Being in the present moment is not as simple as it sounds. Often we believe we are in the present, but we are normally far from it. The truth is that being in the present is far from a natural state for most of us. Without even realizing it, we walk around with our heads caught up in the past (I can’t believe he said that, why did I do that, what will he think of that) or the future (how can I afford that, how will the meeting go, what if I fail the test on Friday).
Have you ever driven to a destination only to ‘come to’ when you get there, not having noticed any of the trip there? Our brains are so skilled at multitasking that we can be totally ‘up in our heads’ and still go through the motions of life. This, unfortunately, is the way we tend to lead our lives... so caught up with worries about the future and judgements on the past we don’t even notice what is passing us by.
As for being in touch with how we really feel, from an emotional standpoint, many of us are trained by our caregivers to not pay attention to our true emotions but, instead, to suppress and deny them. Do any of these sayings sound familiar? “Get up and shake it off,” “it’s nothing to cry about,” “There’s nothing to be scared of,” or “why don’t you go play your video games to take your mind of it.”
Because we get so used to avoiding our emotional experience and get the reward and reinforcement of the relief we feel when we do so, we tend to get stuck in loops of behavior. Therefore, it can be a very challenging and frustrating experience at first to start paying attention to the present. It might feel uncomfortable to recognize that your emotions aren’t as pleasant as you had been telling yourself, that you have pain in your body you’ve been ignoring, or that your thoughts are more anxious than you were aware of previously.
So why bother, then? Because the more comfortable you get with your emotions and thoughts, the more benefits you can have.
Let’s look at several ways that present moment awareness can help your mood.
1. It gives you the power of choice.
Without present moment awareness, it’s very easy to walk around not knowing what you really think or how you feel about things. The thoughts we have, whether we are aware of them or not, lead to behaviors, often in an attempt to soothe ourselves and avoid feeling discomfort. Bringing awareness to how you really think and feel, while potentially overwhelming at first, ultimately gives you the power to then choose to act on those thoughts and feelings in an avoidant way or in a way that is more value oriented and meaningful to you..
2. It can help you see good things you were missing.
Often we are so distracted that we miss the good things going on around us or happening to us. We might not notice someone smiling at us, or doing something kind for us, or that our gardens have flowered, or that our children have learned something new. Awareness of these little things can bring appreciation, and these little moments can add up to a better mood based on a more balanced view of the world around us.
3. You can spot stress earlier and choose to deal with it.
If you develop your present moment awareness you are more likely to notice exactly when the stress starts because you will be more intune with your thoughts, emotions and physical sensations, and then be able to choose to deal with it effectively before it takes over.
4. You tend to be more physically relaxed.
Present moment awareness includes paying attention to how our bodies feel, and this means you will notice things like muscle tension when it begins and choose to relax or otherwise adjust to it, not just paying attention when have a major injury that demands your attention. Another side-benefit of present moment awareness is that anxious habits like nail biting and skin picking tend to lessen because we are more aware of these behaviors rather than mindlessly performing them as a means of lessening discomfort.
5. You relationships can improve.
Being in the present moment doesn’t just make you available to your own thoughts and feelings, it means you notice those of others around you and makes you more prepared to allow space for them to exist. You aren’t busy thinking of your work obligations while someone talks to you, or what they said or did a year ago, but are more capable of listening and understanding. This means you can connect better, develop greater intimacy, and have a more satisfying sex life (being present allows for experiencing the moment in it’s entirety, while we are often worried about what could go wrong or what the other person must be thinking).
So, how do I practice noticing the present moment more?
Some common approaches recommended to make being aware of the present easier include paying attention to your breathing and/or doing a body scan (where you put your attention on how different parts of your body feel (tense, pained, relaxed). Other recommended activities for increasing your awareness of the present moment include tai chi, yoga, and meditation.
Present moment awareness is best worked into your daily routine. Without purposeful and intentional practice, your mind will go back to what it knows best and what has been the program for years (past thought, future thought, avoidance of emotional discomfort). You can decide to completely focus on any one activity, really, such as brushing your teeth, eating a bite of food, having a shower, or going for a walk. The secret is to try to notice all the sensations and feelings the activity creates and to put your mind only on what you are doing.
I would recommend to have a time set aside each day to practice mindfulness. Even just ten minutes daily would go a long way to help create the habit. See present moment awareness not as an instant fix, but as a good long-term plan for better well-being.
If you, or someone you know, would like help with increasing present moment awareness, consider contacting me at (717) 288-5064 / firstname.lastname@example.org and schedule an appointment today.