“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have.”
When was the last time you walked out to your car and noticed the beauty of the fall leaves? Do you have the same trouble recalling the last time you checked your phone all the way to your car?
We live in a world of over stimulation. Chronic distraction has become a societal norm.
We regularly choose between the person in front of us and the person on the phone. We tune out the world while compulsively checking social media and email.
We choose what we pay attention to and we miss out on life when we go through our day merely reacting in a distracted state. With the constant attack on our attention spans, it’s not surprising that we have difficulties connecting to the present moment.
There is a way to shift your attention away from your preoccupations. To train yourself to relinquish negative mental habits; to find happiness and clear your mind.
Mindfulness is the practice of purposely focusing your attention to the present moment and accepting it free of judgment. The development of a moment-to-moment awareness of your thoughts, feelings, boldly sensations, and surrounding environment.
Mindfulness has traditionally been a Buddhist practice, but is gaining popularity alongside the positive psychology movement. Psychotherapy and mindfulness both work towards gaining perspective on irrational, maladaptive, and self-defeating thoughts. Science is now exploring the terrain of mindfulness and it’s profound connection to human happiness and well-being.
General Concepts of Mindfulness:
- Noticing what you’re sensing in a given moment (sights, sounds, and smells that typically aren’t noticed)
- Recognizing thought as thought and withholding judgments
- Observing emotions as temporary mental states that do not define you
- Savoring the pleasures of life in real time
- Paying close attention to the breath, especially during tense times
- Tuning into your body’s physical sensations (from the way your body rests in your office chair to the water in the shower)
Benefits of Practicing Mindfulness
Practicing mindfulness for only a few weeks can have physical, psychological, and social benefits:
- Reduce Negative Emotions, Stress, Anxiety, and Anger
- Increase Positive Emotions, Self-Compassion, Optimism, and Self-Appreciation
- Improve Attitude, Learning, Memory, Focus, and Life Satisfaction
- Refocus Life’s Priorities
- Cope More Efficiently With Adverse Events
- Strengthen Relationships and Personal Connections
- Worry Less About the Future and Regretting the Past
- Avoid Vanity and Comparing Yourself to Others
- Improve Motivation, Creativity, and Productivity
- Boost Immune System, and Improve sleep
- Reduce Symptoms of Obesity, Depression, Substance Abuse and PTSD
How much worry can you get rid of? How much stress are you needlessly imposing upon yourself? How often do thoughts consume your mind and make it difficult to focus on tasks? Would you be willing to find relief today?
When we think of mindfulness or meditation, we may picture monks, yoga, or someone sitting in a dark room on a cushion, tuning out the world, burning incense, and doing their best impersonation of a statue. But there are many informal ways to look deeper into your mental life and pay careful attention to workings of your mind; to accept experiences, instead of reacting with aversion and avoidance.
3 Techniques I Use to Live Less in My Head and More in the Moment:
1. Slow Down
Take a moment to notice the nuance of your moment to moment experience and gain a vivid appreciation of life.
I use this technique multiple times a day when things are getting hectic at work:
- Sit down with a cup of coffee
- Take a deep breath through the nose, fully expand your abdomen
- Breathe out through the mouth
- Slowly and deliberately- pick up the cup
- Feel the weight and temperature of it in your hand
- Bring the coffee to your nose, close your eyes, and take a deep breath
- Really try to savor the smell of the coffee
- Notice how powerful engaging your sense of smell can be to bring you to the present moment
- Take a sip, but don’t guzzle it this time – note the flavor and texture of the coffee
- Swallow the coffee and follow it down
- Take a deep breath and repeat
2. Engage Your Senses
Observing your surroundings without judgment will help you train your attention to the present moment. Changing things up from time to time is a terrific way to calm your mind.
When I first moved to Florida, I lived about 100 yards away from the ocean; I could hear it from my bedroom. Before winding down for the night, I would take a walk on the beach. I would try to use all of my senses and really take it in – as if it was the last time that I would experience the ocean.
I would walk in the surf, smell the salt air, feel the ocean breeze, focus on the surf, and just become completely mesmerized by the experience. I was consistently able to truly appreciate things, practice gratitude, and be fully present in the moment. It’s amazing what a 10 minute walk can do for you when you let go of your preoccupations. I walked home every night with a sense of quiescence that I can only hope for others to experience.
- The next time you find yourself somewhere familiar, try to look upon it like you’re just now viewing it for the first time – and possibly the last.
- The next time you smell your neighbor cooking something, try to close your eyes and see how many different scents you can notice.
- The next time you find yourself somewhere new, close your eyes and listen for all the different sounds you can make out.
- And my favorite: The next time the sun hits your face, close your eyes and think of a loved one smiling.
Meditation can radically transform your relationship with your emotions; Achieve Equanimity.
Meditation is a systematic method of focusing your attention and cultivating concentration. The process of focusing on the present moment to clarify and stabilize the mind. The aim is not to tune out the world, but tune you mind upward and inward.
When meditating you rely on what psychologists call metacognition; awareness of awareness.
A very popular form of meditation is to focus on your breath:
- Sit somewhere comfortable
- Relax and let gravity settle you
- Close your eyes
- Focus on your breath
- Pay attention to each inhale and exhale – either the air entering your nostrils or the rise and fall of your abdomen
- Observe the fluctuation of your moment to moment perception – don’t grasp for any thoughts – allow them to pass
- Accept whatever thoughts arise in your mind – maintain love, patience, and kindness towards yourself – forgive yourself
- If you drift into planning, criticism, self-loathing, or daydreaming – gently redirect back to a focus on your breath
- When you’ve narrowed your focus (this may not happen during the first couple attempts) begin to widen your focus to other sounds, sensations, and ideas
- Come back to the breath and repeat
Why This Matters
You can become intimate with your own states of mind. You can change the content of your thoughts, challenge your beliefs, and entertain new possibilities.
You can change your brain for the better.
Concentration, kindness and happiness can be developed with practice. Like training your body, training your mind requires consistency and well-aimed practice.
As you become aware of how often you’re swayed by emotions, you won’t be as hard on others for their emotional lapses.
Photo by Kelvin Valerio from Pexels