The Power of Being Present
Work, family life, social obligations, chores, exercise…Our to-do lists can sometimes feel like they’re pulling our lives, and our minds, in a million different directions. How can we get it all done? Many of us equate multi-tasking with productivity but as it turns out, trying to juggle a bunch of things at once isn’t the answer. Instead, the real secret to a productive and peaceful life lies in being present.
What does it mean to “be present”?
When our minds are busy, we can easily slip into autopilot. We go through the motions of our day just trying to get everything done but not really paying attention to anything. If you’ve ever wolfed down your lunch at your desk without even tasting it or pulled into your driveway at the end of the day with no clear recollection of your commute, you know what it’s like to be on autopilot. It can make life feel like an endless loop of “do, done, repeat.”
This is the opposite of being present.
Being present means being fully engaged and immersed in the here and now. When we’re present, our thoughts don’t center around what happened this morning or what’s going to happen in an hour. Instead, we’re fully focused on where we are and what we’re doing right now.
The benefits of being present
When we are focused on the past or the future, we often experience feelings of regret or worry. Becoming more present can help us reduce these feelings and find more joy in our lives. By paying attention to what is happening in each moment, we become more appreciative of the people, events, and opportunities in front of us. As our appreciation grows, so does our overall happiness and wellbeing.
Being present can also make us more productive. When our mind isn’t distracted, we’re better able to focus and reach that coveted state of flow. We accomplish tasks more quickly and effectively and cross more items off our to-do-list. We’re also less likely to make careless mistakes because our mind is sharp and focused, not wandering off into the past or the future.
Presence can also help boost our creativity. By quieting the mental chatter, we free up space and energy in our minds to come up with new ideas and creative solutions.
How to be present
For many people, the phrase “be present” brings up images of meditation cushions or yoga studios. But we don’t need to wait to be in the “right” environment to start learning to become more present. We can work presence into our daily lives at work, at home, during our commute, and even waiting in line at the grocery store. Here are a few tips to help you get started.
Becoming more present takes practice, so don’t expect yourself to get it perfect right away. Start with building in small moments of presence throughout your day. Pick a mundane task, something you do every day. This could be brushing your teeth or pouring your morning coffee. Instead of letting your mind wander to the next item on your to-do list, try to focus solely on the task at hand. Take your time with this task instead of rushing through it like you might normally do. Make each movement slow and deliberate and pay attention to any sensations in your body.
Focus on your breath
How often during the day do you notice your breathing? Chances are, not very often. Bringing your attention to your breath for a few moments is a very effective way to pull your mind back into the present moment. Start with ten breaths. Count “in, one” as you inhale and “out, one” as you exhale. If your mind wanders or you lose count, simply begin at one again. You can do this throughout your day to refocus your mind on your current task.
Program timed reminders into your phone or your computer. When they go off, take a moment to examine where your mind has been. Have you been focused on what you were doing? Had you drifted off into thought about the past or the future? Use these reminders as gentle nudges to come back into the present moment.
Stick with it
Don’t get discouraged if you find your mind wandering. That’s natural—after all, our minds are designed to think! Presence is like a muscle, so the more you use it, the stronger it will get. With practice, you’ll soon find that you get distracted less easily and are more focused, present, productive, and happy in your day-to-day life.