how to be more present
Living in the present has always been a struggle for me. I know it’s likely the reason I’ve rarely felt completely happy or at peace. My mind wanders, worrying about the future or dwelling on the past, which has ultimately lead to a lot of anxiety. It has gotten better with therapy, awareness and practice but is still a daily struggle. There are a few simple daily practices for how to be more present each day that have helped me a lot and I’d like to share them with you.
What Does Living in the Present Moment Mean?
Living in the present moment means that you are aware and mindful of what is happening at this very moment. You are not dwelling on your past or worried about your future, but centered in the here and now. All of your attention is focused on the present moment.
“The present moment is the only thing where there is no time. It is the point between past and future. It is always there and it is the only point we can access in time. Everything that happens, happens in the present moment. Everything that ever happened and will ever happen can only happen in the present moment. It is impossible for anything to exist outside of it.” — Myrko Thum
Being present minded is the key to staying healthy and happy. It helps fight anxiety, reduces worry about your future, and cuts down on dwelling in the past. It keeps you connected to yourself and everything around you. Being present can also reduce our stress and improve our ability to cope with fear and anger.
Why is it so difficult to live in the present?
Living in the present is so difficult because we live in a society that encourages us to think about the future or dwell on our past. Advertisements, politics, social media, reminders, notifications, messages, and alerts are usually geared towards the past or the future in one way or another.
how to be more present?
- Think about the past in small doses, focusing on the past for a productive reason (relive a rewarding experience, identify where you went wrong, or figure out the key to a past success).
- Think about the future in small doses, focusing on the future in a healthy way (don’t spend time worrying about the future, think about the future just long enough to prepare for it).
- Stay in the present moment for a majority of the day.
Obviously this is much easier said than done! That is why I’ve outlined 5 simple daily practices that will teach you how to be more present each and every day.
1. recording a gratifying experience each day
My therapist recommended this daily practice to me. At first it sounded too simple to actually work but it has surprising helped me significantly with being more present. At the end of each day when all of your to-do’s are done, take a moment to write down on notecard an experience (no matter how big or small) from your day in which you either showed gratitude, found peace in, was enjoyable, or you simply saw something that was beautiful and record the details of that moment onto the notecard. Fold it in half and put in a large jug or jar. At the end of the year it is so gratifying to go through the cards and re-live those special little moments. I also like to write the date down so when I read back through them I can more vividly remember that moment.
Here is an example:
“I’m sitting on the balcony at our small condo at the Lake of the Ozarks (Jack’s first trip to the Ozarks) and I’m watching Tommy (my husband) and Jack (my 20 month old) fishing on the shore. Jack is throwing rocks and staying near daddy. It is a beautiful morning. I can hear the birds and the breeze. I’m drinking a protein shake and enjoying this moment.”
The reason why I find this daily practice so beneficial in being more present is that it automatically makes you stop and think about each moment since that could potentially be an “option” for your daily recording. Therefore, I always end up having a few options to record for that day. It is such a simple technique toward daily mindfulness.
Meditation is one of the best ways to train your mind to focus on the present by re-directing your thoughts back to the present moment.
To give meditation a try, follow these simple steps:
- Take 5 minutes out of your day.
- Choose the same time each day: usually before you go to sleep or a few minutes after you wake up.
- Find a quiet space where you can relax.
- Sit comfortably: on the floor with your legs crossed and yours hands gently resting on your thighs or turned open to the sky.
- Defocus your eyes: gazing softly into the distance. Take five deep breaths, breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. On the last exhalation, allow your eyes to close.
- Settle into your body: Gently observe your posture, and notice the sensations. Feel the weight of your arms and hands resting on your legs.
- Acknowledge your senses: anything you can smell, hear or taste and sensations of heat, cold or wind.
- Scan your body: observing any tension or discomfort. Don’t try to change what you find, simply take note of it. Now scan your body again, observing any parts that feel relaxed.
- Turn your awareness to your thoughts: notice any thoughts that arise without trying to alter them.
- Note your underlying mood: becoming aware of what’s there without judgment.
- Eliminate any expectations: remind yourself that there’s nothing for you to achieve here – just sit for the full 5 minutes.
- Bring your attention to your breathing: don’t make any effort to change it, just observe the rising and falling sensation that it creates in your body.
- Begin silently counting the breaths: 1 as you inhale, 2 as you exhale, 3 on the next inhalation, and so on, up to 10. Then start again at 1. When thoughts arise while doing this – just guide your attention back to the breath.
- Spend 20-30 seconds just sitting: you might find your mind full of thoughts and plans, or feel calm and focused. Whatever happens is completely fine. Enjoy this moment of letting your mind simply be.
3. Taking a walk in nature
Sometimes I may not feel fully motivated to hit the gym but I want some sort of physical activity so I’ll go to one of the many local parks near my house and just start walking. It always automatically brings a sense of peace to my mind and body. Often I’ll get motivated and include some interval running.
You can take just a short walk around the block or make it a lengthy one in a park or scenic area. The key is to make it a mindful walk. Engage in all your senses and be aware of everything that’s happening around you. Open your ears to all of the sounds – the birds, insects, cars, airplanes, breeze, ocean (if you’re lucky enough to live by the beach). Open your nose to any smells such as fresh cut grass or flowers. And be sure to pay attention to your breathing and feel each breath.
Taking a walk in nature helps you connect with the environment and your true self. It is a simple and effective way to bring awareness to all of the beauty that surrounds you each and every day.
4. mindful review of your day
At the end of the day it’s easy to forget about everything that happened throughout your day. All you really want to do is enjoy and nice meal and veg out on the couch. Which, don’t get me wrong, is perfectly fine. However, a simple way to help you be more present each day is to simply take a minute or two each evening before bed or before you veg out on the couch to review your day. Think all the way back to the morning when you woke up and all of the moments throughout your day that stuck out to you and notice how you felt in those moments. Were you anxious, tired, relaxed, relieved, angry, happy?
A simple habit like this will naturally make you more aware of your senses throughout the day since you know you will be reviewing it later. And eventually you will start to live more in the present without even thinking about it.
Yoga literally forces you to be mindful and present. It demands that you be fully present and aware of where you are and what you’re doing and not overly reactive by what’s going on around you. If not, you might fall and hurt yourself!
For example, if you want to attain warrior three (superman pose), it requires rhythmic breath, an engaged core, focused gaze, and steady balance. There’s simply no room for thoughts of important business meetings or weekend plans.
A key factor in yoga is the focus on the breath. When we focus on our breath we have no choice but to be in the present. I was taking a yoga class in Greece many years ago and I so vividly remember it being one of the more effective yoga classes for me as the instructor repeated throughout the entire class “breathe in, breathe out” in the most calming and way you could possibly imagine.
Even if you don’t have the time or money to take yoga classes in a studio, there are endless yoga videos on YouTube you can practice in your own home on your own time.
I truly hope you found this article helpful. Let me know if you have incorporated any of these practices into your daily life and how it has impacted your ability to live more in the present.
RELATED READS: How to get through the mid-afternoon slump
To give this meditation a try, follow these simple steps:
- Set aside a regular block of time during your day (e.g., 5 minutes first thing in the morning or before you go to bed).
- Get in a comfortable position—but not too comfortable! You don’t want to fall asleep when you’re trying to meditate. Sitting upright may be the best posture.
- Set up an “inner gatekeeper” to control what comes in and what must stay out of the mind. Instruct the gatekeeper to keep out any thoughts of the past or the future for the rest of your current practice.
- Repeat this phrase silently to yourself three times: “Now is the time to be aware of the present moment. I let go of the past and the future.”
- Turn your attention towards the sounds you hear. Allow them to wash over you and focus only on the current sound you are hearing, not the one you just heard or any sound you may hear next.
- Focus on your bodily sensations: your arms resting on the arms of a chair or on your lap, your legs on the chair or folded up underneath you, the feel of your clothing on your skin, any pain or muscle aches, any twitches or flutterings, and any other sensations you might be feeling.
- Turn your focus to the thoughts going through your head. Observe them as they enter your mind, swirl around your consciousness, then exit your mind. Let each thought pass, labeling them as they go (e.g., “hurt” or “happy”) and keeping your mind open for the next thought to arise.
- Finally, focus on your breathing. Notice your natural breathing pattern and take note of how your chest rises and falls with each breath (Henshaw, 2013).