It seems like it’s more difficult now than ever to just enjoy the moment. We’re constantly bombarded with stimuli and for better or worse we’re always connected. These conveniences, however, come with a price: our attention. And when we live in this stream of entertainment and stress, it’s hard to make sure we’re actually in our lives, acknowledging the present and experiencing the now for what it is—the only time we truly have.
We’ve listed 5 tips below to help you stay in the present, but these are merely exercises that will help strengthen your mind’s ability to quiet the cacophony of thoughts rushing through your head. The ability to live in the now is not something you have to learn; rather it’s something you have to remember. So if you try these tips out and still struggle with distraction, don’t beat yourself up over it. Just relax, breathe, and know that you’ll get there. It’s just a matter of letting go.
1. Stop analyzing everything—including your thoughts. When your neighbor doesn’t say hello back, or your significant other passes on a night on the town, it probably doesn’t mean they hate you. Maybe your neighbor didn’t hear you, and maybe your significant other was tired. Just ask, and then let it go. It’s impossible to get inside someone else’s mind, and when we try, we’re more likely to create false problems and anxiety than we are to actually understand their motives.
The same goes for your own thoughts. Instead of trying to deduce why you had an errant thought or why you’re feeling anxious, just stop thinking. It’s been proven the more we ruminate on a problem the larger it becomes, and we’ve wasted time we could have been proactively trying to solve the issue. So the next time a friend ignores you or you’re lying awake at night stressing about your finances, STOP! And just be.
2. Put your phone down. We’re all guilty of this one. We’re out to dinner with friends and we can’t help but check our email or Facebook. Why? We’re not having dinner with our phone, so why are we letting it steal our attention? The answer is anxiety. We’re anxious that something is happening without us, or maybe we’re masking our social anxiety with aimless browsing and fidgeting. The first step in living in the moment is removing these unnecessary, inhibiting distractions. So put that phone down and just maybe you’ll see that what’s going on around you is pretty special.
3. Do one thing at a time. We are multitasking machines. We watch TV while we browse the Internet. We participate in conference calls while we drive. But are we doing either of these things well?
When we split our attention, we’re doing just that: splitting our brainpower between two tasks. Now if these tasks are chewing gum and walking, then we’re probably doing ok, but when we split our attention between let’s say listening to our child and wrapping up an email, the truth is we’re not doing either as well as we could because we’re not giving either task the benefit of the now.
So when you have something to do, whether it be hold a conversation or fill out a spreadsheet, focus your attention on one task, do it well, and then move on to the next.
4. Choose your perspective (and emotions). Have you ever heard someone say, “You’re just making me so mad”? What a silly statement, right? Because we all know emotions are not a wet blanket that someone can throw over us; then why do we allow other people to influence how we use our emotions?
Let’s step back a bit for now and consider perspective. Our perspective is the lens with which we view the world. It’s how we filter information and draw conclusions about our reality. Think of your perspective as cup with the bottom cut out, and think of the world as a painting. In this painting there are beautiful, serene brushstrokes, but there are also spots with chaotic, violent splatters. When we hold our cup up to view this painting, we’re limited in what we can see; however, many times we forget that we have the power to move the cup, to change our perspective.
The problem, though, is no one can move the cup for us; it’s in our hand. So if we find ourselves focusing on the negative, it’s up to us to change our perspective, which doesn’t happen over night. But one step in shifting perspective is to take ownership of our emotions. When you have feelings of anger, anxiety, or any other unwanted emotion, acknowledge the emotion and then consciously choose if you want to accept and experience that emotion, or if it’s unconstructive and better off released. Remember, the only way the world weighs you down is if you put it on your shoulders.
5. Focus on your breathing. Sounds ridiculous, right? Why do we need to focus on breathing? It happens all on it’s own, without us even having to think about it!
Well, that’s true, but when we focus on our breathing it causes us to slow down and our mind gets a break from the constant stream of thoughts. So when you feel distracted, overwhelmed, or stressed, just do this simple exercise: breathe.