I struggle with being present. I didn’t think much about whether I was “living in the moment” until the last few years. I had some sense of my difficulty remaining present before that, but it’s only been recently that I’ve paid close attention to it.
I was talking with a friend and I mentioned how I struggled being present. He said he knew that about me already and has often noticed my mind is elsewhere when we are together. His response actually concerned me. This is someone I have a great amount of respect for, and the consequences of my not being present did not reflect that. I appreciated his honesty.
We probably all have different causes for not being present. Mine have part to do with my internal makeup, and I believe, partly to do with self-discipline.
I naturally see much farther than my reach, and this causes me to be thinking about that future state I see and all the things that are required to close the gap between where I am, and that vision. This is great in moderation, but spending too much time thinking ahead can prevent me from paying attention to what’s going on right in front of me.
Sometimes my mind is somewhere else due to my fear of missing out. For example, when I’m talking to someone at a party, I find myself looking over their shoulder trying not to miss someone else that I may want to talk to.
When I’m behind on a project or I haven’t delegated enough, I can also find my mental focus shifted elsewhere. Sometimes it’s because I’m not convinced the task I’m working on is the best use of my time. Or, I have so many things on my plate that I can’t get clarity on the most important, and my thoughts spin.
Another bad one is the phone. I think we can all acknowledge this can take us away from being present. It’s become a real issue in our society, in fact.
The underlying root cause of all these reasons boils down to discipline. When I let my mind go elsewhere, it will gladly take the rope it is given, that’s just my nature.
As with all problems, awareness alone doesn’t solve it, but it does help me to manage it better. Here are three strategies I use to try to correct this problem for myself.
Meditation and Visualization
I begin each day with 30 minutes of meditation. It works for me, because my mind is on the move before my feet hit the floor each morning, but it’s also a time of day where I can more easily slow down and clear my thinking. This is a time that enables me to move a lot of thoughts aside, and find stillness in my mind. It’s like a clearing process that leaves me with improved focus.
Once my thoughts have slowed down, the next step in the process is to talk about the 3 to 5 year vision I see for my life, along with the way I plan to achieve it. This provides me with a time each day to mentally go to the future, but with intention. I get an opportunity to revisit how to close the gap between where I am and where I want to be, and then I commit to myself to stay present on the most important things for that day.
I plan my year, and also every quarter, week, and day. The practice of weekly and daily planning is the most important for helping me stay present.
If I’ve spent the time planning my relationship focus, my opportunity focus, and my tasks, it gives me permission to be wherever I’ve planned to be, physically and mentally. When I am confident in my plan to close the gap between the present and the future, that allows me to remain in the moment.
Setting (and Resetting) an Intention
I explicitly make a decision to be in the moment. This is actually quite simple, if I am mindful enough to do it. It involves self-talk, reminding myself that what I am about to do is where I need to be, or the person I’m with is the only thing that matters at that time.
We all have an inside voice, our own dialogue going on in our mind. This can lead to drifting, but our inside voice can also help us stay on track. When I catch myself drifting, I bring myself back into focus. For this to work, I have to be mindful of my tendencies, and the challenge that comes with them.
This is a good strategy for when I am with my family, and I am feeling some other distraction trying to rob me of the moment. Instead, I remind myself of my intention to be present with the people I love most.
Where this is most difficult is when I am interrupted from something else I was doing, especially if I feel that my time is being hijacked. The options here are to work extra hard at staying focused on the individuals needs who interrupted you, or to simply ask for permission to finish what you were currently doing, and commit to an alternative time to support the other individuals needs.
Both take great discipline, and the latter takes a little bit of courage. I can’t say I am great at either, but when I put these strategies into action, they do work.
A Work in Progress
Being present is a work in progress for me, and those who know me will attest to that. It’s something that is important for me to improve.
There can be unintended consequences of not being in the moment. You might leave others feeling less important or unsupported. You might miss an important moment in your own life, or in the life of someone important to you. Or you might reach the end of the day puzzled about how you actually spent it. This alone can actually be a strong signal that you were not fully present or intentional that day.
Most of all, if you’re never present then you’re never really in the moment, and the moment is what memories are made of.