This is part 1 of a 2 part series on how to be more present in your life. You can find part 2 here.
Where are you right now?
Physically, you might be at home, in the car, at work, at the park. Sitting, standing, lying down, rocking, walking.
And you’re reading.
But where are you mentally and emotionally?
Are you worrying about something that’s yet to happen?
Are you keeping one ear tuned into what the kids are up to?
Are you thinking about that work you need to do, the things you need to prepare for tomorrow, or the washing you need to put on?
Are you trying to cook dinner while reading this, or feeding your baby?
Will you need to reread some sections of this blog post because you weren’t really paying attention? (it’s ok, I won’t be offended 😉 )
Sometimes I am acutely aware of the steady stream of disjointed thoughts that race through my mind.
Our racing minds
I was trying to enjoy my shower the other night, and no matter how hard I tried to focus on how the water felt and sounded, every few seconds my mind raced off somewhere else…
What am I doing tomorrow?
Is that crying I hear?
I need to give the corner of the shower a good clean.
Oh, I forgot to send that message!
I must wash the towels tonight.
Ooh I know what I’ll write a blog about!!
I wonder how my mum is going.
And so on, and so on, and so on.
Do you ever find it difficult to stay present in what you’re doing?
If you do, you’re certainly not alone. A research study showed that people are thinking about something other than what they are doing, 47% of the time. We’re not present 47% of the time! That’s just an average too. For some task categories, that figure exceeded 60%.
A racing mind can be exhausting and when we aren’t present, we aren’t giving our best to the task or person in front of us.
We’re distracted, disconnected and disengaged from the thing that is most important right now and the people that matter most.
If I’m not here, where am I?
While we’re not present, life is rushing by. Although the days sometimes feel so unendingly long, before you know it, your baby is more than half your height! You know what I’m talking about, don’t you?
I’ve always spent a lot of time thinking about and looking forward to what’s coming next. Scheduling, planning, anticipating, preparing. These intentions are positive and being prepared can definitely relieve stress in the future, but this sometimes means that I miss out on fully enjoying what’s happening right now.
I remember my mum telling me how since she was young, she hated Sundays, because they meant that Monday was coming next. It’s hard to enjoy your Sunday when you’re anticipating having a terrible day the next day. I’m sure she’s not the only one who feels something like this.
You might also spend a lot of time replaying, regretting or beating yourself up about things that have happened in the past. Again, this could mean that you are missing out on fully embracing and experiencing the present moment.
The aim is not that we will never think about the past or the future, but that we will be more present than we are now. Present for the things that matter and the people that matter. That includes ourselves. There’s a balance. We can learn from the past, and also prepare for the future. However, we can’t change anything that’s already happened, and we can’t live the future yet, so we don’t need to get stuck there for longer than is helpful.
We can learn to be more present
The good news is, we can learn to be more present. Neuroscience actually supports the fact that we can train our brains to pay attention better.
Being present means you enjoy the moment more, feel calmer, happier, experience more gratitude, have better relationships (because you listen and connect more effectively) and get things done faster, to a better quality. It also helps you to better tune into how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking.
Would you like to learn to be more present in your life and with your loved ones?
It takes practice. Intentional practice every day, even for just a few moments. There are lots of different ways you can practice. I’ve got 11 suggestions for you; 5 in this part 1 blog post and another 6 in part 2.
How to be more present – 5 ways to practice
1. Set an intention to be more present
Setting an intention focuses your mind on what you want to happen, rather than what you don’t want to happen. It’s more deliberate, rather than leaving things to chance. When we set intentions, we are more receptive to opportunities for that intention to become a reality.
So, set your intention; “I intend to be more present today” (or use your own words). You could also specify in what areas you want to be more present – with your children, with your partner, at a particular place. Give yourself permission to not be thinking about what’s next or what’s happened before. Make being present part of your definition of success for the day.
2. Ask yourself “Am I here?”
I’ve been using this question regularly myself and it’s quite enlightening. Often, as I’ve described earlier, I’m here physically but not mentally.
If I’m not here, where am I? And what really matters right now?
When you find yourself mentally somewhere else, don’t beat yourself up about it. Just accept it and gently bring yourself back to the present moment. “I am present. I am here.”
If you need help remembering to do this at first, create visual reminders around your home or even consider setting a subtle alarm or reminder on your phone.
3. Make space in your day to be still and quieten your mind
If we don’t intentionally create space, it may never happen. Decide when you can have that time and schedule it in if necessary.
When can you have 5 mins to quieten your mind?
Here are some ideas:
- In bed in the morning before your kids wake.
- After school drop off before you launch into chores and work.
- In the car before you walk back into the house or while you’re waiting for the kids to finish school or an activity.
- While your kids are occupied at home.
- While you commute to work on public transport.
- Once you get the baby down for a nap.
- When you partner or another support person can hold the fort for you for a few minutes.
- Once the kids are all in bed for the night (or at least in bed for the first time!).
4. Practice mindfulness
Being mindful is essentially being fully present. Here are some simple mindfulness exercises you can do, when you have a few minutes, to help you train your brain in being attentive and present:
- Pay attention to your environment, using your senses. One by one, notice what you can see, hear, feel, smell and taste.
- Pay attention to your breath. Feel it going in and out. Notice how it fills your belly, and makes it expand, and then how it contracts as the air is expelled.
- Feel your body. Notice the weight, the contact with your chair, the ground, any tension, whether you are upright or not, whether you feel hot, cold or comfortable.
- Perform a body scan. This is similar to feeling your body above, but in a more systematic and detailed way. Either lying down, or sitting comfortably, close your eyes. As you breath in, shift your attention to the top of your head. Notice how it feels. Is there any tingling or pressure? What does the temperature feel like? Breathe in and out slowly while you focus on this area. Release your attention on this area and with a breath in, shift your focus to your eyes. Repeat the process as you move progressively down your body.
- Observe your mental chatter. Let the thoughts float in and out of your mind. Don’t push them away, resist them, or explore them. Let go of whatever is not part of the present moment. Try to find a place of internal stillness, even though there is plenty going on around you or even with your thoughts.
5. Be more curious
Approach things as if it was the first time you were experiencing them. Notice the details and look for things to savour and enjoy. For example, your child engrossed in an activity, the rain dripping off the branches in your garden, the smell of your coffee, the warmth of a room. Our children are the greatest examples of this, so follow their lead if they are with you.
You might also like to choose something specific to focus on and get curious about. For example, if you’re walking outside, you may decide to look for all the red things around you. This is a great one to do with your kids.
Take Action – Create more present moments
Eckhart Tolle says:
“In today’s rush we all think too much, seek too much and forget about the joy of just being.”
How can you create more present moments this week?
Which of these 5 tips will you try to practice being present, and help your brain strengthen it’s ability to focus and pay attention?
Leave a comment and let me know what your intention is. I’d love to cheer you on virtually.
You can find the remaining 6 ways to practice being more present in part 2 of this blog post series.