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The world is awash with gurus purring at us to ‘live in this moment’. But when your monkey mind yanks you in different directions and purposeful pauses make you squirm– how do you make that shift to live in this moment? And what exactly are the benefits of living in the moment?
This is a real-world guide on how to live in this moment – from a psychologist, and someone who has experienced first-hand both how much of a struggle and reward accessing the present moment can be
What does it mean to live in the present moment?
To live in this moment means to be present and occupy that moment wholly. It’s about giving whatever you’re doing your full, purposeful attention. And although challenging, it is possible.
How I live now, feels very different from a few years ago. Back in 2016, I recall reluctantly strolling into a mindfulness session at work.
While I looked relatively calm on the outside, on the inside my mind was engaged a thought-gymnastics routine. It cartwheeled through unsent emails and tumbled through what I needed to pick up for dinner.
It was clear the only place my mind didn’t want to be – in this moment.
Have you mentally revisited your to-do list while a friend talks to you? Or have you nodded your head in a presentation at work while daydreaming about your weekend plans? Yep. Me too
And it’s a perfectly normal and hugely beneficial skill.
Our ability to time travel between the remembered past and imagined future is one of human’s greatest evolutionary accomplishments. Biologically speaking, we’re not designed to only live in this moment – we’re designed to learn from the remembered past, grow, and imagine future experience. So, when it comes to how to live in this moment, it’s about balance, intention, and as much as possible – giving your attention to one thing at a time, one moment at a time at one place in time (I write more about viewing happiness through the lens of past, present, and future in my book Choose Happy
The more we can strike that delicate balance, the more we become fully engaged in life our fulfilment levels increase.
Future Plans vs Being Present: Is living in the moment bad?
Parts of the self-help industry can take an unnecessarily, judgemental tone. Deeming any thought of planning your future as problematic. It’s not. The reality is, if you’re going to sit in your yogi pants all day being fully present, then it’s likely you’ll going to hit a few future problems.
How I live now, in this moment is more about balance. When I’m planning the future, I try to sit down with intention and make plans.
When I’m with friends having a glass of wine, I’m fully present with them…..and so on.
And I don’t get it perfect every time, I’m a human being after all, not a robot.
However, how I live now compared to four years ago, has shown me that the effort to access the present moment is worth it. My relationships have improved, my productivity increased, I feel happier, less stressed, and more cantered. I feel that I give life more of my full attention and am more present.
sounds great. BUT How does one live in the present moment?
It will require effort to live in the present moment and tame your monkey mind. But the good news is that there are some simple exercises you can do to bring your thoughts back and live in this moment
#1 Observe Your Thoughts
Observing our thoughts enables us to see that we’re not the voice in our head. We’re the observer of our voice. As each thought passes across your mind, just like a cloud passes through the sky, notice how you’re able observe and not engage with that thought.
This can feel a little abstract, to begin with, so let’s put it into practice with a quick example. In this moment just take a moment to observe your thoughts by labelling them ‘thinking’, ‘feeling’, or ‘hearing’. For example, if you feel silly doing this exercise, you’ll label that thought as ‘feeling’. Or if you think ‘I wonder if I am doing this right’ – you’ll label it as ‘thinking’.
What this exercise allows you to do is to notice how you can observe and direct your thought traffic from the distance as an observer
#2 Journal for flow
In my book Find Your Flow outline a journal system for flow that is designed to help us live with intention. This journal system plays a big role in how I live now and sets aside dedicate time to plan ahead for the day. It involves identifying what I need to do (those high-value priorities) and what I want to do (high flow priorities). And by setting a schedule and scripting my day I set myself up to be in the present moment, allowing it to flow (read this if you are curious to know what flow is?).
There are a plethora of apps and youtube videos that provide great resources to ease our minds into this moment. Even a short mediation each day is a great way to slow your racing mind and ease it into the present moment.
If you’re new to meditation start with apps like Headspace or Insight Timer. When meditating it’s important to remember that it’s not about switching off your thoughts, but rather, gently observing them as they pass by.
What is the benefit of living in the moment?
Living in the moment trains our minds to become fully engaged in life. We engage in conversations, problem solve more effectively at work, notice nature that surrounds us, and experience life. Living in this moment helps us to become more mindful of our choices, get off autopilot and actively participate in life.
And the benefits of cultivating the disciple to be in this moment are well documented in psychology. It regulates stress levels, improves sleep, and increases productivity.
While benefits of being in this moment is well proven but it doesn’t mean it should be the only one, we occupy. It is learning the control panel of our time-traveling minds that can bring the greatest of benefits – it’s here that we can learn from our past, believe in our future, and enjoy the present.
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