In this article: Learn about the power of staying present and save your sanity during high stress times by living in the moment.
The Worst of Times
We are living perhaps in one of the most stressful times in history. It feels as though life should be easier at this point when we look at all of the technological advancements we have made, the medical wonders that have been discovered, and how easily we can connect to just about anyone and anything we want. That’s kind of the problem, though.
It’s a little bit like turning a rock over and watching all the creepy crawlies squirm and scramble as they run for cover. Now you know exactly what every person you have ever met thinks about climate change, politics, coronavirus, and everything in between. You have an insight into how they think and feel about others and whether you agree or disagree, it can be overwhelming and downright exhausting to take in so much information in a single day.
That’s just for starters – that’s without touching on the economic anxiety you may be experiencing due to layoffs and downturns due to the coronavirus pandemic. That’s without considering the pressure you may be feeling from spending all of your time indoors with your family. Or the loneliness you have been experiencing from living on your own.
You might be going through a breakup and forced to stay under the same roof as your ex. There’s a good chance that you have been dealing with anxiety surrounding your prospects of contracting coronavirus, or someone near and dear to you contracting coronavirus.
All that to say, there has never been a moment in time in which your sanity mattered more. You are living through an incredibly stressful period in time and there is only one way to stay sane and that’s to stay present. (ref.)
It might sound like a cliché, but the reality of the matter is when you live in the past or fret about the future you’re borrowing problems that you don’t need. You’re dragging yourself into the pain, mistakes, and trauma that have passed before you.
That isn’t learning a lesson from it, it’s wallowing in self-pity or obsessing about things that you simply cannot change now. When you look too much to the future you become too focused on a goal and you start to forget about the path, the process, the journey you will have to take to achieve that goal. A lot of people swear by goal setting and I would encourage you to set goals. However, it’s just as important that you focus on the path you will walk to reach those goals. Otherwise, you’re missing the moment.
Henry David Thoreau said, “Live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find eternity in each moment.”
How can you escape the chaos of the word and find calm and peace? By being present.
It doesn’t matter how chaotic the day is or how out of control everything feels, being present is essentially your opportunity to build an oasis. It might sound simple but learning to be present can change your life.
Right now, what is it that is preventing you from having a calm, peaceful day? Does any of this sound familiar…
- Social media
- Digital distraction
- The internet as a whole
- My kids
- My partner
- My family
- My friends
- My job
- My bills
- That resentment I have over…
- My stupid lizard brain [ref.]
- The household chores
- Interruptions from every direction
- All these errands!
- A lack of control
- The coronavirus
- News about the coronavirus
- Fear about contracting the coronavirus
- Fear about loved ones contracting the coronavirus
- Everything else in between
So, just the usual then? It’s a familiar refrain because so many of us are in the same boat. Being present can change things.
Stay Present, Solve Problems
“The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.”~ Abraham Maslow
Take a look at that list of problems above again. The majority of them exist only in your mind. Of course, there are external issues at work, such as uncontrollable job issues, chores, interruptions, children, coronavirus, etc. However, the problems arise when based on how you allow your mind to handle those issues.
If you are present, then those external forces aren’t as big of a problem because in that moment you are only fighting that single external force. It isn’t you against the world. It isn’t even you against a dozen things. It’s you and that issue.
Now, if someone interrupts you, creating additional stress, you can embrace that stress and start worrying about their problem and your problem. Or you can instead choose to be present, which leaves just you and your child’s problem. Appreciate what your child is sharing with you, and even if it’s initially frustrating, turn it into an opportunity to take a moment with your child who needs you.
If your boss throws another job at you, you can choose to stress out because you have this urgent task on your hands as well as a long list of other tasks to tackle and nowhere near enough time to complete them. Or you can instead choose to be present and put your total focus into this single urgent task. There is the task and there is you, and everything else disappears until it’s time to move onto the next task.
Digital distractions can’t interrupt you if you are fully absorbed in a task. Social media can’t draw you in if you’re involved in what you’re doing.
You see, being present doesn’t mean you erase your to-do list. It doesn’t mean other things don’t exist, it means you are channeling your energy into a single moment to ensure it gets your full attention. Not only is this going to help you manage chaos and reduce stress, but it’s also going to make you more productive and more efficient.
If you commonly attempt multi-tasking, then you know exactly how stressful it can be. You convince yourself that are doing great – that you’re getting ahead of the game, but you’re not. You’re just hopping from task to task, breaking focus, and barely managing. Why would you continue to barely manage when you could choose to be present and improve your life in every way?
“Do not ruin today with mourning tomorrow.”~ Catherynne M. Valente
Being present lets everything fade to black leaving you with the spotlight on the task at hand, whatever that might be.
One of the most common issues that hold people back, from athletes to entrepreneurs, is allowing themselves to get trapped in the past. You know, the trope about the high school jock who is still trying to relive his glory days from the championship game when he threw four touchdowns and took the trophy home.
While that’s an exaggerated example, we are all guilty of this in some respects. We stand back and point to our past like Vanna White turning the tiles on Wheel of Fortune. Look! We pronounce. Look at what I have done with my life! Of course, that’s the best-case scenario. Some people live in their past mistakes, they don’t point them out, they suffer silently. Either way neither is a healthy pursuit.
Do know you where your greatest opportunities lie?
Right now. Right now, is where the possibilities are, it’s where you will find excitement, growth, and satisfaction, whatever pursuit you choose in life. Living in the present is a catalyst for success.
“Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.”Mother Teresa
The Greatest Traps
There are two big traps – the past and the future. With the past, there is pain and with the future, there is fear and the only thing these two things will do is fuel stress, anxiety, and depression (ref.).
“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
A trap could be a limitation (or perceived limitation) that you picked up in your early life. It might be a memory you haven’t resolved or figured out. It could be a failure, remembering that failure, facing up to a major mistake, or addressing an uncomfortable situation (whether emotionally or otherwise).
When new opportunities arise, you experience the excitement and it’s quickly followed by dread as you allow the past flood back to your mind’s eye. You remember that negativity from your past and it stops you in your tracks. You can no longer muster excitement, you’re not even sure if you can take another step forward. You’re allowing something from your past to hold you back in your present. The only person this hurts is you.
“I never think of the future. It comes soon enough.”Albert Einstein
The past isn’t the only trap you have to deal with to remain present. The future also holds a wide variety of mind traps. The way technology has advanced, the way we are so connected, it makes us feel as though anything is possible. While that’s generally a positive mindset to possess, it can be a trap. If you’re so caught up in getting bigger, better results faster, then it’s easy to lose sight of what’s going on right now.
People who are trapped in the future are struggling just as much as those trapped in the past. Whether you’re trapped in the past or the future, you’re locking yourself out of the present. That’s a problem. You will continue to struggle to operate in the present if you are too focused on your past or the future. The present deserves your whole attention. If you’re not giving it all of your attention, then how are you going to give it all of your focus and energy? If you’re not giving it your focus and energy, then what’s the point?
While everyone talks about multi-tasking and mindfulness, they’re missing out on the greatest life skill a person can possess. Being present is one of the most useful skills you can build. It’s also one of the most desirable. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you are, who you’re speaking to, or what you’re doing… if you can focus on that in the moment, then you’re already ahead of the pack.
This world is full of distractions and it takes time and practice to shut all of that out to remain totally present in the moment. The past… that’s just an idea, it’s a vision of the past, it’s likely inaccurate, too. The future, it’s a vague thought off in the distance. There is only one reality, there is only one actuality – it’s right now. It’s the present.
If you learn to live from moment to moment, day by day, in the present, you are going to notice two big changes. The first being that your level of success will increase because you’re a more focused, less stressed, more productive person. The second is that you will be happier and more satisfied with your life. Why? You’re getting the chance to enjoy it instead of stressing about what could have been or what might be.
Learning happens when you’re present in the moment. There’s a fun exercise you can play when you feel in need of grounding. Simply set a timer for a minute or two and write out everything you’ve achieved in the last three months.
Once this task is complete, you can set the timer again and make a list of everything you’re in the process of creating right now. Now, set the timer again and this time write out whatever is on your mind regarding your future. How is this helpful when I have just told you to forget about the past and the future?
Well, the exercise is you being present right now and grounding yourself. It also shows that your past is influencing you now and you don’t have to think about it for that to happen. Likewise, what you do in this moment is influencing your future and you don’t have to obsess or worry about your future for that to happen. By focusing on right now, by focusing on the present, you are creating a better future. It’s second nature.
“If you feel lost, disappointed, hesitant, or weak, return to yourself, to who you are, here and now and when you get there, you will discover yourself, like a lotus flower in full bloom, even in a muddy pond, beautiful and strong.“~ Masaru Emoto
The What Ifs
Perhaps the greatest deterrent to enjoying our moments is “what if” thinking.
What if I can’t get that promotion?
What if I lose my job?
What if I get sick?
What if I can’t get a sitter this weekend to go out?
What if I can’t lose that 20 pounds?
What if Jan never forgives me for hurting her feelings?
What if it rains tomorrow?
What if I never get married?
What ifs are just nuisances that clog our minds, stifle our spirits, and cause us overwhelm and to miss out on the best moments of our lives.
What sense does it make to worry about things that have not yet happened? None!
Look at it this way, you are playing with your child, who is laughing, learning, and developing in front of your eyes, and you miss out on these precious moments because you are focused on some “what if.”
“If you were conscious, that is to say totally present in the Now, all negativity would dissolve almost instantly. It could not survive in your presence.”~ Eckhart Tolle
How Many Moments Have Been Missed Or Ruined
“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.”~ Alice Morse Earle
Right now, we are dealing with the most stressful experience of a generation. The challenges of life have been compounded and complicated by the pandemic. With an elevated cortisol level being driven by chronic stress, it’s growing increasingly difficult to live in the moment.
Yet, what better opportunity to start practicing staying present than when the world is in chaos and everything is up in the air. Living in a state of constant stress because you’re obsessed with the past and worried about the future is only fueling your stress, anxiety, and depression levels.
Not to mention the fact that high stress impacts your immune system, which makes you more susceptible to a range of illnesses and issues, including coronavirus (ref.).
Anxiety, negativity, and stress directly impact your health and wellbeing. The best way to counteract this is by learning to stay in the present. Every moment is an opportunity to be present. Every task is a chance to live in the moment.
Stop worrying about what hasn’t happened; stop fixating on what’s gone before. If you are living in the moment, it’s difficult to stress about everything else. Let’s take this one day a time. You can do it.
I know what you’re thinking. As soon as someone suggests that you live in the moment or stay in the present, your mind immediately conjures up thoughts like…
- But what if I can’t afford to pay my bills next month?
- What if I get Covid?
- What if my family or a friend get Covid?
- What if they never create a vaccine?
- I can’t get on a plane, it might crash.
- How can I be present when all I can think about is this pain in my lower back?
- What if I lose my job and can’t find a new one because everyone has been laid off?
- How can I be present when I hate what’s going on in my life?
There will always be legitimate reasons to worry, but all that does is ruin the moment. The moments when those things we worry about have not happened yet. The key is that you do not allow those things to dictate your life to the point where it consumes you with stress and worry. Ultimately, you have a choice in determining how you deal with the challenges you face in this life.
If you choose to worry, then you will live in a perpetual state of worry, even if you don’t realize it’s happening. Even if you were unaware of making the choice. You chose to worry. If you, instead, choose to live in the moment it changes things up – you are now being and not worrying.
Perhaps most important is the fact that when you live in the moment you get to enjoy the moment, so if you are watching a comedy you get to laugh and enjoy the comedy instead of it being tainted by worrying or thinking about the past or future.
It’s difficult to worry when you’re present because the pain of the past or the fear of the future isn’t consuming your thoughts and dragging you down. You are completely focused on the here and now, the task at hand, the moment you’re living.
So, when you’re faced with situations that you cannot control (like the coronavirus), stop what you’re doing and choose to leave those worries to one side and focus on what you’re doing. The only way you’re going to manage this is by practicing it at every opportunity, the good news is you will have plenty of chances to practice.
Finding Power In the 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
Whatever the challenge you are faced with, whether you’re dealing with a laundry list of tasks or trying to get control of your anxiety, living in the moment is powerful.
- When you learn to live in the moment you find power in the present because you’ve got the wheel.
- You get to choose how you respond to stressful situations, interruptions, or distractions. It doesn’t have to be fraught with fear or stress, you can defuse the situation by taking control and exerting your power. How can you do that? By shutting everything out to deal with only one task at hand.
- Do not underestimate the power of living in the moment by actively choosing to shut everything else out to focus on what you’re doing. It might sound like a simple thing to do, but it’s more challenging than you think. It isn’t just the distraction of notifications and gadgets that draws focus, our thoughts are just as guilty of dragging us into stress. If you give your mind an inch, it will take a mile.
- So, even pleasant memories from the past can have a negative impact if you indulge them too long. Just as over-planning the future can set you up for a fall.
- When you are too into thinking about the past and worrying about the future; you are giving your power away and you’re giving it to the things that don’t matter right now. You are also losing precious moments where joy and happiness dwell.
- By living in the moment, by staying present, you are taking back power for yourself and taking back control over what you can control. Everything else? It’s just background noise. At least, it should be just background noise – that’s an active choice that you are going to have to make. Honestly, you’re going to have to keep making that choice because it isn’t a one-time thing. Choose the moment.
Being Present: The Practice
If you would live to improve your ability to live in the moment and stay present, then I have one piece of advice for you – practice. The majority of people who struggle with remaining present struggle not because it’s difficult, but because they do not practice. The more you practice (just about anything), the better you become at it. The more you practice the more it becomes second-nature.
Make being present a habit.
To get started – right now, whatever you are doing (okay, you’re reading this), focus on it.
- What else are you doing right now as you read this?
- Are you glancing at your phone every time it pings?
- Did you interrupt yourself to make a hot beverage, grab a snack, or respond to an email?
- Are you worried about a bill? Thinking about Sally who pissed you off the other day at work? Worrying about the holidays amid a pandemic?
Focus on the words on this page, and if your thoughts begin to wander just bring yourself back to the words in front of you. It’s normal for your mind to wander, in fact, it can be beneficial to allow your mind the time and space to check out.
There’s a time for it, though, and that time is not now. It’s not about pushing every thought from your mind as mindfulness encourages. Rather, it’s trying to be more aware of how your thoughts are jumping and bringing yourself back to the task you should be focused on.
It doesn’t matter how often your thoughts stray, just bring yourself back to the words on the page. It can be difficult, especially when you’re feeling tired or frustrated as you work on a task. However, the more you correct yourself and bring focus to the moment the easier it will become.
Try to find joy in whatever task you are carrying out. Try to find gratitude in doing the task you are doing. Try to appreciate every sensation, movement, moment, and sensation that you experience. You can transform just about anything into an amazing experience if you learn how to be present.
“Focus on opportunities not setbacks. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t. Focus on the present moment, not the past or the future. Empower yourself!”~ Akiroq Brost
There is a wide range of ways that you can practice living in the moment, as noted above practice makes perfect.
So, look for tasks and activities that you can use as practice for living in the moment. It might be difficult to start this practice at work, but it’s something you can certainly build up to.
Exercise is good for your mental health regardless, but it’s also an excellent way to indulge the present and ensure you’re living in the moment. It really doesn’t matter what type of physical activity you choose. As you exercise, you pay total attention to the sensations in your body because you don’t want to push too hard and get an injury. You’re also paying attention to the activity because you’re counting reps. You win by improving your physical health and by learning to live in the moment.
Interval training is a good option. Often, cardio allows your mind to wander, it can get lost down the rabbit hole of stress and depressing thoughts. Crank up the intensity of your workout and switch things up so that you are completely focused on the exercise you are doing, whether it’s rowing, running, cycling, or lifting weights.
In general, stay focused on each moment of the day as it occurs. Pay attention to all that is happening, how you feel and what you are doing. When thoughts of past or future concerns try to push their way in, reject them and bring your focus back to the present moment.
It’s Not All About Meditation
You might be curious as to why meditation wasn’t a bigger topic of discussion. While I would encourage you to meditate, it would be remiss of me to overlook the difference between mindfulness and living in the moment.
Mindfulness meditation is an excellent grounding technique. It absolutely helps you bring your attention back to the moment, but the moment is meditation. So, if you are unable to do this without meditation you’re only living in the moment when you’re meditating.
Our focus here is on always being present and always living in the moment, not living in the moment as you meditate.
Having said that, active meditation might be an excellent tool for you to live in the moment. It’s simply meditation that you undertake while moving. It can be practiced as you do yoga, walk, swim, jog, surf, or do just about any other physical activity. You might want to tie it into your exercise regimen.
Life is always going to be filled with ups, downs, twists, and turns. At some stage in your life, you’re going to face challenging times. When you have dealt with what you feel is the most challenging experience of your life, there will be another most challenging moment somewhere down the line. That’s just life.
So, you won’t get anywhere by worrying about what that next challenging moment might be and you won’t get anywhere worrying about whether you handled the last challenging moment properly. The only thing this will achieve is a lifetime of anxiety, stress, and depression.
The only thing that is real and tangible is this moment.
The only thing we have is this moment.