In this article, I will provide practical advice on how to live in the now, to be present. I’m not at a point where I do this anywhere near what I believe it takes to really experience life, but I started near zero so any improvement is huge for me. Let us know by commenting where you are at and what practical advice you can share with the rest of us. There are a lot of good articles on the net for practical advice on being present and I will link you to some of them. If any of you have written articles on how to be in the now, give me a link in the comments and I will add it to the resources section.
This article is the third in the series. The first two are here and you need to read them before proceeding:
Change Your Environment
This is a not what I would call real practical much of the time, but as Jonathan pointed out in a comment to Living Now – Part II Comments, it has some powerful effect. So if you are particularly time-bound, stressed out, irritated, overwhelmed, or any other tense state and need to make a more drastic move consider one of these ideas as therapy:
This one is tough for many of us, but it is the key. When I say stop thinking, I’m talking about the kind past or future thinking that gets us into trouble. These are either reliving the recent or distant past or imagining future outcomes. Much of the latter is cast in a negative light and is what is otherwise known as worry. If you are in conversation with yourself, if you have a mental chatter going on, you are not in the now. I’m very familiar with the problems with too much thinking and internal chatter. This is what my whole life has been like and it is where I struggle most.
You may believe that if you are thinking or chattering about your current situation, then that is being present. It is not. You are often judging your current moment with a view of the past. If you are judging and commenting on your present, you are not present. Your mind-talk is very often your worst enemy. If you are going to listen to the voice in your head, listen as an observer. Listen impartially and without judgment. That’s not very easy to do and you have to work at it hard to make it a habit.
Your Past is Dead
Forget the past. It is almost always a hindrance. In my opinion the best use of the past is to draw on memories to produce emotional states that are good for you. Otherwise, leave the dead past where it belongs – buried and forgotten. It hurts you far more than it helps you. If you must occasionally draw upon it to learn a lesson then fine. Go there only occasionally and briefly and then get right back to the present moment.
Remembering special times in the past, times you had with your children for example (I do it), may be great therapy if used occasionally. However, it is living in your past and does nothing to help your present or future. It takes away from actually living now. That may be emotionally hard to accept, but I think if you really consider it carefully, you will see the point. You often are juxtaposing something wonderful in your past with something not so wonderful in your present. Sorry my friends, but that is negative thinking whether you are aware you are doing it or not.
What are complaining and bitching all about? They are about the past. When you are angry, mad, irritated, stressed, or most any other negative emotion, it is very often linked to the past. That past may be five minutes ago, but you must internalize and accept that five minutes ago is still the past. It’s gone. You won’t get it back. Don’t let it ruin your present.
Set Aside a Specific Time for Future Thinking and Planning
Many personal development and time management advisers suggest setting aside a specific time each day and week for planning. I’m a big believer in setting aside time each morning to come up with your MIT’s for the day and to visualize your future state. Then for the rest of your day, just execute and be present. Live in the now and drop the constant planning and dreaming. For bigger goals and projects you can set aside weekly or monthly sessions.
I used to struggle a lot and still do to some degree with 1,000 mph future thinking. Driving, showering, walking, eating, trying to sleep, and even reading were times where my mind was racing ahead to the future: planning, rehearsing, and imagining. I missed almost all of the present experience of living. Shut it down.
Paying Attention to Movement
This is one of the very best ways to be present in the now. Whenever you are moving, focus on the movement itself. If you are walking up or down stairs, just plain walking, exercising, showering, washing your hands, or any other type of movement, focus on the movement itself. Feel the muscles, tendons, joints, and bones as they move in harmony. Aside from the tremendous value in keeping you present, there are huge benefits for your brain and long term functional skills from paying attention to your movements. Do you want to be vital now and in your old-age? See my article on movement With Attention for more information.
Don’t Be a Drama Queen
Drama is conflict and pain. Things are what they are. Stop telling the world about your problems. Stop the “woe is me” attitude. If you are talking about your problems aside from a therapeutic setting, you are reliving and intensifying something negative. You are talking instead of doing. I know this may be hard for you to accept, but I honestly believe that the more you talk about, think about, or focus on drama, the more drama you will get. Also to be quite frank, nobody that should matter to you wants to hear it anyway.
Do you find yourself saying things like “This sucks.” “This is bad.” “I hate this.” “I’m pissed.” “She drives me nuts.”? Labeling a situation is focusing on the negative. That framing creates the pain and unhappiness in your life. Is the present moment unpleasant? Maybe so, but stop labeling it as such. Accept it and act on it without labeling it.
Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it. Make it your friend and ally, not your enemy. This will miraculously change your whole life. –Eckhart Tolle
Three Simple Choices
None of this means you should be helpless in the face of challenges. Do not interpret any of this to mean non-action on your part. When you really understand what this means, you will understand that accepting something that simply is, actually allows you to act to change it.
You have three choices in an unpleasant or distressful current moment.
- Remove yourself from the situation
- Change the situation
- Totally accept the situation
If you can’t or won’t do one of the first two, then just do the third. I know this sounds simplistic, but it really is that simple. When I was behind the million year-old driver led line of cars, and I couldn’t change it, I basically had two choices. Pull over and stop (remove myself from the situation) or just get into the drive and enjoy it (totally accept the situation). Staying frustrated and tense does nothing but create pain and unhappiness.
The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment is a very good resource. I don’t agree with much of his general philosophical position, but his practical advice is excellent.
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