What did you do last weekend? What are you doing next summer? Remember that time we…? What do you want to do when you grow up? Where do you want to be in 10 years? What do I have to do later? Why did I say that stupid thing yesterday? The number of questions we ask and things we think about that involve the past and future are endless. And it is certainly important to reflect on both. Reflecting on the past can give you a better understanding of yourself. Through learning, progress and change are made. And it is important to have goals, to know where you want to go in life, to plan ahead.
However, most of us have no trouble in reflecting on the past or planning for the future. What more of us have to have difficulty with is simply being present. The only thing we are guaranteed in life is right now. We cannot change the past, and we cannot predict the future… we are not even sure we will have a future– as morbid as that may sound, it’s also true. All we have is now. Life is truly amazing– the world we live in is filled with such beauty, as is each person and experience we face. But the world and life, like us, only exist in the present moment. To truly experience and live, one must stop thinking about yesterday and tomorrow and focus on today. It is meaningful to add moments of mindfulness and awareness to each moment, pushing ourselves to be more present in our lives. Read on for a few tips on how to be a little more present each day.
1. Disconnect It is difficult to be truly enjoying the moment when you’re constantly connected. Technology has been amazing, allowing humans to do things that were previously unimaginable. However, with technology there is also the expectation that you are always available. No longer does work end once the sun goes down and the worker goes home. It is all too common to see friends at meals together but on their phones, flicking through text messages, Twitter, Facebook, SnapChat and Instagram. It is a common sight to see people stopping to film videos or take photos during music concerts. There’s a new culture of FOMO (fear of missing out), looking at what others have done or are doing.
Sure, sometimes it’s nice to be connected. It’s nice to keep in touch with friends, and photos and videos are certainty amazing ways to capture moments to look back on. But after one or two photos are taken, it’s time to disconnect. It’s difficult to be truly in the present– enjoying a conversation, meal, or amazing music– if you’re constantly tuned into what others are doing or have done. Schedule time to disconnect. Put away your phone for your 30 minute meal. Turn your phone on airplane or Do Not Disturb mode when working out. Sign up for an art class and keep your phone in your bag. All your favorite apps will still be there when you turn your phone on again. But you may just find out that the experiences you live don’t even compare to the photos or posts on your phone.
It is incredibly easy to move through life quickly, feeling busy and stressed out. Sometimes, you just need to take a minute and take a deep breath. Whether you’re in the middle of studying for a test or doing work, or just find yourself in a rush when you don’t have to be, breathe. Take a deep breath in, hold it, and let it out. Feel the tension release from your shoulders and ground yourself in the present moment. Remember to be grateful for what you have, and then return to your day. Meditation and yoga are both amazing ways to become more present. Both can be intimidating, but they shouldn’t be– the goal isn’t to clear away all thoughts or to do amazing poses. The goal is to watch your breathing. Try to set aside five minutes– something we can all surely do, and take a minute to just close your eyes and breathe. This video and Headspace are two easy ways to give meditation a go.
3. Single Task It’s all too easy to find yourself juggling several tasks at once. Instead of multitasking, try single tasking. In doing so, you may find that you end up a lot more focused, grounded, and productive. Choose one task to do, and focus on that task entirely for either a certain amount of time (iPhone timer is great for this), or until the task is completed. By focusing on one thing at a time, you can truly get into that task and achieve it at a much higher quality than could be done otherwise. In applying true focus, in addition to being more efficient, the activity you do becomes more like a meditation. Whether it’s washing the dishes mindfully or doing a math assignment, it is sure to be more enjoyable when you are mindfully going about it.
4. Slow Down and Look Around There’s a difference between being busy and being productive. We often get in routines of rushing about, going from one thing to the next. Small moments like walking to meetings or getting a cup of coffee become mechanized and routine. While these small moments may not seem like much, they make up most of our days and therefore lives. In taking a minute to slow down, look around and be present, our lives can become more enjoyable. You may still have many meetings to go to, but in going between them throw away your fears or worries of the future and thoughts of the past. Simply enjoy your walk. Look at the trees around you. Enjoy the taste and smell of your cup of coffee. Be aware of the things and people around you. Don’t move through life so quickly that you don’t truly see the beauty all around.
5. Streamline Time is limited, and thus it is incredibly valuable. There are tasks that we have to do– go to our jobs, fulfill certain engagements, attend certain events. However, there is also a lot of stuff that we do that we don’t have to. Some of this stuff is incredibly rewarding or nice– taking a stroll through the park, grabbing brunch with friends, or checking out a new band on a Friday night. These moments add to our lives. There are also things we do that we don’t have to, and they take away time we could be doing things that add to our lives. Eliminate the things that you don’t have to do that don’t add to your life. This may seem simple, however if you think about everything you do, you may notice that you go to things you don’t want to or have certain commitments that add no value to your life. By eliminating those things that do not add to your life, you’ll have more time for the things that do.
6. Listen Too often in life we don’t truly listen. I know this is certainly something I have trouble with and am working on each and every day. When speaking with others, we sometimes interrupt each other. And even when we let the other person finish his or her thought, while they are speaking we are thinking of what we will say, of how we will respond. There is incredible value in just truly listening to what the person is saying. In doing so, we are able to approach a conversation from a place of understanding and thoughtfulness. In truly listening to others, we not only are capable of forming deeper connections, but also of learning and thinking beyond the confines of our own opinions, experiences and thoughts.
7. Allocate Time In order to allow ourselves to be present during our days, it is also important for us to take some time to prepare for the future and reflect on the past. In allocating time to do these things, they can mindfully be accomplished, and then be forgotten. When you have a lot of things to do, rather than constantly thinking about them, write out a to-do list and a plan of what you will do. Put any dates or time blocks in your calendar, and move on. Take time to journal and reflect on your day. Write down any thoughts, feelings, or reflections you have. And once you are done writing, close your journal and move back to a place of being present in the now, the past being written away, your mind now free.
Hopefully these tips are helpful! I certainly have not mastered being mindful and present, and constantly struggle with thinking of the past and future. It is a constant effort to be more present in our lives. There is no end destination, and it is not easy; rather it is a journey we must take that can make our lives a lot more fulfilling. So take a deep breath, smile, and go about the day being present. Look around you at the flowering trees, smell the fresh air, and just be grateful for the life you have and the world we share.