How many of us get so tied up in things we have to do, things happening tomorrow or the next day, or things that happened in the past, that we forget what’s going on in front of us now? Being able to be present, and mindful, of where we are in the moment can be very tough. Life has a lot of demands, and we are constantly working to keep up with them.
However, there are ways to be present, to be in the moment…to be mindful. That’s a term we hear a lot about nowadays. To define it:
a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
Practicing mindfulness, and being present takes some know-how and some practice, but it is doable and it is life-changing. Incorporating these techniques is easier said than done because so much of it requires that we catch ourselves and re-focus.
To Begin, You Must First Let Go
So how can you let go?
We must let go of those wandering thoughts and anxieties and focus on the present, on what is in front of us, and our emotions at that moment. Again, easier said than done. Everyone has to figure out a way that works best for them. Unfortunately, I don’t believe there’s an exact formula you can follow in order to do this. I think it’s more of an art. Each day you’ll have to do something different to let go and practice living in the moment and hopefully get to a point where it becomes second nature.
I’ll share what has worked for me and I hope that inspires you on your journey as well.
Take each day as it comes
You really have no control over the future. You can plan and prepare as much as you like–and you should–but at a certain point you HAVE to take a step back and say, “I’ve done everything I can and know”. Get to a point in your daily life where you are comfortable saying that to yourself.
As an example, I used to get anxious when I would check my workload for the next day and see sick patients needing additional special care. My anxiety would make me think “what if I can’t do it, what if I screw up” etc etc. Finally, during my fellowship I changed my rhetoric. Instead of saying “what if”, I started saying “I’m going to”. If any self-doubt crept in, I would remember all the times in the past that I had successfully accomplished whatever it is that I was going to be facing again. Once I established some positive memories, I’d let go of worrying about my upcoming cases with the idea that I was “ready”.
Same goes with random life stuff; Plan for your future, but then let it go once your planning is complete. Things will happen that will get in your way, but worrying about the future, and all the random things that might happen, will only take away from your present happiness. So tell yourself you’ll worry if and when something does occur.
On that note…
Give yourself permission to let go
For all the perfectionists out there: worrying about something will not change its outcome, or give you the outcome you want. I used to think that if I wasn’t worrying, then what I wanted to happen, wouldn’t. NOT true. I literally had to coach myself mentally and say: worrying will change nothing. Again just prepare and plan as best as you can, then let it go.
A big part of being able to take things as they come and be present, I think, is also just trusting yourself. Have faith in your ability to handle your own life and job; have faith in your ability to make the right decisions for you and for that situation. Taking your mind off of something doesn’t mean you don’t care; it just means that you are trusting your future self to handle whatever comes your way.
Whatever past issue keeps you up at night, whatever you blame yourself for or whatever you’re regretting–it’s done. That time has passed. If there’s a way to fix it, then go about fixing it. If there’s not a way to fix it…then there’s nothing you can do. By worrying and perseverating you are only disrupting your current day, time, and happiness. For me, a big part of letting go of the past is just telling myself that I’m human…that everyone is human.
Also, how often do we remember what OTHER people have done? How much do we think about other people’s mistakes? So that embarrassment or regret you may feel in regards to what someone else may have thought? I bet they aren’t even thinking about it. So then why are you?
To Be Present
First, practice letting go. Then…
Keep yourself busy
A great way to stay focused and stay present is to fill your day up. Give yourself a todo list. Some days my schedule is like: work, gym, shower, make dinner, catch up on Netflix show, read before bed, sleep. Depending on how early I get done and how much time I have, I may insert some work-related tasks, or some blogging.
I find that when you have so much to do it’s hard for your brain to wander and for random, unproductive thoughts, to creep in. To take it a step further, do work while at work and leave life tasks for when you get home. This is not always possible, depending on what you do, but it has definitely helped to reduce my job-related stress. Plus, with this routine, I know that when I’m at work, I HAVE to do work. It forces me to be present when I’m there. That further keeps me focused on completing life tasks outside of work.
Fill your day with activities that truly interest you
How can you further distract yourself away from wandering thoughts and live in the now? Don’t be bored. Pick up activities you’ve always wanted to try; sign up for groups and events; make a list of things you’ve always wanted to do, and go do them. No one is stopping you from living your best life except for yourself.
If you’re truly interested in what you’re doing, you’ll be more likely to be fully present.
Can’t seem to remember what your outside-of-work interests are? Here’s a way to get started: Fill your time with things that fill your soul.
Try not to multitask
Multi-tasking is proven to reduce your productivity and effectiveness in getting things done. Plus, it increases stress. By multi-tasking you are never truly focused on one thing; your attention is divided. How can you be mindful, when your mind is full of twelve different unrelated things?
A great example of this: during my hour-long commute home, I used to make phone calls–either work or personal. I did this because I figured I’d save time at home. I thought I was using my traffic time wisely. However, I realized that this just made me even more tired at the end of the day. I’d come home utterly exhausted.
So, I stopped making phone calls (unless absolutely necessary). Instead, my commute time became my ME time. I play music, I force myself to be present by purposefully paying attention to traffic and reading license plates–which in and of itself makes me angry, however, at least I’m just focused on one thing! Doing this has really helped me. I come home tired, but with enough energy to complete the rest of my day in a way that makes me feel fulfilled and satisfied.
Stay off of social media
Comparison is a happiness killer. If you want to be more mindful and be present in your own life, then block out what others are doing. You have your own path and your own journey to take. Trust it and trust yourself. You are working to be your best and that really is enough; life will work itself out.
Stop trying to do everything at once
This kind of belongs in the “Letting go” category, and also the “Do not multitask”. But what I mean by this: there is a time for everything. You getting married and trying to find a job? Feeling overwhelmed? Take a step back, take a breather, and give yourself some space for rational thought. Is it absolutely necessary for you to find a job before you get married? Can it wait? What’s the rush? Is there a rush? Or are you just putting pressure on yourself because its something else that you know needs to get done?
Things have a funny way of working themselves out. So lets work on stress reduction. Stop worrying about doing all of the life tasks you need to complete; instead, mindfully choose to do them one at a time, highest priority first.
Alternatively, if there truly are multiple things happening at once (e.g. you’re moving, and preparing for a job, and getting married), then I suggest devoting a specific time of day for each task. This way, with each task, you will be able to practice being present at the moment for that particular task. No more and no less. For instance, in the mornings, hammer out logistics for moving and get some packing done; right after lunch, do your job prep; in the evenings schedule your wedding planning sessions. Unless there’s an emergency (not getting the exact Hawaiian flowers you want for your wedding is not an emergency :)), try not to let these blocked times overlap.
Don’t we all need to do more of this? Meditation exercises in the form of deep breathing, practicing stillness, and becoming aware of our body, can help drown out the chatter in our heads and with cultivating mindnfulness based stress reduction.
Meditating should be incorporated into our daily life so that we become well versed at preventing our mind from wandering, from thinking about things that are not in our immediate control and improve our ability to enjoy life in the moment we are in.
Take regular mental breaks
I think this kind of goes hand in hand with meditation, except instead of a prolonged, secluded period of time off, you do this regularly throughout the day. For instance in my clinic days, sometimes I feel like I need time away from the computer. So during lunch, I”ll talk a few minutes outside, people watch, get some air and just breathe.
In the same way, some days life just gets to you. So take a break from it; take a few minutes and tune everyone out, and do one thing that you need to do for yourself. Sometimes a mental break can serve to give you the stress relief you need, along with some perspective on everything you’re dealing with!
The great aspect of journaling is that you don’t have to do it every day. Journaling can help with being more present by helping you to reflect on your day. By writing down your experiences, and your thoughts and feelings associated with them, you are also effectively emptying your mind and properly processing your day. In doing so, you reduce the wandering thoughts, reduce the associated stress and improve your ability to come back to the present and focus on where you are.
Knowing how to live in the present moment, and let go of what is outside of your control takes a lot of patience and practice. So much of life passes us by because we are distracted or stressed about the past or the future; yet, all we have is today. The more we can practice living in the present moment, the more we can improve our inner peace, and truly enjoy each moment of our day. Whatever you decide to do to practice being mindful and letting go, and whatever you decide to do to become more present, be consistent. You have to slowly incorporate these steps into your daily routine and over time you’ll notice a difference!
What are some ways you practice mindfulness and letting go? Share below!
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