You’ve probably heard the term “living in the present moment” or “being in the present moment” but what does it actually mean?
“Live for the moment” or “live in the moment” or “seize the day” are probably some of the most common clichés of all time.
“Living in the present moment” or “being present” is also phrase commonly used in yoga.
But in reality, “living in the moment” is much more than a ‘yoga phrase’ or a dumb cliché.
I personally didn’t grasp what being in the “”present moment”” really meant until I realized I was never in the ‘present-moment’, and I was spending too much time “in my head”. My inner voice was active all the time, which made me overthink, over-analyze, and overly anxious.
In this article we’ll explore expert insights on the meaning, benefits, and tips on living more in the present moment, (and less trapped inside your head).
Let’s Dive In.
What Is The True Meaning of ‘Living Life in the Present Moment’ ?
Licensed Psychologist Dr. Elyssa Barbash explains to her patients, that depression lives in the past, and anxiety lives in the future. While calmness and peace-of-mind live in the present.
If you’re spending too much time re-thinking your past, or over-analyzing your future then you’re spending less time living in the present.
For example, and as a natural introvert, I personally spend less time socializing than the average person, and spend more time alone. However alone time can easily become an extended ‘stream of consciousness’ of my inner-voice over-analyzing both past and future life scenarios.
Instead of spending an hour worrying about who’s going to be at my cousin’s dinner, and what to say to them, and what to wear. And then when I’m there spending the whole time wondering how long I have to be there, and when we can leave. I’ve learned not to overthink it, and just show up, try to enjoy every conversation, and be “out of my head” the entire time.
Don’t get me wrong, reflection is a KEY part of improving self-awareness, but I’ve found in my own personal experience that getting trapped by “”analysis-paralysis”” can be harmful to decision making and mental health.
I have since expanded my awareness to noticing when I’m living “in my head”. Once you become aware of when you’re “in your head” it becomes much easier to choose to be more present.
Most people are not aware of how much time they spend “in their head” and if you’re not aware, then you can’t choose to live in the present moment or not.
CEO of PiVOT (a relationship development company) Lori Jean Glass has analyzed thousands of relationships, and she has found that when you are “living in the moment”, you are fully present, aware of your emotions, and aware of the thoughts that you’re having right now! If you’re not present, then your thoughts (and inner voice) are either turned inwards towards the past, or fixated on future scenarios.
Licensed psychologist Dr. Rachel Goldman writes in an article for VeryWellMind that…
“living in the present moment requires that you take the time to appreciate where you are, what you’re doing, and who is with you. Instead of becoming caught up in the past or worrying about what will happen in the future, try to savor each moment as it passes”.
6 Reasons Why Being In The Present Moment Is Important
We’ll get to “how to be present” below, but first, here’s why being more “present in the moment” is important, and how it can benefit you.
1. Your Mind May Be Stealing Your Time –
Your time is one of (if not) the most valuable resources you own. This is exactly why social media companies offer free apps in exchange for your time on their platforms.
When you spend large amounts of time ‘inside your own head’, time appears to pass by more quickly.
For example, you can spend 5 minutes on your phone (which puts you in your head) and it seems like 3 seconds. While spending 5 minutes doing push-ups (which forces you to be in the moment) can feel like forever.
This is just a quick example, but over the period of a year, or 10 years, or a lifetime, spending more time in the present moment will extend your conscious experience in life.
2. ‘Present Moment Awareness’ Can Make It Easier To Manage Stress –
The study which was published by Science Direct found evidence which suggested that by cultivating ‘present-moment awareness’, you make it easier for yourself to ‘emotionally cope’ with stressful events now (while you’re in the moment), AND in the future as well.
3. Being More in the Present Moment Can Strengthen Your Relationships –
If you’re floating through life and ignoring your relationships with the people around you, it can lead to feelings of loneliness, dis-connection, and shallow ‘surface-level’ relationships.
I personally have experienced all 3 (and I’m probably not alone).
To strengthen the relationships of the people around you, the people you care for, and new friendships & network connections, being more in the present moment is key.
As an example, I just got back from an (in-law) family vacation with a group of 27 people. I’m usually an introvert, but being with a big group, I spent more time socializing than normal. I practiced “being in the present moment” for the better part of 4 days, not thinking about anything, just ‘being in the now’.
And as a result, my normal social anxiety all but disappeared as I lived moment-to-moment with-out letting my mind wander. To my own disbelief, I really enjoyed myself. And I felt a deeper connection with almost everyone.
On the ‘flip side’, one of the cousins’ husbands was “”just there”” the entire time. Barely engaging with anyone, rarely talking, and most certainly “in his head” the entire time. His relationship with everyone became was stagnant at best.
When you visualize (the future) or think about the past, more than you experience (the present moment), you’re unconsciously making your relationships more imaginary than real.
Clinical psychologist Dr. Diana Hill says that “Giving your full presence to another is one of the best gifts you can give.”
4. By Being Present, You Uncover New Things –
As someone who’s a ‘big picture’ thinker, it’s easy for me to float along with my head in the clouds thinking about the future in a big picture way. But when you spend all your time thinking about the future, and the bigger picture, it’s easy to miss-out on the present (and miss all the exciting details in life).
For example, if you drive 1 mile to get milk at the store every week, it’s easy and convenient and you can jump in your car and be home in 5 minutes (all while still thinking about that ‘big problem’ at work)
BUT, if you walk to the store, by exercising, it forces you to be more in the present moment. You might even notice a new house that you drive by everyday, but never noticed. Or maybe you’ll notice some sidewalk ‘chalk art’, or some kids playing tag, or your neighbor working on a 70’s muscle car in his garage.
The point is by ‘slowing down’ and being more present, you’ll notice new things that you usually just glide past. And as the saying goes…,
“variety is the spice of life”
5. By Being Present, You Become More Creative –
Author Sharron Skinner was recently on a trip to Paris, when she noticed most tourists taking pictures on their phones to look back on later, and missing the experiences in ‘real-life’. Instead, most people were opting for a ‘picture of real-life’ and missing the actual experience.
Mrs. Skinner writes that based on her experiences, it is best to be “present” during important events and life experiences “as we are experiencing them.” Instead of experiencing them through a lens. By staying present, we can bloom, be more powerful — and simply be more creative.
By being present, it puts you in a more creative state and in a headspace that allows your body (and your brain) to construe both productive and creative ideas. This is what stillness does for you.
6. Being In The Present Moment Decreases Anxiety And Worry –
When you’re not ‘in the present moment’, you’re in your head either thinking about the past, the future, or distracting yourself with a screen.
#1 New York Times bestselling author Eckhart Tolle, explains in his book, The Power of Now,
that learning to exist in the now, frees us from anxiety while connecting us to the infinite calm of our essential being.
Through his research, Eckhart has found and attributes depression, anxiety, guilt, worry and fear, to our natural human tendency to live life ‘in our minds’ instead of in the present.
Why It Can Be Difficult To Live In The Now
According to Dr. Eyal Winter and PsychologyToday, the human mind is evolutionarily hard-wired to live in the past and the future.
From a big picture perspective, the survival of the human species very much so depends on us learning from the past and planning for the future.
But “living in the moment” is universally recognized as a useful strategy for dealing with anxiety. Research evidence has shown that people who are capable of discarding thoughts (also known as mindfulness) about the past and the future, are generally happier people.
Balancing The Past, Present, And Future
So many of us (myself included) find it difficult to live in the present moment because we spend so much time thinking about what we didn’t get done yesterday. And if I’m not thinking about what I didn’t do yesterday, then I’m thinking of what I need to do tomorrow.
As a result, we often lose sight of today, and can find ourself rarely “”fully present”” in many situations in our lives.
There’s certainly a benefit to reflecting about the past, and certainly a benefit to planning for the future, but there’s also a benefit to living in the present that we all too often overlook.
Humans Are Bad At Multi-Tasking
Human beings are great at a lot of things, but multi-tasking isn’t one of them (and we’re not talking about brushing your teeth while shaving & showering).
Professor Arthur Markman discusses in LiveScience that “There’s a small number of people who are decent multitaskers – at best, it’s maybe 10%of the population, so chances are, you’re not one of them,”
When we’re ‘in our heads’ either reflecting about the past, or planning for the future, (or on social media) we put ourself in that moment. And then because we’re bad at multi-tasking, we lose track of the moment that we’re in.
University of California, Irvine professor Gloria Mark says that “Human beings have a limited capacity for information processing, so after a point, it’s not clear if we’re capable of doing more,”.
When you’re not living in the present moment, you’re sacrificing it.
Social media addiction is a prime example, of a great way to trade “living in the moment”, for passing it by.
How To Be Present And Live (and stay grounded) In The Present Moment
(11 Tips To Strengthen Present Moment Awareness)
1. Use Yoga To Connect With The Present Moment –
This is not a cliché or trendy recommendation. I was skeptical about yoga too. (as a side note: Here’s How Yoga Has Benefited Me – from a skeptic to a believer)
Yoga teacher Kelle Yokeley says that the ‘present moment’ is found through our mind, body connection and our breath is our path to get there.
Our minds may wander to the past, present, and future, but as Kelle says, “our breath is ALWAYS in the here and now. Our breath is our constant connection to the here and now, and our presence is rooted in its flow.”
I’m hardly a yoga intermediate, but if there’s anything I know for sure it’s that the key to yoga is breath work.
2. Try To Notice More of Your Surroundings –
According to Dr Gary Foster and LivingWell – Reminding yourself to take notice, of your thoughts, your feelings, your body sensations, and the world around you, is the first step towards increasing your ‘present moment awareness’.
Every so often when I’m working I stop and ask myself 2 questions.
- Where am I right now
- What are my emotions and am I in control of them.
3. Focus On One Thing At A Time (Don’t Multitask) –
As we mentioned in the text above, humans are bad at multi-tasking. Multitasking divides our attention. It makes it harder for us to give our full attention to any one thing which makes both tasks less effective.
Cleveland Health Clinic Dr. Kubu has found that “The more we multitask, the less we actually accomplish, because we slowly lose our ability to focus enough to learn,” .
4. Accept Things As They Are (Not How You Want Them To Be) –
I’ve learned through my own life, that accepting reality can be difficult, but by accepting reality (and the emotions that come with it), it opens the door for a greater capacity of awareness and future personal-growth.
Accepting reality leads to present-moment clarity. And productive action usually comes from clarity.
If you think of the most intelligent, or successful people you have ever met or know of, is their attitude one fo acceptance or denial.
“There is problem? OK, let’s fix it then.”
Very rarely do you ever hear a highly effective person saying
“Oh, no another problem. When will it end?”
Accept the present moment, and then keep moving forward.
5. Practice Mindfulness –
Mindfulness is the practice of controlling your thoughts and being ‘present’ in the moment (with-out any distracting thoughts).
Medical Experts agree that mindfulness benefits include lowering your stress levels, reducing patterns of harmful over-thinking, and protecting against both depression and anxiety.
In the age of technology, being ‘present-in-the-moment’, and focusing your attention is becoming a lot more important, and a lot more difficult than in times past. Especially in the new age of shrinking attention spans, internet addiction, and social media.
Newer research has even shown that practicing mindfulness can increase your ability to cope with rejection and deal with social isolation.
6. Take A Break From Social Media And Internet Technology –
The social media companies make money when people focus their attention on their platforms. The more of your attention and time you give to social media, the more money they make.
Working in the best interest of the company, and in order to keep you on their platform, social media companies program their algorithms to show people the type of content that is most likely to keep them attentive and “engaged”.
Social media companies use billions-of-dollars worth of user ‘psychology data’ to design ways to keep users attention on the screen.
So how do you stay connected with-out having your attention ‘sucked-in’? The answer is to practice being more conscious and mindful of your social media use.
The more time you spend on social media, the less time you spend in the present moment.
7. Get Regular Exercise –
Exercising forces you into the present moment. When you’re sitting in a chair or on your couch, it’s easy to get lost in the ‘throws of your mind’. But when you’re using your full body to play basketball, or run, or lift weights it forces you out of your head and into the present moment.
Also, when you do physical activity, you trigger a chemical response in your brain. One of the chemicals released is called DOPAMINE which can work wonders for improving your body image, self-esteem and overall mental health.
8. Use Your Break (down) Time Mindfully –
When you have ‘down time’ at home or break time at work how do you spend that time? Do you distract yourself with anxiety eating? Scrolling on social media or the internet? Hulu or Netflix? Or watching mindless TV shows ?
If you answered yes to any of those (I certainly did), then you could be using your time more efficiently.
Try using your down time for future planning or past reflection so you don’t have to multi-task by ‘retreating into your head’ when you should be present in the moment.
9. Practice Being Present In The Moment With Kids –
Kids always live in the present moment. When a kid is at the water park, they’re not thinking about what’s for dinner or if that meeting went well on Thursday or not. They’re 100% totally in the moment just enjoying being present.
That’s something that most adults could learn from (myself included).
10. Conduct a Mindful Review of Your Day –
To be more aware of yourself during your day, try giving yourself time at the end of your day (maybe right before you go to bed) to process your day, your emotions throughout the day, and the moments you experienced throughout your day.
By giving yourself time to process, it allows your brain to store and process your thoughts so your mind will be fresh and clear the next day. Starting the day off with clarity will give you a better chance of staying present throughout the rest of the day.
11. Do A Body Scan –
Body scanning is exactly as it sounds. It’s a focused effort that involves the practice of consciously scanning your body for sensations of pain, tension, or anything out of the ordinary.
Body scanning helps you develop a greater awareness of your bodily sensations, This higher level awareness can help you feel more connected to your physical self, and help you gain a deeper insight into potential causes of unwanted feelings.
According to registered psychotherapist Elaine Smookler (who is also a mindfulness coach with over 25 years of practice)
Practicing ‘body scans’ enhances your ability to bring your full attention to real-time experiences happening in the present moment.
Body scanning also trains you to explore and be with both pleasant and unpleasant feelings, which forces you to learn to notice what happens when you simply ‘hang in there’ and feel what’s going on in “body-land” without trying to fix or change anything.
Conclusion: Living In The Present Moment
Living in the present moment means getting out of your head (or off your phone) and into the world. There’s a place and a time for deep insight, internal reflection, and future planning. But the time for being introspective and in your head cannot be all the time.
There are clear benefits to living more outside your head and in the present moment, the biggest of all is less anxious worrying, and more present moment enjoyment.
If happiness is the goal, then spending more time living in the present moment is the ladder to get you there.
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