What’s the best way to just live in the moment?
How can I be more mindful and enjoy the present?
It seems like the answer to any problem these days is learning how to live in the moment.
Not dwelling on the past, and not off planning or day dreaming about the future.
Being present and living in THIS very moment. Where are you now?
Whether it’s stress, anxiety, irritable bowel syndrome… (yep you read right— just about any problem that you can think of), the solution suggested always seems to be getting back into that present moment.
As absurd as this might sound, (especially to the skeptics that dismiss “self-help” books as woo-woo nonsense :D), living in the moment does hold extreme power over your mental and physical health. Trust me, I am living proof!
My Journey to Living in the Present
I have 10+ years’ experience in emotional distress and am very “well-versed” in anxiety, depression and just about anything mental-health related…oh dear! Fortunately, today I am happy to say that I’ve grown to be the very opposite of who I was, and almost all of the credit has to go to this shift in mentality I adopted that taught me exactly how to live in the moment.
I still distinctly remember the phrase I was reading about 5 years ago that all of a sudden just shed pure light:
“Life is now. There was never a time when your life was not now, nor will there ever be” (p.49, The Power of Now).
Eckhart Tolle in his book The Power of Now, had this way of writing that drew me in immediately and the whole way through the book I was always nodding “yep, definitely am guilty of that.”
So why did this phrase have such an effect on me? Well, I realized that it was my way of experiencing time that was causing me to suffer… say whaaaat?… Let me elaborate.
Stop Worrying About the Future
What causes most of our emotional distress can be narrowed down to two concepts: the past and the future.
Anxiety, for example, usually implies worrying—worrying to death about things in an obsessive cyclical thought process. The feeling is terrible, and it can get so acute that you start to actually get anxious about being anxious… pretty twisted right?
- Well here’s the thing, you can only be worried about something that hasn’t happened yet right?
- But, what if I fail? What if I can’t make my deadline? If I don’t get along with my new colleague?
- What if my mother-in-law drives me nuts when she visits? (wait, that’s a legitimate thought… jk!).
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Or you can have even worse thoughts, thoughts that don’t pertain to anything tangible but refer to some sort of hypothetical situation such as: Am I a bad person? Maybe I’m not strong enough to accomplish this, and so forth.
If we analyze these thoughts, we can see that they all revolve around speculation, the famous ‘what if?’ It is exactly this that tortures us- not knowing how things will unfold.
But here is the thing: if you worry about it now, can it change or condition the actual outcome? What you do now can only and I repeat only directly influence your now. So, if you worry about it now, you are only helping to make your present a miserable one- the future doesn’t exist remember.
Stop Living in the Past
Focusing on the past is also highly problematic. Guilt, remorse, … these are all emotions that are tied to something that has already happened and that no longer exists.
In the case of the classic should’ve would’ve could’ves, again you are projecting yourself in a time-frame that no longer pertains to you, that you no longer have control over.
There is nothing that you can do to change the past, unless you have a time machine. What you CAN do instead is take what happened, learn from it, and the next time a similar situation comes up (in the present), use your newfound lesson.
In the case of pity-thoughts, feeling sorry for yourself, or nostalgia, again you are directing your energy to things that have already come and gone. This continued focus on negative feelings will only foster an even greater state of misery.
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So why not focus on feeling better or experiencing some of those things that you actually are nostalgic for in the first place? The only way to do that is to come back to reality, to the present where you can actively experience things, implement changes, make memories, and truly feel emotions.
Being Present is Being Timeless
Life doesn’t stop- EVER. That is actually the beauty of life! When you are truly IN it, living it to the max, you are in a state of ‘timelessness’.
When you are stuck in your thoughts, you are essentially stuck in time and in a whole other parallel dimension that is NOT real. While you focus all your energy on these imaginary and highly negative situations, your life continues to go on and you miss out on all the opportunities that you actually CAN experience in the present moment.
So why not just drop everything and just BE?
How to Live in the Moment: Changing your Mindset
So, I know what I just discussed is not news to any of you and that I make it seem so simple… just hit the switch and focus on the present helloooooo! Well I know from personal experience that as ironic as it may be, living in the present and learning how to live in the moment is actually one of the hardest things to put into practice.
I try to repeat to myself every day that the only real moment in my life every single day is the one I’m actually in right now, in this case as I write.
That is the only moment I can (to a great extent) control, experience, and enjoy. Everything else is just a fabrication and brings unwanted negative energy that I have no time for. I mean I only have one life; only GREAT things make it into my schedule.
So exactly HOW do you stop living in the past or the future and start re-focusing on the present?
How do You Stay Present in the Moment?
Everybody is talking about this “present,” but no one is really explaining how to live in the moment and achieve this nirvana-life existence. For every person, different things will work.
Over the years I have found various methods to help me remain present or guide me back to the present. These strategies have truly helped me filter my life from negative energy and have allowed me to focus only on the here and now.
5 Simple Strategies for Living in the Moment
#1. Get in Tune with Your Senses
When you are lost in thought the first thing that goes out the door is your ability to pick up on your senses.
Have you ever booked a massage and then the whole time throughout been lost in thought?? How horrible, not only did you miss out on relaxing, but you also just wasted at least 50 bucks!! This is exactly when you need to come back to reality and focus on your senses.
Here are some questions to ask to use your senses to live in the moment:
- What are you feeling?
- How heavy does your body feel?
- What position is your body in- how are your arms or legs?
- What are you smelling? Is it oils?
- How warm or cold are your feet under the wrapped towels?
- What music is playing- is it the sound of the rain?
- How relaxed do you feel? How is the pressure?
Even just asking these questions right now, wherever you are, can help you become aware of your surroundings. Tune in with your sense of smell, taste, sight, touch, and sound.
Use Your Senses to Become More Present
I know this might sound stupid or something that you do in 2 minutes and then be done with, but that’s exactly the point; to consciously focus on something that we otherwise don’t give importance to or that we “notice” on a subconscious level. We want to stop doing things subconsciously and make everything we do or think about a conscious effort that we give 100% of our attention to.
This method works extremely well because you are forced to interrupt whatever you are doing and/or thinking in order to engage your senses. When your senses are active, you are present. When you are present, you are not lost in thought.
Engaging your senses works well with any situation. Are you folding your clothes and lost in thought? What does the laundry smell like and how soft is it? What does it feel like under your fingertips? These sensorial stimuli are only available in the present moment. Again, I realize this might sound super dumb and absurd, but it works… just try it!
#2. Take 5 Minutes of Mindful Meditation
Now when I say meditate, I don’t mean an hour session of intricate meditation principles. What I mean is taking those 5/10 minutes to refocus on the NOW.
Similar to the previous point, meditation also focuses a great deal on self-awareness with a particular focus on breathing. Here’s how:
- Let everything in your surroundings trickle out and begin to focus on your inhalation and exhalation.
- Listen to your breathing.
- Take deep breaths trying to inhale all the way into your diaphragm.
- Feel your ribcage expand and retract.
A fantastic little pocket book that helped me become more aware of myself and master the art of breathing is Invitation to Meditation by Jack Kornfield. Each page gives a little exercise with an example of how to live in the moment or how to come back to the present- a very easy read; perfect for a mindful morning!
#3. Observe and Win Over Your Thoughts
As you can read in my post How to Become the Protagonist in Your Life, your thoughts can assume an identity of their own. It’s as if you have two identities, one that over anxiously analyzes everything to pieces (the mind), and the other identity (you) that sits there helplessly enslaved by the unwanted thoughts.
The trick here is to get back into the driver’s seat and to tame that mind. Notice when the mind starts to take over and recognize the thoughts it is making. By just being aware you are in a sense not giving in to the mind. So how do you win it over and come back to the present?
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Many strategies work for different people. The best one that works for me is “distraction”. As soon as I recognize an intrusive thought I completely focus on something else. The funniest distraction I have used in the past was singing… yes, singing!
I used to have this recurring thought that I would obsess over. It honestly would just creep up on me and then torture me for hours. I had no idea how to beat this thought until one day I talked about it with my sister. She very humorously suggested that every time I noticed I was thinking of it to start singing the ABCs. As absurd as that is, out of desperation I actually tried it :D.
#4. Prioritize and Just Let it Go
As much as it sounds impossible, you can CHOOSE which thoughts you have and which you don’t have. During the day we have 350532532 things to do, and 10 times as many thoughts that come through. We don’t have time to waste on thoughts that are not founded on concrete grounds; i.e. hypothetical thoughts.
Just as you prioritize your day in tasks, prioritize your thoughts. Typically, thoughts will mimic whatever activities you are doing that day.
Example: you are participating in a medical work conference and will be giving a speech. And my thoughts were:
- A. What cues should I write on my note-cards for my speech?
- B. What am I going to make for dinner tonight?
- C. I can’t believe I messed up the surgeon’s name- am I going to get fired?
- D. If this speech doesn’t go well what am I going to do? What if I lose my job?
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Let’s analyze these thoughts:
- A. is the only one that is relevant to the situation at hand.
- B. is something that you can think of when you get home.
- C. is in the past, oh well, there is nothing you can do about it, move on. Plus, is it really that life-changing? If it’s not important, lose the thought.
- D. is completely hypothetical, not only is it draining but it’s only going to make you feel more nervous and foster more negative energy.
So as a general rule, if the thought is: 1) NOT directly related to what you are doing at that moment, 2) hypothetical, 3) something you won’t remember a week from now, or 4) something you have no control over, let it go – it is not important or irrelevant to living in the present moment.
#5. Get Back to Nature
A great way to get back into the present moment is to immerse yourself in nature. There is something so grandiose and powerful about it. Whenever I just sit and listen to nature I get this great feeling of oneness with the universe.
I know that must sound so hippie-dippy, but really, I find such comfort into listening to the waves hit the shore, or the leaves rustle in the wind. As I lie in stillness, my surroundings embrace me, and I can’t help but feel so small. Not small in a negative way; small in the sense that whatever feelings I may have, or whatever thoughts I might be worrying about, in perspective become insignificant.
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The repeating sounds remind me that time never stops regardless of what I’m going through. The comfort that I find I think is related to the fact that I feel like I can always count on nature- count on her to remind me that living is essentially being timeless and that whatever happens, it can’t be so big as compared to life in its entirety.
Wow, I definitely didn’t think this last section was going to come out sounding so flower power haha, but I really do think that connecting with nature helps to focus on the present – on beauty, on peace, on this true wonder that we call life.
Become Timeless and Enjoy The Present
The truth is that living in the moment is no easy topic to tackle. Our minds, unfortunately, can be very good at keeping us depressed or worried and stuck in a whirlwind of thoughts. The good news is, that if properly stimulated, our minds also have the power to help us break out of that cycle and become timeless, or in other words present.
I still work on this every single day. Some days it is super easy and I just feel super fierce like nothing can affect me because I am just so much more energized on the NOW. Other days I kind of drag myself around like Sadness from the movie Inside Out :D.
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But ultimately it gets easier and easier, the more present and less stressed you start feeling the less tolerant you are going to become of nonsense thoughts that bring you down. You’ll see, with patience and practice you will actually smell that coffee in the morning, and when you get super good at being in the present, that coffee smell might even have the ability to completely change your day!
Before you start focusing on the present, let’s review all you’ve learned about mindfulness. You learned:
- How to stop worrying about the future and living in the past,
- The benefits of being timeless and enjoying the present,
- How to change your mindset and live in the moment
- Five strategies for living in the present moment including:
- Getting in tune with your senses
- Taking five minutes for mindful meditation
- Observing and winning over your thoughts
- Prioritizing and just letting go
- Get back to nature
Let me know which “how to live in the moment strategy” works for you and please share in the comments your journey back to the present life! Happy Thoughts!
With these five strategies, you can stop worrying about the future, leave the past behind and live in the moment! Not just that, just by being in this present moment, actually enjoying the right now!
How do you live in the moment and enjoy the present?
More About Guest Contributor
Linda Faison is a young blogger at La Dolce Fit Vita on a mission to show and encourage women that anything is possible. A firm believer in ‘You Only Live Once’, you can find her adventuring somewhere off in Europe living life to its magical limits.
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