Sunday, April 3, 2016

How To: Be More Present

Image via Max Wanger

One of the things that I've been trying to do for the last couple of years is to "be more present." It's such an abstract goal and a bit awkward to write out. Being present for me means being in the moment with my body, mind, and environment (both places and people). I found at first that it was easy to do one of those three things at a time but getting the hang of all three was really hard.  These are my tips for learning to be in your body, mind, and environment at the same time.



Everyone's mind drifts off from time to time. Maybe we're thinking about all the stuff we have to do after work. Maybe we're thinking about a disastrous social situation from the day before... Either way, we're not in the present moment in our mind. It's like we've activated a time machine in our minds to transport us away from where we are.

I like to think of these intruding thoughts as waves washing over my "mind beach." They creep up on me and then they recede. So how do we calm the tide of distracting thoughts? I like to let the thoughts come and pass really quickly. Ignoring intrusive thoughts has never done me any good, they always come back later. So I allow the thought wave to wash up onto the beach, acknowledge it, and return it back to the depths of my subconscious. This takes a lot of practice and meditation is a really good way to master this skill.



This one has been the hardest of the three for me. Sometimes I get so deep into thought that I distract myself from listening and change my body posture in weird ways. I have had to fight the tendency to cross my arms and legs and slouch in the chair. The exercise that has pulled me out of this habit is picking one sensation and focusing on it and using that sensation as a prompt to scan my whole body.

I picked the temperature of my hands as the sensation because mine are often cold and easy to feel even when I'm deep in thought or conversation. Once I scan my hands, I think about where my arms are, how I'm sitting, and where my legs and feet are. Am I slouching? Are my feet on the ground? What message does this body position project to others? From there it's easier to make adjustments so that I am comfortable and can focus better. It also helps the person I'm speaking with so that they are not distracted by my body language.



Environment is more traditionally what we think about when we think about "being in the moment." It's important to really be in your mind and body first though. Once you are right with you, you can learn to adapt and be present in your current environment. When you are aware of the messages you are sending yourself and others, you become aware of your effect on your environment.

What strategies do you use to be present?

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