Recently I was listening to a podcast, and I had to replay the first 10 minutes four times because my mind kept wandering!
Do you find it hard to stay present in the moment?
You’re not the only one. I often get asked for advice about how to be more present in our lives, with our children, our partners, our paid work and pretty much everything! Gosh, there was a time when I couldn’t even be present watching TV because I felt like I needed to be multitasking to make the most of every moment!
So if we aren’t present, then where are we?
Our bodies are physically present, but mentally and emotionally, we can be somewhere completely different. Sometimes this is warranted, but we have to ask ourselves are we giving our focus to the things that really matter most (by our own definition, not by anyone else’s)?
When we are present, we get to enjoy the moment more, feel calmer, and happier, experience more gratitude, have better relationships (because we listen and connect more effectively), and get things done faster, to a better quality. Being present also helps us to better tune into how we’re feeling and what we’re thinking.
Sounds good, doesn’t it?
So, why is it still so hard, when the benefits are clear?
There are some very good reasons and they have nothing to do with there being anything wrong with you!
Here are 6 common reasons why we find it so hard to be present in the moment:
1. We’re caught up in judging the situation, others, or ourselves
Being present in the moment requires a level of acceptance of what is happening around you, to you, and within you. We need to observe, get curious and allow ourselves to experience the moment.
When something happens that we don’t like, or we do something we’re not proud of, we can become very distracted by the stories that we tell ourselves. For example, imagine you are having a conversation with your friend, and she says something about you perceive as a little condescending. Suddenly you’re not listening to her anymore (which doesn’t help you figure out what she really meant), but instead you are focusing on how frustrated you feel, how she doesn’t care about your feelings, and how you really must be doing a terrible job at parenting for her to make a comment like that.
It’s not that your thoughts or feelings are wrong in an instance like that, or that you shouldn’t have them at all (more on this later), but can you see that this takes you out of the moment? It’s just one of the very natural reasons that we find it hard to be present.
2. We’re overthinking the past
How often do you go over and over past events in your mind, regretting, replaying, and ruminating?
There’s value in revisiting the past if we are processing our emotions or trying to understand and learn from it, but sometimes we stay in the past much longer than is helpful. The past is gone and while we can do something to repair or rectify what happened, we cannot get that moment back. Sometimes when we ruminate on the past, we amplify the feelings and memories so it can seem much worse than it actually was, which doesn’t help us either.
3. We’re worrying about the future
I’ve got plenty of personal experience with this one! Often we spend a lot of time mentally and emotionally in the future, trying to anticipate, prepare for and control what is going to happen, usually to prevent what we perceive as a negative outcome.
Again, I’m not saying you should never think about the future because we all know that being organised and prepared is incredibly beneficial. However, there’s a limit to what can be done to prepare for the future, because we actually cannot control it. There are many more things out of our control than there are in our control and so at some point, no amount of worrying or preparing will guarantee an outcome that is any better or more certain. Worrying, in particular, doesn’t change anything, except our own sense of wellbeing, which would benefit more if we brought ourselves back to experiencing the present moment.
4. We’re avoiding difficult emotions
Some emotions are just so uncomfortable that we’d rather avoid them or ignore them.
Most of us weren’t taught any other way to deal with our difficult emotions, so when we feel boredom, guilt, sadness, anger, frustration, resentment, inadequacy, or something else that we’d rather not feel, we subconsciously or consciously find a way to distract ourselves from them.
It makes sense and so if you are doing this, please offer yourself some compassion. We take ourselves out of the present moment, so we don’t have to feel what we are feeling. It’s a legitimate coping strategy in some circumstances but is also one that makes it really hard for us to be present when we want to if we are applying the same strategy across the board. We need to actually make space for and feel our emotions to process them and get to the other side of them, over time making them less scary, and so in situations where this is not traumatic, it may be a more beneficial choice.
5. We can’t stop the mental chatter
All day long our minds engage in a steady stream of thoughts, both conscious and subconscious. There’s disagreement on the number of thoughts we have but estimates are all in the thousands, from 6,000 to 70,000 per day. Even when you are present in the moment you will still experience a range of thoughts, but not all these thoughts will be related to that moment. The unrelated thoughts can become a distraction if we get hooked by them and turn our focus to them instead of what is happening at that time.
Women often ask me how they can learn to control their thoughts so they don’t become distracted, but that isn’t the right goal. We cannot control our thoughts completely. Many of our thoughts are based on automatic patterns and habits that we have developed over time. Our brains are also constantly making associations and linking the information it’s taking in, to what we already know, in order to make meaning. It’s therefore natural that at any time, seemingly random thoughts might pop into our heads. You don’t have to get rid of all these thoughts. You can notice them without judgment and avoid becoming hooked by them by gently bringing yourself back to the present moment.
6. We’re carrying too big a load, and we equate our worth to our productivity or output
Mothering work is sadly undervalued in modern western society and so many women feel that they need to do and achieve a lot of other things to prove their worth and value. When we’re trying to live up to the perfect mum and woman ideals, there is always going to be more to do.
The mental, physical and emotional load we carry, that arises out of the societal expectations of mothers is more than any one person can manage, and pursuing unattainable standards means we can never slow down or stop to enjoy the moment. Instead, we try to make the most of every moment, by constantly multitasking, and even if we are not physically multitasking, we are thinking about all the other things that aren’t getting our attention.
Your worth and value doesn’t come from what or how much you do. You are valuable without doing anything. You can be a great mum without meeting the perfect mum ideal (no one meets this ideal). If we can release ourselves from having to do it all and be everything to everyone, and know that we are valuable already, as we are, we will have a much better chance of being able to stay present in the moment.
Which of these feels most relevant to you right now, lovely?
Remember that there is nothing wrong with you and you haven’t done anything wrong if you have been struggling with any of these. These are really common challenges in being present and they are really understandable when you look at how our brains work and the environment we are mothering in. Give yourself compassion, lovely. You are doing your best and as we learn, we can change things that don’t feel good to us.
When you’re ready to start practicing being more present, you can head over to my blog series on how to be more present in your life for more tips. Just remember to start small, even with just 5 mins, and be kind to yourself when you find your attention wandering. You don’t have to be perfect at this. No one is 100% present all the time.