Most of us have heard the phrases “live in the present moment” and “be in the now”, but not everyone understands what it truly means. Learning to live in the present, or mindfulness, is one of the most important life skills you can master because it brings with it immense rewards. It is one of the vital keys to living a happy, productive, meaningful and fulfilling life.
What Does Mindfulness/Living in the Present Moment Mean?
Mindfulness is the art of intentionally focusing your attention on the present moment in a non-judgmental way. Thankfully, it is a skill that can be cultivated and practiced, much like any other skill. Mindfulness is a state of mind that brings the attention and focus of your mind back to the present and away from the past or the future. It can further be described as a consciousness or awareness of what is happening in the here and now without judgement or criticism.
Most people go through life not being mindful and not living in the present moment. In fact, the opposite of being mindful is being ‘mindless’. Have you ever eaten your lunch quickly without truly appreciating the wonderful meal that was in front of you because your mind was preoccupied? Or perhaps you have gotten into your car, driven on the freeway, and, before you know it, you are at your destination and you realize that you have no recollection of the sights and sounds of your trip. Or maybe you have spent time with a friend or family member but were too busy thinking about something that occurred in the past or worrying about what may happen in the future to truly enjoy the companionship. We have all done this at some point in our lives and it is the result of not living in the present moment. It is as if we were going through life in an unconscious daze on autopilot.
The majority of our unhappiness is caused by ruminating the past, especially events that brought us sadness, anger, hurt or discomfort. It is as if our minds cannot let go of the past even though we know that, logically, we cannot undo what has transpired. And the vast majority of stress and anxiety people experience is caused by worrying about future events and situations even though we have no direct control of that. The only thing we can control is how we think and act in the present moment. The past is gone for good and the future is uncertain. The present is all we have.
Advantages of Mindfulness
Being mindful affords us tremendous advantages. In fact, the rewards that come with living in the present moment are so profound that it will significantly change your life for the better. Perhaps this the reason that modern science and medical researchers have recently devoted a lot of time and resources towards studying mindfulness and recommending it to the general public.
Some of the significant advantages of being mindful include:
- Deeper and more meaningful relationships with family and friends
- Fewer incidents of conflict with others
- An increased ability to be non-judgmental
- More compassion and empathy
- Lower stress and anxiety levels
- Reduced emotional reactiveness to negative situations
- Increased memory
- Improved focus
- Better heart function
- Improved sleep
- Lower blood pressure
- Less chronic pain
- Lower incidence of depression
- Reduced obsessive-compulsive behavior
- Less substance abuse
- Reduced rumination and regret about past negative events
- Overall increased positivity
- Increased productivity
- Higher goal achievement
- Lower chance of obesity
- Stronger immune system
- Higher awareness of the present moment, leading to better choices and decisions
- Increased happiness
- Better overall quality of life
How to Cultivate the Mindfulness Habit:
Meditation: One of the best ways to learn to live in the present moment is to meditate daily. There are many different types of meditation out there and some of the most common include breathing meditation, walking meditation, mantra meditation, and body scan meditation. Each have their own appeal and you should pick the one that you feel most comfortable with. All these forms of meditation generally train the meditator to focus on one thing in the present moment. In short, it is the practice of being fully present in a non-judgmental way. Meditating for as little as 5-10 minutes per day can have a profound effect on your life.
Breathing: Focusing on your breathing is one of the easiest and most powerful ways to learn to be present. Deep breathing actually has the effect of stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system which is built into our bodies. This has the effect of reducing stress as well as lowering your blood pressure and heart rate. Think about it, when you are stressed, your breathing is fast and shallow. When you are relaxed, your breathing is deeper and slower. One habit I have learned and practice often is to focus on breathing deeply each time I am stuck in traffic or at a traffic light. It works!
Monotasking: I know that most people heard that multitasking is the best way to be productive. However, monotasking, or focusing on one thing at a time, has been shown to produce better quality results while reducing stress levels. If you are balancing work tasks while simultaneously checking your e-mail, answering the phone, checking Facebook and eating lunch, the outcome of each task will ultimately suffer, and so might your sanity. You might feel that you are getting more done when, in fact, the quality of each result is diminished significantly. That is why I suggest choosing one task and being fully engaged and present while you are performing it. Practicing this will help you become more mindful.
Mindful eating: Most of us consume at least three meals per day. However, many people rush through their meals while their mind is thinking or worrying about the past or the future. Develop the habit of eating your meals slowly and mindfully without checking your text messages, answering the phone or watching TV. Savor each bite and enjoy the wonderful food in front of you.
Mindful waiting: Waiting is part of life, especially in our fast-paced society. We wait in line at the post office, in traffic, at the airport, and at the amusement park. We wait for our coffee to brew, for the plumber to show up, and for our favorite TV show to be broadcasted. In most cases, we cannot do anything to lessen our wait, so we might as well use this time wisely. Cultivate the habit of deep breathing and being present with your thoughts while you wait. Allow the rest to take care of itself.
While doing mundane tasks: There are so many seemingly mundane tasks we all perform in our lives, from brushing our teeth, taking a shower, washing the dishes, and taking the dog for a walk. When you perform these kinds of tasks, stay present in the moment and try to enjoy it. If you are showering, feel the warmth of the warm water caressing and cleaning you. Be aware of and enjoy the sounds, sights and smells of each task by being mindful and fully ‘there’.
Being present when with others: As social beings, spending time with family, friends and loved ones is one of the most rewarding and fulfilling activities a person can do. The problem is that many people are not fully engaged or present while doing so. Instead of giving others their full attention, they check their cell phone every few minutes, feel the need to update their Facebook status, or worry about work or their next appointment. The next time you spend time with a family member or a friend, try to give that person your full attention and listen intently to what he or she is saying. The best gift you can give to another and to yourself is time, mindful time.
Awareness of worry and regret: Human beings have a tendency to spend a lot of time ruminating and fretting about the past as well as worrying about the future. This is is the cause of most of our heartache, anxiety and depression. We cannot change the past, although we certainly can learn from it. And the only way we can affect our future is by being fully present in the moment and making wise choices and decisions now. Even the task of setting future goals is done in the present moment. The next time you feel anxious about the future or regretful about the past, bring your mind back to the present by breathing and focusing on the present. It is the only moment that you really possess and can do something with.
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