The hectic modern world can make it difficult to stay present.
We often get caught up thinking about the future or the past, and forget that our life always unfolds before us in the ‘now’.
So, what can we do to be more present on a day-to-day basis?
We asked a group of selected experts for their top tips when it comes to being more present.
Here’s what they said.
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Gradually Train Your Mind To Inhabit The Present Moment
Alex Montagu, Founder of The Tranquil Lawyer
Our preoccupations with the past and the future often come at the expense of missing out living in the present.
Modern Western society has conditioned most of us in this way of thinking.
But the mind can be retrained to create new ways of detaching from the confines of the past and future.
Future and past are purely mental perceptions. Have you ever seen, touched, smelled, or tasted the future? When the future arrives, it becomes the present! As for the past, it only exists in your memory, which is why it is often distorted.
Mindfulness allows us to repeatedly bring ourselves into the present moment.
Training the mind to inhabit the present moment – the only place where reality unfolds – enables you to escape the prison of psychological time.
Mindfulness and meditation are invaluable in helping us navigate through these trying times, but they cannot be achieved in a single day. They require intent and regular practice.
As your mind becomes accustomed to living in the present moment, your inner wisdom begins to shine through – you awaken to your true nature, which is the interconnectedness of all beings.
Here are some tips:
Sit down in a quiet place and ask yourself the following questions: Where am I? What are my surroundings like? Notice what you see around you, such as the objects in a room or your view through a window.
How does my body feel? Do I feel warm, cold or normal? Do I feel any aches or pains? Notice the sensations in your body and how long they last.
Am I feeling any emotions right now? Is there anger? Jealousy? Boredom? Restlessness? Excitement? What are my thoughts? What’s going through my mind? Try this on a consistent basis, at least once or twice a day.
As time goes by, you will see that these techniques will help ground you in the present moment.
You can also try mindful breathing meditation. In this meditation, you concentrate your attention on the breath. Breathe in deeply through the stomach. Feel your stomach rise with the inhale while breathing in all the way. Hold it in for a count of 10, then exhale slowly through another count of 10, relaxing your whole body with the exhale. Repeat this nine times.
Make sure your body is not slumped. Bring your full attention to the practice – to the inhale, holding the breath and the exhale.
Start With Mindfulness Of The Moment
Christine Mak, Certified Mindfulness Teacher and Wellness Lifestyle Coach at Soul Paradiso
Being present starts with mindfulness of the moment.
On the surface, you can take notice of where you are, what you are doing and who you are with.
Beneath that, you can take notice of the atmosphere of the space you are in; notice the subtle nuances of the differing moods of the people around you if there are any, the sounds that you hear, the textures or materials of things, the temperature of the space, the lighting.
Taking notice of each of these helps one to develop a deep sense of presence to their surroundings.
Then going deeper, take notice of your own mood, your breathing, your heartbeat, and any sensations within your body.
As your mind and body takes up the space you are in, observe what it took for you to get to that moment in time. While it might seem counterintuitive to being present, developing mindfulness about the journey it took to get to where you are can shift your whole being into a state of gratitude for the present moment and anchor you more deeply to being present.
The present moment is a marriage between the past and future. Once that happens, the usual things that may clutter your mind or attention don’t seem to matter as much, because you’ll realize the fortunate opportunity you have to be living and breathing doing what you are doing at that moment.
Through all the highs and lows in life, your basic needs are most likely covered if you are reading this. Having a home to live in, clothes to wear, and food to eat is a blessing in it itself that has afforded you to get to where you are in the present.
Being present is more than just acknowledging the moment, but can also foster peace, gratitude, connection, and joy.
Focus On The Senses We Don’t Pay Much Attention To
Connie Habash, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Yoga and Meditation Teacher
When we’re present, we’re engaged in our senses, what is happening in the moment, with ourselves. We can even be present with someone else.
In presence, we’re not caught up in the mind; the more we can release thoughts when they arise, the more present we can be.
Presence comes from letting go all of the stories we tell ourselves about the past, the future, and even the narration we give to what’s happening now. We let go of thinking about it and actually experience it.
One impactful way to become more present is to focus on senses that we don’t pay as much attention to, such as touch, smell, and taste.
Vision is the primary way that most people engage with the world; our eyes dart around to a large degree in response to our thinking state.
Shift yourself out of thinking into this moment by engaging those lesser-developed senses through these practices:
• Pick up a spice jar and open it. Close your eyes and hold it near your nostrils, taking in the fragrance. Contrast different herbs and spices and notice your visceral reactions. Have fun with it!
• Make some time to eat mindfully. Have a little sampler plate of different kinds of tastes: something sweet, something sour, something salty, something bitter, and something spicy. Sit down comfortably, close your eyes, and take just a tiny bit of one of the tastes into your mouth. Feel it, chew it, notice how your tongue responds and what emotions it might invoke. Have a sip of water in between the tastes and continue your flavor explorations.
• Take a few moments to sit down, close your eyes, and touch your arm. Glide your fingers very slowly on any part of the arm or hand you wish. Feel the fabric of your sleeve, your skin, or the texture of your knuckles. Let go of judgments or comparisons and simply feel. Notice how it is for you not only to feel the sensations with your fingers, but also to be touched.
• Step outside into a yard, on the sidewalk, a local park, or hiking trail. Find something that you can touch, such as dewy grass, a railing, a soft petal, or the bark of a tree. Explore different textures with your fingers. Feel what it’s like to lean against a tree, or walk mindfully (especially barefoot!) on the earth. Deeply engage your sense of touch.
• While you are outdoors, explore with your sense of smell. What is the air like around you? If flowers are blooming, what do they smell like? Does the tree bark have a smell? We willing to explore different scents in your environment.
• Listen deeply. Again, have a seat and close your eyes, preferably outdoors. What sounds are close to you? What do you hear on the other side of the fence or wall? What are the farthest sounds you can hear? Listen to both natural and unnatural sounds without judgment and intent interest, exploring how much you can hear.
Feel The Aliveness Of Your Physical Body
Mahesh Grossman, Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist and Owner of Berkeley Hypnosis & Pain Management
The opposite of being present is getting lost in our thoughts or our daydreams. That’s a kind of a trance, where we aren’t completely aware of our surroundings and what we’re doing.
As a hypnotherapist, I have a lot of practice bringing people out of trances, which I need to do at the end of my sessions. Here are two tips:
1) One of the quickest ways to get back to the present is to become aware of your physical body.
Take a few seconds to feel the aliveness or inner sensations of your feet, your knees, your hips, your hands, your chest and your forehead.
If you want to come back faster, just feel your feet, your hands and your forehead.
2) When you’re stuck in a worry loop, (which keeps you from being present), it helps to switch your focus to the visual parts of the brain, which include the occipital lobe.
One technique I use to help people stop worrying is called the brain wash. In your imagination, unzip your head, take out your brain, and wash it in the kitchen sink.
Rinse it off, re-wash any spots you missed, then place it back in your head.
As strange as it may sound, this visualization stops the worry and brings a sense of peace in its place, allowing you to be present instead of stuck in your head.
Use Daily Tasks To Help You Stay Present
Julie Leonard, Happiness Evangelist and Life Coach
I recommend choosing some daily tasks and becoming more mindful as you do them. A couple of good examples are brushing your teeth and having a shower.
For example, usually when you are brushing your teeth your thoughts are elsewhere, often thinking about what you are going to be doing next.
Instead, in those two minutes, focus on being fully present. Focus solely on the act of brushing your teeth.
The action of putting the toothpaste on the brush, smelling the mint fragrance, focusing on each tooth as you brush, becoming aware of the taste and the minty freshness of your breath. Be fully present for the whole two minutes.
Enter Your Experiences With ‘Beginner’s Mind’
Clare Hagan, Holistic Health Coach
One way to be more present is to enter your experiences with beginner’s mind.
Beginner’s mind is about approaching life without preconceived notions. It’s about remaining open minded, curious and aware – like a child.
Imagine you’re walking through an art museum gallery and a particular painting captures your attention.
Out of habit, or simply because you see everyone one else doing it, you lean in and read the label. The label tells you the name of the artist and the year it was painted. Let’s say you’ve heard of the painter and something about a particular movement they are associated with.
This immediately leads you to interpret the painting in a set way. Unfortunately, what you’ve just done is cut yourself off from the present moment.
Instead of remaining curious, you sought confirmation of preconceived notions.
To be more present, practice looking with beginner’s mind. Stand before the painting giving yourself plenty of time to take it in and let it fill you with pure experience.
Let your understanding of the painting come from within as possibilities of meaning and experience unfold naturally.
We can approach everyday life in a similar way. Instead of rushing through our day like a bucket list of paintings at a museum, we can stop to practice beginners mind with each precious moment.
What we come away with will be more enriching and fulfilling.
Learn To Disrupt Your Habitual Ways Of Perception
Howard J. Rankin PhD, Neurologist and Author
Without observation of our consciousness, we will remain painfully unaware of the habitual ways we see the world including ourselves.
By their very nature, habits are automatic and so we can and often go through life with the same lenses and editors shaping our perceptions thoughts and behaviors.
Learning to detach ourselves from our usual conscious defenses is therefore critical in understanding ourselves and changing how we see not just our lives but everything we come across.
In my book, I Think Therefore I Am Wrong, I point out the many biases that influence us.
We need insight into what they are and how we use them, to change the conventional way we see the world.
Mindfulness and meditation exercises are helpful in getting out of habitual processing and stepping back from our usual lenses.
It is also important that such exercises are not about feeling peaceful for a few minutes a day, they need to be incorporated into daily life, so they disrupt our old habitual ways of perception.
Being able to step back from the lenses that have developed over your life time and see the world and your consciousness, is the basis of wisdom.
And as I point out in I Think Therefore I Am Wrong, the pursuit and adoption of virtues, like humility, gratitude, respect, kindness and love, will also challenge your conventional views and lead you to greater mindfulness.
April Dávila, Writer and Mindfulness Meditation Instructor
I often teach my students about the practice of non-striving.
The practice of non-striving begins with trusting that a task will get done, and allows for a moment to notice the details of the experience.
For instance, consider doing the dishes. When we begin, there’s little question as to whether the task will get done. It will.
If, instead of rushing through the job, we allow ourselves to notice the feel of the warm water, the shine of the delicate bubbles, the weight of the flatware, we’re suddenly not just striving to be done, we’re present in the moment.
The task gets completed in the same amount of time and we’re left feeling peaceful and centered instead of haggard and rushed. Apply that outcome to a day full of tasks (from checking emails to making the bed) and it can be a life-changing practice.
Leslie Bashioum, Licensed Professional Counselor
• Practice Mindfulness. One way to do this is to engage all your senses by focusing on five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can feel, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
Practicing mindfulness deactivates the sympathetic nervous system which is responsible for our bodies stress response.
• Master the skill of listening. It seems like a simple concept, doesn’t it? But how often do we find ourselves engaging in a conversation with someone but instead of listening to what the person has to say, we find ourselves figuring out what we are going to say next.
One way we can practice being more present in our conversations and relationships, is simply by listening with the purpose to understand – rather than to respond.
• Allow yourself to feel. Our emotions are just information. We cannot choose them. Think of them like the gauges on the dashboard of your vehicle.
The gauges are there to alert us if something is wrong or needs attention. Our emotions serve the same purpose.
By allowing ourselves to explore what our emotions might be alerting us to, we are able to address our needs and provide ourselves with space to be more present emotionally and mentally.
Use Your Senses
Julia Grässer, Certified Yoga Teacher and Founder of Warrior Princess Yoga
A great way to become more present is to focus on your senses. Our senses only work in the now. We cannot taste or smell in the past or in the future, only in the present moment.
Choose a sense that feels easy accessible to start with. Maybe close your eyes and listen what is around, far and close, or notice the wind or temperature on your skin.
You can become creative here and might be surprised how exciting it is to be fully present with your senses and even start sharpening them.