Being in the present moment is one of the simplest yet most difficult concepts to master. Most of us spend far more of our lives in the past or future than we realize, constantly swinging from thought to thought, the incessant self-chatter preventing us from living fully in the present.
We think about what we did, said, should have done, or what we might do tomorrow, the next week, or (for the extreme planners) the next year. Instead of fully experiencing the beauty and joy we have in our lives now, we’re distracted by the illusion in our heads.
We fool ourselves into experiencing a diminished version of our lives when we’re too busy scanning behind or ahead of where we’re currently standing.
Living in the present moment comes with many mental and physical health benefits. The practice of paying attention to what’s happening now results in greater relaxation, acceptance and happiness in your life. There is also reduced stress since your attention is focused on the reality of now instead of a fabricated perception of what was and might be. Being present is a worthwhile reminder whenever you catch yourself slipping off on either end. Life is a precious gift to be appreciated and we can only do so when we embrace the moment we have now.
Here are 5 ways to live in the present:
1) Tackle a small project
One of the best ways to be present is to be engrossed in completing a project. This is often referred to as being in flow, when you are so occupied in what you’re doing you lose track of time. Some people write, others paint, sculpt, garden, cook, or build something. The project can be anything you’d like, a small side project or a part of a larger goal. It can be what you enjoy doing or it could be a specific task you need to complete.
The important part is avoiding distractions within and outside the mind, keeping your focus on the project for the duration of time needed for completion. Immersing yourself fully in to the project at hand means you’re not thinking about what you’re doing afterwards, what could go wrong, or what you could have done differently. The bonus is you make progress on something and experience a sense of accomplishment as you go along.
2) Go for a bike ride
The liberating feeling of being fully in the moment is undeniable when it comes to riding a bicycle. The act of propelling yourself forward with your own two feet, absorbing the bumps from the pavement through the wheels, and navigating your way through the streets and trails—there is nothing else quite like it. These movements and decisions are made in real-time, as the wind blows through your hair and you move as one with other vehicles and cyclists on the road. The pace and necessity of paying attention to what’s going on contribute to biking being one of my favorite ways to live in the moment.
3) Take a walk and notice the details
Going for a walk is another excellent way to embrace being in the present moment. It’s also more preferable if you feel the desire to slow down and take notice of the details. Engage your senses. As you put one foot in front of the other, look at the pavement with the imperfections and notice what’s in the windows of the houses you pass. Feel the sun shining on your face and listen to the sounds of birds, traffic and playing children.
Take a walk around your neighborhood or go to a park or lake. Even on a familiar path you’ve walked hundreds of times before, you will always observe something different or new when you pay attention. Everything is constantly changing; we are just too occupied to notice them most of the time.
4) Go to a coffee shop and observe the world
The luxury of savoring a coffee and pastry while watching the world go by is a simple and timeless pleasure, particularly on beautiful afternoons when the outside patios are open. At your favorite coffee shop, get your beverage of choice and an accompanying treat. Put away the cell phone, leave the laptop at home, save the book for another day, and savor the experience as you sip your beverage and watch the world moving around you. Relish the taste of your chosen treat with your coffee. Take notice of others and what’s happening around you. For added comfort and anonymity, remember to bring a pair of sunglasses along.
5) Meditate and focus on your breath
While this may be an intimidating idea to those new to meditation, spending as little as ten minutes focused on your breathing is an amazing way to practice being in the present. When you meditate, you are deliberately confronting the tendencies of your mind to loop forward or backward and redirecting your attention back to the most elementary aspect of each moment: your breath.
Your mind will wander, and that’s okay. Even those who have been meditating for years repeatedly refocus attention back on their breath. There is no such thing as good or bad meditation, it simply just is. The whole point is to refocus your attention as many times as you need. In this experience, you will have small slivers of time when you are simply breathing. The other times, you will gain awareness of what’s going on in your mind and practice the choice of redirecting your attention.
With these 5 different ideas, you can experiment and see what works best for you. What are your favorite ways of living in the present moment?