How to be more present
Living in the present moment becomes easier with practice. We cannot be happy every second of the day, and it is important to focus on our future goals and also remember with humility and love past positive memories. Try to be more present each day, try to be more in the moment with conversations and try to be more mindful when walking through nature. There is no right or wrong or measured chart here; organically practice and enjoy the benefits.
How to be in the moment?
- Work on mindfulness – mindfulness exercises can help us to form positive relationships with our thoughts and emotions. Quite often we can ruminate over a negative thought process. When we begin to form a healthier relationship with our thoughts and emotions it enables us to let them go and focus on being present. Mindfulness is not the answer to everything, but is a practice that with time will help you be more in the moment.
- Get rid of distractions – Be fully intent in all that you do. If you are reading, then focus fully o reading. If you are having a conversation fully focus on that persons words and body language. If you are watching a film then focus fully on that film. Reply to your messages on your phone in set times and then leave your phone upstairs charging (check your phone every 1-2 hours in case you have an important call, but don’t continuously flick through it all day). Also be intent with social media, choose a set time once per day to upload your social media updates and reply to messages then actively choose to ignore it until the following day. Remove ‘junk television’ from your life (choose to actively watch a show but then choose to do something positive without randomly scrolling).
- Take breaks – Try to do things in 30-60 minute sections. Exercise, read, listen, walk and plan your day. We can all very likely find an extra 2 hours in our day for productive things that will benefit us if we remove social media and television scrolling. Create set times for important things in your day and give those things your full attention (or the best you can) for 30-60 minutes.
- Practice self-care -If we lack sleep and have a poor diet then our bodies can crave certain things and our energy levels can be very sporadic. If we are highly critical of ourselves and we do not have a healthy relationship with our self then this can lead us in becoming ‘stuck in our head,’ which in turn prevents us from being in the moment. Our article on self-care can give you some great tips on how to be kind to yourself – https://www.meaningfulpaths.com/posts/learn-to-love-you-the-importance-of-self-care/
- Understand your bodies needs – Continuing from self-care; if our bodies are getting a lack of sun light, a lack of sleep and a lack of exercise and nutrition it can cause our minds to ‘need.’ From this we can at times misunderstand a low feeling and this can cause a cycle to reach for more comfort food or further caffeine etc. If we practice self-care and listen to our bodies and if we then take healthy action for our bodies needs; our mind and body will be more in tune and alignment with one another. This means less distractions and a clearer mind to be mindful and more present minded.
- Reflecting on your day – Journalling your thoughts before bed or in the evening can help us to out things into perspective and help us to sleep better. If we do not resolve our challenges and anxieties within our day, they will likely carry over and grow further during our sleep and into our next day. This is not to say we can always resolve our challenges within a day, but we can create a plan of action and choose to focus our attention on a positive future outlook.
As Vernon Sankey & Katey Lockwood discuss in their book The Way: Finding Peace in Turbulent Times;
“It is our own internal perception of every situation and our own state of inner peace that can either create or dissolve our anxiety. Changing our perception of any situation will reduce its negative impact. If we no longer consider it a problem, but an opportunity, we will have a more positive perception and will be better able to handle it. When there are no problems that cannot be resolved and turned to advantage, we can live (again) in peace and calm.”
A conclusion of thoughts
Do not put too much pressure on yourself, you don’t need to be a monk or constantly present minded. Organically practice each day and when you notice your mind drifting, try to focus your attention on something in the room with intent. practice self-care, practice compassion and care about others so that your connetions and attention come more naturally, put full focus in all that you do, leave your phone and distractions to a minimum and practice a good bed time routine with journalling as well.
Wishing you health and well-being.