“Live in the present moment!” You may have heard this advice before, perhaps from a wise grandmother or your local golf pro. But keeping our minds focused on the present moment seems to be a very challenging skill to master. If you are like most of mankind you may spend a fair bit of your mindshare either wallowing in the past or forecasting fearful “what if” scenarios into the future. Unfortunately, when we are in this scattered state of mind we tend to be less productive in our daily tasks and less effective in our interaction with other people. Can you relate to this in your own life?
Research studies have shown that when our mind is filled with regret from the past or fear of the future we unwittingly trigger the “fight or flight” response causing the body and mind to go into “watch out” mode. When we see, think, or even feel that we might be in trouble, the amygdala in our brain releases chemicals that trigger this hyper-alert state in the body so we can either get ready for battle (fight) or get ready to run (flight). This defense mechanism is essential for our survival and was especially useful back in the days when we lived out in the wilderness and were often at risk of being attacked by an animal. But in today’s modern society, unnecessary overstimulation of the “fight or flight” response can become a hindrance in our day-to-day activities.
So is it possible to curb those anxious feelings and be in a more calm state where our thinking is more fluid and our actions more on target? Yes! The secret is to keep our thoughts, our mind, our attention focused on the present. Here are a few techniques to help us be more “present” in our lives.
Refocus your attention in the present
When you feel your mind regretting the past or fearing the future, you can catch your thoughts and redirect them to the here and now and say to yourself: What is the task at hand that I can focus on right now? What can I do today to move toward my goals? The more you practice bringing your thoughts to the present the easier it becomes. And over time your mind will tend to stay more in the present.
Be in the moment when you interact with people
Be present when it comes time to play with your children. I have come to love those moments when my youngest daughter says “Daddy, will you play with me.” When I am truly present with her and caught up in her make believe game I feel at peace and in sync with her. These times truly are some of my favorite moments in my day.
Here are some tips that can help in your interactions with others:
1) Look the person in the eye and let them know you are present with them.
2) Really listen to what they are saying.
3) Avoid thinking about what to say next. Simply respond instinctively to what you are hearing. Your subconscious mind knows what to say and how to say it.
4) Be aware of the nonverbal cues. Notice their posture and facial expressions.
5) Listen for opportunities to be of service to this person today.
Notice your surroundings
As you move through the day remind yourself to take in the beauty around you; notice the vibrant colors, feel the temperature, feel the breeze on your face, watch a majestic bird in flight. Taking a walk in nature is a great way to sharpen the senses and hone this skill of becoming in tune with your environment. As you practice this technique you’ll notice that it really helps keep the mind focused on the here and how.
A great exercise to do when you feel your heart and mind racing is to consciously breathe deeply through your abdomen. Sitting down with your hands on your belly, simply inhale deeply through your nose to a count of 6, hold briefly for a count of 2, and then slowly exhale to a count of 6. Breathe this way 8-10 times and notice your body relax and your mind become more present and quiet. You can do this simple exercise anywhere, anytime—even while sitting in a meeting, riding the bus, or driving your car.
Practice, practice, practice!
You will find the more you practice these exercises the better you will get at keeping your mind focused in the present moment. As you get better at staying in the present moment it will lead to a more peaceful heart and a quieter mind, which are critical keys to finding more joy in life no matter what your circumstances may be.
John's passion is in helping people get unstuck so they can experience their true potential. Before starting his own practice he spent 16 years coaching, consulting, and presenting to Fortune 500 companies, teams, and individuals on how to breakthrough their barriers and magnify their talents.