What does being present mean? How can I not be present?
There is only one time that is important – NOW! It is the most important time because it is the only time that we have any power.Leo Tolstoy
Being present means that your mind is focused and engaged in the present moment. You are concentrating on the task at hand, on what is in front of you here and now.
To be present is to pay attention instead of drifting away. If you find yourself unable to recall your commute home, or wondering why you came into the room – you were not being present.
Throughout the day your mind often wanders towards the future, focusing on what might happen, on what needs to be done, stressing over upcoming events. Or it tunes out ruminating over the past, thinking what you should have said or done instead.
You are here, but your attention is elsewhere. As a result you go through the day on autopilot. You are distracted and preoccupied.
Benefits of being present
When you think about it, most of your problems don’t exist in the present moment. Deadlines and obligations are a thing of the future. What happened in the past is, well, past.
The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, nor to worry about the future, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly.Buddha
Spending your whole day drifting to the past or future, traps you in a state of constant anxiety, fear and regret. If you are not doing something about the thing in your past/future there is no logical sense of thinking about it. All you do is let it affect all the other aspects of your life.
Truth is most of the things we stress about are projections of the future. And often the thing you spent so much time and energy worrying about turns out to be not so big and bad as what you imagined it to be.
By shifting more of your attention to the present you worry less. You handle stress better, not by disengaging or blowing it out of proportions. But by acknowledging your emotions, the stress triggers and mindfully accepting them.
Practising being present helps you recognise depressive or anxious thoughts as they arise. And because you are now aware they are just thoughts you can choose to disrupt their patterns. By choosing to focus your attention to the present moment you reduce the power that anxiety and depression have on you.
Being present helps you appreciate the small things in life and find joy in the moment. Studies reveal that this helps cultivate gratitude and increased feelings of happiness.
The difference between misery and happiness depends on what we do with our attention.Sharon Salzberg
On a more practical note, being present increases your productivity. Since multitasking is a myth, thinking about one thing while attempting to do another, makes you less productive and more prone to errors. When being present it is easier for you to get to that much desired state of “flow”. You perform your tasks faster and with less mistakes.
How to be present?
The art of knowing when your thoughts are in the past, present or future is called mindfulness. To be mindful is to recognise the thoughts and to choose which thoughts to pay your attention to.
To be more present you must first become aware of where your thoughts are at any given moment. The more you practise the easier it gets.
Pick a small everyday activity, like your morning shower. Make the effort to completely focus on that activity. What steps do you take, how does it feel? You will find your mind drifting away. Here are some tips to help you keep it in the present:
- Follow your breath. With every inhale say to yourself “I am breathing in”. With every exhale say to yourself “I am breathing out”.
- Count your breath – breathe in, pause, breath out and count “one”. When you get to ten, start over.
- Body scan – pay attention to how your body is feeling right now. Focus on every part of your body. Start from the toes, notice any sensations you might be experiencing. Then move to the feet, legs etc.
- Engage your senses – Focus on what you are hearing, smelling, sensing at this moment? Can you hear your breath or the water drops falling? What temperature is the water? How does your shampoo smell?
You will still find your thoughts drifting. Don’t fret it. Just get back to the breath, or your body scan. With time and practice you will find it gets easier to keep your focus.
Practice consistently to build this into a habit. Once you do you will find yourself being present when stepping in the shower, without the need to consciously remind yourself. Then start practicing with another activity. Like being present while riding the elevator, or while waiting in line.
To be present does not mean to completely ignore thoughts of the future or the past. That would be impossible and unadvisable.
You most definitely should revisit past events to relive a pleasant moment, or to review what went wrong and to take the lesson. Learn and let go.
You also need to plan and prepare for certain future events. Do so in a healthy way. Be as objective as possible, stick to the known facts and if you catch yourself playing out endless bad scenarios – stop! Make the conscious effort to imagine a good outcome and let it go.