December 18th 2011
During a book study recently, I had a question or comment from my pastor that really struck a nerve and it left me thinking about it for a while. It was along the lines of “How do you learn to be more present in everyday life?” It was a question that I certainly have never really spent much time thinking about it. I have some of my habits and behaviors that help me stay as present as I do and some of those may be obvious and some not. I also likely have a number of things that have developed out of those habits that I may not have ever really thought about before. And of course, there is then the enormous amount of distractions and things that prevent me from being present and only some of those things I purposefully control.
So, I thought I would start on this new topic for me by putting down some of the things that I’ve learned just from recent thinking about the subject regarding being present and some of the advantages of it.
Commit and set a Goal
Being more present or being more anything really in life starts by requiring some new commitment or choice that you want to behave a certain way. I think this is especially true about being present, since the rest of the world will so easily consume you and keep you from that, it has to be a conscious choice to really let it happen. Here are just a few ways you might make a choice to act on this.
- Put attention to small things around you
- Make unconscious actions something you notice. Breathing, heart rate, feelings in your toes, the top of your head, your tongue
- Imaging observing yourself from other people’s point of view, especially strangers or people who don’t know you that well
- Observe simple actions in others (how they hold their hands, open and closed body position, facial expressions, their breathing rate compared to yours)
- Match the communication style or behavior style of others (obviously without playing copycat though, you don’t want them to notice and be annoyed)
Practice by Planning Activities
Plan some regular activity to be a trigger point to become more present. You can train yourself to use these daily triggers as a reminder for jumping back to the present moment. For example, every time you get a drink, say hello to someone, stop at a red light, etc. Other activities that you can plan to practice in is a particular time of day. For some, this works best by setting aside 10 minutes in the morning or after supper in the evening or some time when you can take a few minutes and simply practice being present in your environment at that time. This combined with the triggers you have for the goals above will really help you find time to repeat and practice being present.
This seems to be the most difficult part of being present in today’s modern society. Everything around us is designed to distract us and bombard us with a bit more information. Whether it is our own mobile devices, our past times like television or the continual advertising we face, everything is hoping to catch just a moment of our time. These distractions individually are quite small but add them all together and you end up in a day to day cycle of jumping from every little thing immediately to the next, multitasking with ten things on the go at once and endlessly having things to check, read and respond to. All of these things keep you from being present and can easily be reduced with some dedicated choices and follow through. That follow through is eliminating some distractions. I recommend that you really look for some things you can completely get rid of, not just reduce or minimize, but completely eliminate. Personally, I choose a long time ago not to watch TV, ever. The commercials and distractions during any show are enough to drive me crazy and can really no longer stand any advertising. Instead of watching TV, I get some TV series that I like either on Netflix or on DVD, without the commercials. The shows end up being MUCH more enjoyable as I can watch them whenever I want and without the horrid commercials. I watch movies as well and don’t miss for a second any wasted time watching TV. That leaves me a lot more time to focus on other things, think about being present in other activities and it helps to train my mind to find other distractions I can eliminate.
One other distraction I’ve eliminated is answer a phone when I’m in a conversation with someone already. I want to always focus on the conversation and person at hand and don’t like distractions. To me, its simply good phone etiquette to put it on silent at all times and never interrupt someone to check or answer your phone. At work, as an engineering manager, I have a lot of people I am in meetings with each week, my directs, my project teams and the executive team; it makes no difference to me who, I never stop or interrupt a conversation to be distracted by a phone. Do the same with your friends and family, and the phone can be an easy distraction to eliminate. Voice mail is there for a reason, use.
Next is then knowing to forget the past. Often, what keeps us from being present in the now, is things we are thinking about that already happened, especially with other people. You might be wondering about a person’s reaction to something that happened previously, like a comment made, or saying no to that last invite. If you dwell on those past things you will only make yourself more distant from being present now and so you must let it go and think about the now and what is, at the present.
This occurs a lot because of things that hurt or broke a relationship and it prevents the present from ever becoming dominant, which is what you need for any good relationship to thrive. Let go of past issues, concerns and worries and think about what you want the now to be like, what could make the present the best and start working toward that.
Ignore the Future
On the flip side of the past, often the future is what blocks us from being present and it surfacing because of thinking about what might happen, or what a person may think if you do or say a certain thing. The social ties we have often block being present because we know someone else might say something or hear something about what we are doing now. Being present helps leave those concerns out of mind and let the moments and the people immediately around you be your focal point. Enjoy what is right there in front of you and let the future be an unknown, something to experience when it gets here and don’t concern yourself so much with unlikely consequences. You obviously can’t always be in the moment and thinking in the present or your future could slip past without ever having plans or hopes fulfilled, but ignoring the future when you want to enjoy the present is one of the best things you can do.
I hope this article left you thinking as well about how to be more present and living in the moment and its likely an article I should right more on. I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on the topic!