Live Now – Part III

by Stephen Mills on June 7, 2009

Now

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:

Living Now – Part I
Living Now – Part II

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:

  • Mountains
  • Beach
  • River
  • Lake
  • Forest

Stop Thinking

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.

Stop Labeling

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.

Resources

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.

Six Steps to Living in the Moment
Being in the Moment
How to Live in the Moment

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How to be Content — The Rat Race Trap
July 5, 2009 at 8:44 am

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Marc and Angel Hack Life June 7, 2009 at 11:29 pm

I love the notion of being present.

Great series of articles. 😉

Marc and Angel Hack Life´s last blog post..The Art of Being Naked

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Steven Aitchison June 7, 2009 at 11:56 pm

This is a great series of articles you have here Stephen. I liked the second one and this one is great reminder to live in the now. Using the past to trigger emotional states in the now is a good one to remember and a good use of memories.

Steven Aitchison´s last blog post..The Devils dreams

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Roger | A Content Life June 8, 2009 at 7:22 am

Stephen,

I’ve enjoyed this series which contains excellent advice!

The Stop Thinking idea is pretty hard to do. In my case, I’m talking about completely emptying my mind. I’ve been meditating for 10 months and it only happens a for a few seconds at a time and I can never force it to happen.

Roger | A Content Life´s last blog post..My First Zen Experience

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Vin | NaturalBias.com June 8, 2009 at 8:42 am

Great tips Stephen! I particularly like the one about setting your environment. I plan on moving to Florida for this exact reason. I like hot weather, palm trees and the relaxing effects of visiting the ocean. I know that living in this type of environment will improve my mental wellness.

I’ve found that consistently trying to avoid and eliminate unnecessary sources of daily stress and reframing negative thoughts into positive ones has made it far easier for me to remain in the present. In fact, through this consistent effort, I find myself being in the present more often as a natural result rather than trying to force it. As you experience with your spilled nuts (lol), I often catch myself in this state, and it often provides an instant sense of satisfaction and elation when I do. If it weren’t such a balanced feeling, I’d say that it’s addictive!

Vin | NaturalBias.com´s last blog post..Why Antacids Will Never Cure Your Heartburn

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Ian | Quantum Learning June 8, 2009 at 11:15 am

Great series Stephen!

I’d just like to add to Roger’s comment. I also find it impossible to stop thinking, and much easier to separate myself from my thinking. I see my thoughts as playing on a TV screen and when they’re all I can see, then it means my nose is pressed up against the screen. If I can take a step back and leave the thoughts on the screen, then I don’t identify with them to the same extent. Even this is not easy .. but I find easier than turning off the TV completely. Maybe I just haven’t found the ‘off’ switch yet!

Ian | Quantum Learning´s last blog post..Life: powerful and fragile

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills June 8, 2009 at 8:15 pm

You’re on a roll Stephen. Your experience is now alive within you and taking root. I think the ability to “be here now” is part of our natural state. That means we should all be able to recapture it with some focused effort. Stress is the great unbalancer, so a side benefit of learning to reduce stress should be an enhanced ability to live in the moment. Some activities capture our attention so completely that we find ourselves in the moment just by participating. Fast moving games like tennis or ping pong come to mind. We may still be thinking, but at least our thoughts are in the same time zone as our bodies.

Jonathan – Advanced Life Skills´s last blog post..Personal Development – Is Your Ego Getting In the Way?

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Stephen Mills June 9, 2009 at 6:16 am

@Marc and Angel, thanks!

@Steven, thanks for stopping by and for the support.

@Roger, it is hard for people like me anyway who want to think non-stop. But when you can do it, it works. These ideas help.

@Vin, I’m so jealous of your move. I love beaches and palm trees too. I used to visit the Caribbean a lot. I thought I was in heaven!

@Ian, I think the whole idea of separating and observing your thoughts is the right approach if you can’t stop thinking. But if you focus on being present, the thoughts of the future and past will go away.

@Jonathan, great point! If fact anything that is dangerous or thrilling puts you into the moment as well. I think that is part of their appeal.

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Steve C @ MyWifeQuitHerJob.com June 9, 2009 at 10:42 am

Hey Stephen

I’ve really enjoyed this series! My favorite points in this article are about living in the now and the need to stop placing labels. I actually do both of these things all of the time and this article is a reminder for me to shape up!

Steve C @ MyWifeQuitHerJob.com´s last blog post..4 Tweaks We Made To Our Business That Drastically Improved Sales

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Dragos Roua June 10, 2009 at 9:41 am

Great series,. Stephen!

I closely relate to the “Drama Queen” situation right now. But I chose to “remove myself from the situation” from your 3 choices list. Which, by the way, is the core of your series :-).

I really enjoyed these articles.

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Alex - unleash reality June 12, 2009 at 10:16 am

changing your environment is really solid advice. i’d add changing your perception if changing your environment isn’t possible. ask youself, “can i let go of wanting to be this limited point of perception and be everything and nothing at once?”

…the bit on your past is dead was also really solid. “this is it” – one of my favourite quotes.

stop labeling is also really solid advice. we attach meaning to things, and get caught up in our stories. and give ourselves all sorts of criteria we feel we NEED to fulfil to be happy. stop the whole thing and be free.

really powerful advice. cool to see so many great techniques and thoughts in once place

respect
alex – unleash reality

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Stuart July 1, 2009 at 5:42 am

Although I agree with your article I have tried emptying my mind to stop thinking however all I’m actually doing is thinking about not thinking !!! Anytips for your mind being your worst enemy anyone ???

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