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“Everyone agrees it’s important to live in the moment, but the problem is how,” says Ellen Langer, a psychologist at Harvard and author of Mindfulness. “When people are not in the moment, they’re not there to know that they’re not there.” Overriding the distraction reflex and awakening to the present takes intentionality and practice.” [Dixit:2008].
This is true. Living in the now rarely comes easy to anyone. I, for one, have a mind that jumps from idea to idea and thought to thought incessantly. I think if I moved around as much as my mind does, I’ll be the fittest person in the whole world!
It is, unfortunately, the ‘sickness’ of our times. You cannot just focus on work. While you are there you are constantly distracted by phone calls, colleagues dropping in with assignments or just to chat, and that is just the things you experience while you sit behind your desk. Behind your forehead your mind is busy ALL THE TIME: must pick up the kids at two, what will be for lunch/dinner, remember the present for Mom, oh and it’s Valentine’s Day….roses, wine, chocolates for hubby, etc, etc and so on and so forth. No wonder we suffer from exhaustion and terminal depression!
‘In the now’ seems impossible, doesn’t it? Well, let me share a secret with you; while you are so busy overthinking everything, planning and plotting your next move or mulling over past mistakes, life is passing you by. You are MISSING EVERYTHING that goes on around you!
Dixit’s article in Psychology Today gives a few tips on how to practice your ‘now-mindset’ . I’m writing a shorter version for your reading pleasure, but you should really read the full article here.
Below a summary of some pointers for those of us having trouble taming our unruly thoughts:
- Stop being so self-conscious.
Do not overthink what you are doing now. Just let go and DO it. If you are, for instance, asked to draw a picture of a flower. Don’t fret about the type, what colour, what medium, how big or small, just GET ON WITH IT! Grab what you have at hand and draw that flower, you may surprise yourself and, who knows, even ENJOY what you did for a change!
- Enjoy the moment.
Stop worrying about the future or the past. Let it go and enjoy what you have NOW, here, this moment. If you are, for instance, on the beach, you might think: “The weather is so beautiful, I hope tomorrow will be so sunny too.” While this thought may seem innocent enough, it has already re-focused your mind to what is going to happen tomorrow. While you are fretting about this, the beautiful day at the beach is passing you by and you are MISSING OUT!
- Just BREATHE!
Meditation experts and yogis alike know this. Focus on your breathing to bring your thoughts back to the present. Breathing helps us to reconsider things. It may be that you are having a disagreement with a colleague or you are stuck with a maths problem, whatever it is, if you just close your eyes for a second and BREATHE, your mind will literally reorganize itself and bring everything back to ‘the now’. You will be able to think clearer and, by focusing on breathing, all other distractions will disappear.
- Flow with the moment.
What is meant by ‘flow’? Well, in short, it means being so involved with something you are doing that you lose track of time. Flow means you are focusing on the task at hand, without even noticing distractions. Dixit mentions the example of a pianist, who will focus on a piece of music, setting himself a goal of finishing the first few bars, then the next and he will immediately hear if he makes a mistake. For him nothing else but the piano and the music exist.
You can do this too by consciously focusing on getting things done, one little bit at a time and actively avoiding distractions.
- Accept what is wrong in your life.
Ask yourself this question: if something in my life is so terrible that I cannot possibly change it without enormous effort, should I allow it to spoil my enjoyment of life as a whole? The secret is to understand that your emotions connected with a bad situation is real, it is there, lingering in your mind. Recognize it and accept it, but do not let it tease you into thoughts of despair. You can still enjoy every moment, even with bad things going on.
That bad thing is not happening NOW, is it?? It is normal to have moments of sadness or anxiety about that which we cannot control, but focusing all your thoughts and energy on those negative emotions will do no good. An example may be a car accident. Say, for instance, you and your family are in an accident. The car is written off, but you guys are fine. Yes, you can get all depressed about the wrecked car, worry about the insurance claim, the time you may spend without a car while yours is getting fixed, this is all normal. You may feel sad, upset and anxious, but don’t let those negative thoughts overpower the fact that your family is fine, without a scratch, IN THIS MOMENT! That is something to celebrate, don’t you agree?
- Engage with the moment.
I’ve experienced this many times over the years. You’re on autopilot and do things that you are not even aware of. Sometimes when driving, I will end up somewhere and not be able to recall the drive there. Or I’ll do chores at home and end up with a clean house, but no memory of the day. I zoned out completely! This may sound very funny (and it actually is, in a way), but it is also very disturbing to lose an entire day.
We should practice to engage with every moment of our lives. While driving somewhere, look at your surroundings, you may be pleasantly surprised about the view you’ve been missing all this time. When you clean your house, look at the items you’re dusting, appreciate them for a change. Remember, some of the items have stories attached to them and you should enjoy them for what they represent in your life.
I know what you will be saying: “This sounds like work.” Well, that’s the fun part! Being in the now is not work at all. Yes, it takes some practice to change your busy mind habit, but you can start immediately, with small things.
Where ever you are now, just stop for a minute and breathe, take in the scenery, be thankful you’re alive, appreciate the sunshine outside. That, my friends, is all it takes.
You don’t need to bend and shape your life around this ‘new’ idea. Living in the now doesn’t mean setting goals and reaching for the stars. You don’t have to look for it or strive to achieve it, because you are already there.
Do yourself a favour and read the full article by Jay Dixit here.
DIXIT, Jay. 2008. The Art of Now: Six Steps to Living in the Moment. [Web:] https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200811/the-art-now-six-steps-living-in-the-moment [Date of Access:] February 14, 2018. [Short link: bit.ly/1RJmwrb]
MENDOZA, Omar. 2014. The power of the now. [Web:] https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20141030214042-195965566-the-power-of-the-now/ [Date of access:] February 14, 2018 [Short link: bit.ly/2EDjarX]