Living in the moment sounds like a nice sales phrase that some 1990s motivational speaker slapped on a book to sell more copies but living in the moment, also referred to as mindfulness, is about increasing your awareness to everything occurring around you at every given moment. It means listening to and observing your internal dialogue, being more attentive to outside factors, and identifying the aspects of your life that you do and do not have control over. And enjoying it all in the process. Our world is full of distractions and each one makes it harder to focus on our self, to live in the moment. If you are oscillating between emails, web sites, text messages, phone calls, meetings, and so on, it can become too easy to let those distractions take over your mind and just plod through the day with one foot in front of the other without ever looking where you are really going.
At work we fantasize about leisure time and then during our leisure time we worry about work. Not only is that wasting our time but it means we are never focused in the present which is very unhealthy.
The biggest problem with living like this is that life becomes a series of boring, often negative, events running together one after the other. Trust me, I have spent months at a time in this unhappy cycle drifting from one task to the next without being tuned in. At the time it felt normal (“no-one is really that happy are they?”) and I blamed my crappy job for most of it (“if only I didn’t have to work I would be happy”). Wrong on both counts.
I’ll be honest, the job really was crap but that was not the ultimate cause for my unhappiness. It was the lack of mindfulness. I was just not very good at living in the moment. Maybe the job was not stimulating enough for me but for the most part it was my fault - I was choosing to be miserable about my job and that choice was making my life miserable too.
The Choice is Yours
That is the best thing about discovering the ideology of living in the moment. Choice. Everything you do is your choice and everything that occurs in your life is an outcome derived from your past choices. (Hmmm...This is getting into other favourite topics of mine – intentions and manifestation - more articles for my to-write list).
Every single choice or decision you have ever made is what brought you to this current point in life. You chose to open the web-browser, you chose some actions that brought you here, and then you chose to read this article. It did not just happen upon you and it never will. Life is the same. At any point in time you can define your life as the sum of all your past choices, good or bad.
That might sound scary at first, especially if you are a pessimist, but it is actually quite remarkable. Sure, if you believe you have made “bad” choices in your past then you might be worried but there is no need. Everyone makes mistakes and a choice is not bad (or good) once it has been made. Once a choice has been made it is no longer a choice but a decision, or action, that has occurred. The moment for choice has gone, and we are in the next moment, ready to make our next choice that will define us.
The beauty of this thought pattern is that those past choices only define you right at this moment and every choice you make from now on changes your definition. So are you still going to choose to be negative? Are you going to sit there and whine and complain, be mean to others, and drive yourself with negative emotions such as anger and fear? Or are you going to choose to define you life with positivity, happiness, and love?
I hope you are starting to see the link between living in the moment and being aware of the choices you make. If you need further encouragement you might like to read my article: The Way You Think and Why It’s Wrong where I describe two key flaws the brain has which hold us back from living in the moment and achieving our full potential.
Think Like a Child
There are many positive outcomes that you will notice when you start being mindful and leaving in the moment. The biggest is the shift from judging your thoughts to observing them. When you re an observer you neither push them away or pull them toward you but learn to identify each as a valid thought. The result is profound – you awaken yourself to experience your life once more.
Remember when you were a child and you could spend the whole day playing without worries, often creating a completely reality? Would you like to regain that care-free attitude where everything in life was a fun adventure? Then think like a child.
“I’m a superhero with magic powers. Zap!...Zap!..Zap!....Ooooh a butterfly!”
Ok, maybe not quite like that but the point is to remember that children predominately live in the moment. They rarely stress about or replay past events through their mind, or worry about what the future will hold. They are just focused on living (and enjoying) the current moment and everything else takes care of itself. That is what we want to achieve.
I will finish this with a quote from #a fantastic article from Pyschology Today which extols the virtues of being mindful in every moment of your life:
Mindful people are happier, more exuberant, more empathetic, and more secure. They have higher self-esteem and are more accepting of their own weaknesses. Anchoring awareness in the here and now reduces the kinds of impulsivity and reactivity that underlie depression, binge eating, and attention problems. Mindful people can hear negative feedback without feeling threatened. They fight less with their romantic partners and are more accommodating and less defensive. As a result, mindful couples have more satisfying relationships.
Five Tips to Help You Live in the Moment
With that in mind I have assembled some quick tips for you to try to break yourself out of the past/future focus and draw yourself into your present. These aren’t shortcuts (it’s best if you have actually read and understood the above) but they can help you get started.
- Catch your wishes – look out for your phrases like “I wish [x]" and turn the tables around. Ask yourself “what can I do right now to start making [x] happen?” If the answer is nothing, then it is not worth your time right now so let it go.
- You do not have to like the present, but you do have to accept it. Things happen and sometimes you don’t have any control over it. Accept that the present is unchangeable and move on.
- Smile – start the day with a smile and you set the tone for the day. Force yourself to smile and your mood will change. Check out this research for more details
- Breath – there is a reason why focusing on your breathing is the starting point for most meditations. It relaxes us, frees our mind, an also reduces the effect of pain and stress on our body.
- Reduce “zoned out” activities – you know what they are. They can be fun and good at times but they teach you the bad habit of ignoring your own reality. Try to do things that encourage you to see and experience the world, things that make you ask questions and challenge your mind.
Enough writing. It’s time for me to go spend some time with Sophie, being mindful and enjoying her company. If you like this article then you can check out all of my other articles in the archives or subscribe to receive updates every time I publish a new article. For now though, if you are still hungry to read more about living in the moment then I recommend reading some Steve Pavlina, starting with The Power of Now.