When my son was born, I was given lots of advice. One suggestion I remember distinctly was, “stay present.” I blew the comment off, at the time, thinking, “Well, of course.” But it’s so easy to be physically present and mentally elsewhere.
When you read, read. When you exercise, exercise. When you work, work. A practice that’s so simple, yet so hard to do. I’m never doing or thinking about just one thing. When I’m with my young son, I’m thinking about the next time he needs to eat or sleep, or something I need to do. Instead of sleeping, I think about things I’m worried about. I’m often preoccupied, wondering how I could have handled something better. In summary, I’m terrible at being present. And it’s the root of a lot of suffering.
I was told long ago that there is only suffering when we’re not present. If we’re worried about the past or the future, we’re elsewhere. Be in the here and now, and there is nothing to worry about. I just wish it wasn’t so hard to do.
I’m working at this ‘being present’ thing, and there are a few things that I find help. I hope they help you too.
- Don’t carry your phone with you all the time. I don’t carry my phone with me when I’m with my son. That time is ours. The phone is a distraction for both of us.
- Set an alarm (on your hidden phone) 10 minutes before something needs to end. I set an alarm on my phone, which is away or face down, 10 minutes before I need to leave lunch, etc. with a friend. That ensures I’m on time for my next commitment and focused on the conversation versus being concerned about being late.
- Deal with what is weighing on you. If you’re worried about your finances, health, or a deadline, act. Ask for help. Do something to move closer to your goal.
- Have a conversation you know you need to have. If there is something left unsaid and it’s weighing on you, pick up the phone and speak up.
- Don’t over commit. Over committing is sure way to be stressed, unhappy, and not present.
Lots of people set New Year’s goals or resolutions. Mine is simple. I want to worry less and enjoy more. I want to live in the present.
The first time my now eleven-month old son stood up in his crib, I didn’t see it. I was sitting in his room watching him at the time. I was literally watching him in his crib, and yet I didn’t notice when he stood up for the first time. I wasn’t looking at my phone or talking with someone else. It was just he and I in the room, and yet I was so distracted with whatever I was thinking about, I didn’t ‘see’ him stand up for the first time.
When he was born, I was given the advice to stay present. And I scoffed at that advice. Of course I would stay present.
Living in the present sounds so simple. When you walk, walk. When you eat, eat. When you work, work. We’ve all heard this advice, and yet, it’s so hard to do.
Before having a baby, I would lie awake in bed at night worrying about the vendor who wasn’t the right fit, a decision I needed to make, or something I needed to finish. Now I think about those things when I’m ‘with’ my son – watching him, but not seeing.
If we’re thinking about anything other than then what we’re doing, we’re not living in the present moment. Instead, we’re focused on either the past or the future. And this is where stress and anxiety live. If we only think about what’s happening now, it’s impossible to be stressed, anxious, or worried. The question is how to stay present when our brains want to do anything but.
Here are seven strategies for living in the present moment:
Live in the present strategy one: Write down everything you need to do, so you can free your brain from thinking about it.
Live in the present strategy two: Don’t over commit or over plan. Plan days with a schedule that you can easily achieve. Over committing causes stress and worry.
Live in the present strategy three: Only commit to do things you really plan (and at least in your personal life, really want) to do.
Live in the present strategy four: Give yourself a limited and prescribed time to talk about a problem and/or to worry about it. When the time is up, let it go and think about something else. Ask the people around you to help hold to this time limit. If you bring the topic up in conversation, ask your colleagues to point out that you’re still focused on the problem and refuse to have the conversation with you.
Live in the present strategy five: Remind yourself (from moment to moment) to be present. When I’m with my son, I remind myself to really be with him and not thinking about or doing something else.
Live in the present strategy six: Compartmentalize your time. Determine how long you’re going to do something, and only do that activity during that time period. When the time is up, move on to something else. When I’m not with clients, I spend half of each workday with my son. And when I’m with him, I don’t have my phone so I’m not tempted to check my email. When I’m with him, I’m really with him.
Live in the present strategy seven: Leave your phone some place you can’t see it. We are addicted to these little people separators. I find that one of the only ways I don’t check my phone, is not to carry the phone with me.
Being in the present moment requires discipline. If you want to feel more peaceful and less stressed, think only about what you’re doing. Let everyone else worry about the rest.