Living in the present may very well be one of the most powerful tools for living your best life once you start to practice it.
You see, many of us think we are living in the present, day after day, when the truth is that we are often more focused on the past and the future than on the present.
For many of us, the past becomes a pattern that is never meant to change.
Some previous life experience could be a reason for us to get stuck in the past. It becomes and absolute reference point for everything else in our life.
A bad break-up with a significant other, could be a reason to never trust or love anyone ever again.
Just a simple argument can cause people to get stuck in the past. They might hold a grudge and not speak to each other for years, to the point where they can’t even recall what triggered the disagreement in the first place.
Living in the present allows you to create a new identity by releasing the pain and the self-limiting thoughts from the past, and taking things one day at a time.
The flip side to getting stuck in the past is living in the future.
Most of us are so busy chasing the future of our dreams that we overlook the joys of the present. Even worse, if we don’t get what we think we desperately want, our life might seem ‘ruined’.
Look at all the pressure put on teens to get good grades so they can get into the college of their choice. If they don’t get in for any reason, they often feel as if they are failure or as if their life is ruined.
Outside stresses abound, but we place a lot of stress on ourselves due to all our expectations, thoughts and desires.
We spend so much time chasing after the future we want, that we fail to live in the now. Then we get frustrated and feel like a giant hamster running in a wheel all the time.
This constant doing instead of being, of living in the future, instead of living in the now, can cause anger and frustration to build. Very few of us are at our best when we are stressed and angry.
The truth is that your life unfolds moment by moment in the present. In the time it’s taken you to read that sentence, about 10 seconds have already passed into the past. By the time you finish, which might take about another 10 seconds, those future seconds will become the present, and then the past.
Understanding this can help you realize just how precious your time is, and how each present moment is the foundation to a happier future if you take time to live in the now.
So, How Can You Learn to Live in the Present?
There are many ways you can train yourself to cut links with the past and stop chasing the future so you can live in the present. This will mean some focus and effort, but the results will be well worth it.
1. Try Mindfulness Meditation.
Meditation takes many forms, but the most popular one, which is ideal for living in the present, is mindfulness meditation.
Start with simple breathing meditation, focusing on your breathing and not following any thoughts that arise, until you can count 60 breaths without getting distracted.
Once you have done this, try being more mindful of what is around you, the thoughts in your mind, the breeze in your hair. Try to push all other thoughts aside that don’t relate to the thing you are focusing on.
2. Give up the myth of multitasking
Multitasking is a dangerous myth that prevents people from practicing mindfulness and working effectively and efficiently from moment to moment. The truth is that the brain can’t work on two things at once. All it can do is switch back and forth between the two or more tasks really rapidly.
However, this means that at the end of an hour, for example, you’ve got 30 minutes of work done on two tasks, and they are likely to be half finished, compared with having worked on one thing at a time and completed it, then turned your full attention to the next chore on your list.
Multitasking is a time eater, and a time waster, that prevents you from living in the moment. One could even argue that it damages your chances of a better future because few of us do our best work when we are distracted.
3. Stop thinking the grass is greener
Many people fail to live in the now because they are constantly chasing after the future life they want and not making the most of the present life they have.
It’s easy to envy others, or try to keep up with the Joneses, but the more you have, the more cluttered your life can become.
For example, it is nice to have a lovely lawn, but it requires work and ongoing expense. And after all your efforts, you might still look over at your neighbor’s lawn and decide that their grass is somehow greener. It may be, but in the end, it’s all just grass. Make the most of the life you have, and love the life you live. It’s unique to you, because you are unique.
4. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude
If discontented thoughts start to creep in, think of 5 things you are grateful for in your life. You could be happy that your mother is such a difficult person because she helps you practice patience, or thank your boss for showing you how NOT to run a company.
You can also focus on positive things in your life, such as your wonderful spouse or the joys of chocolate ice cream.
5. Just do it, and pay attention while you do it
Don’t put off until tomorrow what you really want to do now. Sadly, everyone in the world dies with a to-do list. Carpe diem, as the Ancient Romans said. Seize the day.
Grab the opportunity and make the most of it. Feel the fear and do it anyway. Eat the chocolate ice cream and savor every mouthful. Delight in the way it feels so cool on your tongue, and so on. And if you are worried about gaining weight, walk around the block a few times to burn off the calories.
6. Stop judging
Humans tend to slap labels on things, good, bad, black, white, up, down. It is all a question of perspective.
If you and your friends are each standing on a different floor in the house, for the person on the top floor, up would be the ceiling or sky, and down would be the next floor. For the person on the bottom floor, down would be the basement, or the ground.
Accept that things are neither good nor bad, they just are. This is particularly important in relation to your thoughts. Don’t judge, just observe.
There’s no need to feel guilty about how much you detest your aunt. As long as you aren’t mean to her or say anything nasty, no harm is done.
On the other hand, you could be grateful to her for presenting you with problems that enable you to learn and grow as a person.
7. Your best is good enough
Most of us dread public speaking, but the truth is that the only way to get really good at it is to practice, to keep doing it over and over again until you improve.
With each opportunity for failure comes a chance for success, and a teaching moment, that is, a time in the present when you can learn valuable lessons and use them as the foundation for doing better next time.
You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to try your best. If you procrastinate at work because you are a perfectionist or worry about getting judged, remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be completed by your deadline.
8. Go with the flow
Most people have trouble going with the flow, that is, living life moment by moment and seeing what will happen. Type-A personalities and real control freaks will actually try to do the opposite. Instead of going with the flow, they will try to re-direct the river.
They might succeed up to a certain point, but the effort will be exhausting and the stress of trying to hold everything together so it doesn’t all just wash away can be overwhelming.
As the famous quote by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr says, “…grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
9. Make regular time for loved ones
One of the greatest things you can ever give to a loved one is the gift of yourself through the quality time you spend with them. If you’re all acting more like roommates than a married couple or a family, schedule family time regularly and enjoy it moment by moment.
Dinner is a great time to connect, catching up on each other’s day and discussing a range of interesting topics, which fosters open communication and enjoyment of the present moment.
Studies have shown that families who eat dinner together regularly are a lot closer than those who do not. They have also shown that the children in those families tend to be a lot less likely to experiment with alcohol, drugs, tobacco, and sex.
There’s really no greater gift we can give a loved one that to be present for them, listening supportively and relaxing together, even if it just for a few moments each day.
As American cartoonist Bil Keane said, “Yesterday's the past, tomorrow's the future, but today is a gift. That's why it's called the present.”
Being present is a gift that will keep on giving, to your family, and above all, yourself, as you discover the power of living in the here and now.