My greatest passion is empowering others to improve their quality of life and achieve their goals by choosing healthy thoughts and habits.
Why Strive to Live in the Present Moment?
I am a strong believer that a great amount of joy is missed when we are focusing on a different time or place instead of living in the now. When we are thinking of how things used to be or how they could be in the future, we are unable to see the sources of joy in our current surroundings.
I'm not advocating ignorance of the lessons of the past or suggesting we naively quit planning for the future, but I am saying that an increased focus on what's going on in the present moment can often be a blessing in our lives.
I once read that if we mastered living in the present moment that almost all anxiety and depression would completely disappear. I'm not one of those people who denies the reality of emotional disorders such as anxiety and depression, and I'm not going to promise that living in the present will completely banish these difficulties from your life, but I do think that it has the potential to help.
Anxiety stems from worrying too much about what could go wrong in the future. Does the worrying help things go any better than they would have if we weren't worrying? Not at all! Focusing on where we are now can help us to leave anxieties about the future behind.
We become depressed when we are so focused on what our lives could be that we don't notice the good that already surrounds us. Whether we are wishing we were back in the good old days or wondering whether there will ever be better days to come, we are missing the good in today and looking for ways that we can make life better for ourselves and others in the present.
Again, I'm not suggesting that living in the present can remedy every emotional difficulty, but I do believe that in a lot of cases it can help.
What Does Living in the Present Moment Look Like?
Many people are so accustomed to letting their mind live in a far-off time or place that they might struggle to picture what living in the present moment would look like, so here are a few ideas for you.
When you are living in the present moment, your mind is focused on what's going on now. You are conscious of how you are feeling now. You notice the details of what's going on around you right now.
For me, one of the most refreshing aspects of living in the present moment is that generally when I'm focusing on the now, worry is far from me. The only time that I become overcome by worry is in the rare moment that I'm actually experiencing a crisis. Fortunately, actual crises are much rarer than the opportunities to worry about them.
Living in the present moment could mean you really listen to what is being said when people talk to you and even notice details about people's facial features like the unique color of their eyes. That might sound obvious, but if you consciously try to notice those kinds of details, you will be amazed at how much you've been oblivious to in the past.
You may become keenly aware of the sounds around you whether they be city sounds like sirens and horns honking, nature sounds like wind in the trees and raindrops on the roof, home sounds like the giggle of a child (or in my case the snore of a dog), or office sounds like the quiet hum of your computer.
Your food might start to taste better, and you might make healthier food choices, because you are more conscious of what you are eating.
In general, you will be more in tune with yourself and your surroundings as you learn to really be present.
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Some Tips for Being Present
Most of us aren't accustomed to really living in the present moment, and it can be something that takes practice. That being said, I'll give you some tips to help you get started.
- See in the present moment. Focus on seeing the colors around you. Make an effort to notice the color of people's eyes and hair. Notice the colors of the walls of your office or wherever you spend your time. Notice the color of plants and of the sky.
- Taste your food in the present moment. I love this one! Focus on the distinct flavors of your food. Don't try to multitask by watching TV, perusing social media, or working while you eat. Just sit back and enjoy and you will fall in love with eating again. I'm not talking about mind-numbing binges on junk food and unconsciously eating, because it's just what you do or it's a way to deal with boredom or pain. I'm talking about eating with gratitude for life-giving nutrients and great foods that are bursting with flavor. In fact, you will likely find yourself eating more moderate amounts and eating healthier, as you become more conscious of what and why you are eating.
- Feel in the present moment. Notice the textures of your clothes, the warmth of your shower, the cool breeze on your skin. Notice the soreness of muscles after a workout, the comfort of your bed after a long day. Notice your emotions, whatever they may be in the moment and validate yourself for them. Celebrate your joy, but allow yourself to experience sadness and frustration as well. All of these emotions are real and need to be addressed in positive ways. If you don't like how you are feeling, what positive choices could you make that might improve your mood?
- Focus on your breathing. How does it feel? How does it sound? Anytime you are focusing on your breathing, you can give yourself a pat on the back knowing that you are successfully focusing on the now.
It can be overwhelming to try to incorporate all of these aspects of living in the present at once, so it could be an idea to focus on one at a time. Maybe spend a day or a week on each of these, and then gradually add another aspect of living in the present after you're feeling comfortable with the previous ones. You can send yourself reminders on your phone throughout the day to keep you focused on your goals. For example, a quick reminder saying, "What colors surround you?" a few times a day could do the trick.
I've included a great video below from life coach, Elysha Maughan, if you are looking for a way to quickly get yourself living in the present.
A Great Exercise to Get Into the Present Moment! Enjoy!
How Living in the Present Moment Improved My Quality of Life
I've been working on living in the present moment for years. I told you it takes time and practice right? Even after years of practice, I'm still not perfect at it. That being said, I'm getting better, and recently I was able to really notice some of the benefits in my life.
In the past, I've had a tendency to get anxious about big vacations. My husband and I had a big trip planned last year that included a week in Mexico and several days in California.
Most people would say I should have been excited, but between worries about finances, stories about Mexico being dangerous, and having my in-laws as travel companions, my anxiety level about this trip was through the roof pretty much from the first day the idea of the vacation had been conceived.
Then something changed. Over the course of several weeks, I practiced mindfulness using some of the tips I listed above, and I realized that my anxiety was gone. I was so involved with what I was currently doing that there was no room in my mind for worrying about the upcoming trip.
Admittedly, I wasn't particularly excited about the trip, but I didn't worry about the lack of excitement either. I knew that by living in the present moment when the time for my vacation arrived, I would love every moment of it one day at a time.
This might seem like no big deal, but to me, it was a huge victory in many ways. Not only was I able to leave my anxiety behind, but every single day of my vacation was a blast and far exceeded my expectations.
Beautiful, Vibrant Sunset at Sunset Beach, CA
Contrasting Living in the Present Moment and Living in the Future
One of the highlights of my trip was watching a sunset at the beach in California. The smoke from nearby wildfires had created a spectacular sunset with vibrant colors beyond description.
I sat on the beach without moving for almost a full hour listening to and watching the waves crash on the shore as the sky transitioned from a pale blue to scarlet, purple, and orange. I breathed in a sense of serenity with each breath, and I felt rejuvenated and energized.
In fact, the only brief break in the tranquility I felt that evening was when I let my mind slip from the present moment and instead thought about how in the future I'd like a memento of this beautiful night. I got annoyed that I couldn't get a picture taken with my husband, because he was walking along the beach looking for shells.
Worrying about not having a picture of my husband and me to reminisce over in the future was enough to steal the beautiful gift that the present moment had to offer. I became irritated with my husband for not reading my mind and knowing I wanted him by my side. This irritation quickly overcame the joy and peace I'd previously been experiencing.
I'm not mentioning this instance to beat myself up over losing focus on the present. I just want to point out that the joy of the present moment is quickly crowded out when we worry about the future. That being said, the inverse is also true. The sorrows of the past and worries of the future are quickly crowded out when we focus on the joy of the present moment.
Practice Makes Perfect
As I mentioned before, living in the present takes practice, but it is definitely worth the effort it takes to make this a mental habit.
I recently read a quote from Robert Puller that I really liked. He said, "Good habits, once established, are just as hard to break as . . . bad habits."
Gradually work on creating the habit of living in the present, and pretty soon it will become so much a part of you that it will be harder to break the habit than to keep it.
© 2018 Rebecca Young
Rebecca Young (author) from Renton, WA on January 06, 2018:
Thanks for sharing your experience Carolyn. That is such a perfect example! I love it! I think the idea of being able to put things away into mental "boxes" is such a great tool also. It can take practice, but is so worth it.
Carolyn Fields from South Dakota, USA on January 06, 2018:
Excellent hub, thank you. I remember on a vacation a few years ago, I had left home with a work project unfinished. I took my laptop with me, in hopes of making progress while on the trip. After the first couple of days, I realized that I was destroying my vacation. From that moment forward, I put my project in a mental "box" and focused just on the trip. I was SO MUCH happier. Some people never realize this. Thank you for calling attention to this important truth.