W e know we need to spend more time in the present. But what does that really mean, and how do we know if we’re getting it right?
Our culture does everything in its power to prevent us from giving our undivided attention to the matter in hand. As we race through life, we’re thinking about what’s next. It’s the only way to keep up. Heaven forbid we get stuck in a queue; we don’t have time to wait. As if by magic, the phone appears, and mindless scrolling takes hold. We don’t even notice the queue moving.
It’s not even easy to fully immerse ourselves in one screen at a time, as the latest Netflix obsession shares our downtime with a six-way conversation on WhatsApp. We miss a vital scene, lose track of the group chat, and the thoughts race even faster than when we started this so-called relaxation process. Besides, aren’t we supposed to be reducing screen time, not multiplying it?
As we crawl into bed, and the mind is finally clear of distractions, it goes into overdrive. Left to its own devices, it’ll start mapping out the next day’s events, unless rudely interrupted by an unwelcome thought that we might have forgotten something or upset someone. This is not living life in the present, and it’s not going to be fixed by a 10-minute meditation. It’ll take that long for your flickering eyes to even think about closing.
So, what’s the answer?
Try to control your thoughts
Thousands of thoughts swirl through our minds every day; most are negative, and even more, are repetitive. Notice when your mind starts to spiral. Imagine you’re a friend listening to your thoughts; what advice would you give?
Stop worrying! If you can change a situation that’s troubling you, make a plan and take action. If you can’t, park it and move on.
Regularly check in with yourself
Put little stickers in places you regularly sit, such as on your laptop, bedroom mirror or car dashboard. This is your reminder to stop and think about what you’re doing right now. This has really helped my overactive mind, and I no longer need the stickers.
Take three deep breaths. Concentrate solely on your breathing and notice how you feel as you inhale and exhale.
Turn waiting into watching
Next time you’re in a queue, take a deep breath, accept you can’t do anything about it, and use the time to press pause. People watching brings me straight back into the present (just be careful not to focus on one person for too long, even if they do particularly intrigue you).
As you calm down, you’ll look at everything around you differently.
Take the outside in
We know that getting out in nature is good for us, but you’ll benefit so much more if you actually take in what’s around you. If you’re looking down, worrying about how much time you can give to this act of mindfulness, what’s it going to achieve?
Put your phone away and look up.
Start something new
A challenge is a great way to naturally bring your mind into the present. You could start a new exercise regime or learn a new skill. Think about something that requires your full attention. You’ll have no choice but to concentrate on that one thing if you want to be any good at it, and it’ll help reset your thinking.
This is about retraining your mind to focus entirely on any given moment, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. Try changing your approach to daily life and making the most of every situation you encounter, however hard it may seem.