Want to learn to live in the moment? Try these 5 things

Living in the moment. Being more present. Embracing mindfulness. Whatever you call it, research has shown that being aware of and focusing on your current circumstance – rather than ruminating constantly on the past or what lies ahead, improves your well-being and ability to handle stress. However, while the concept sounds great, many over-achievers, for lack of a better term, suck at it.

Think about it. Let’s say that you’ve had tremendous success in your career by always working and brainstorming the next “next thing” and optimizing every waking moment by listening to educational podcasts and self-improvement books. Stopping to just “be” can seem counterproductive, unattainable, or downright scary depending on your perspective.

I know that all too well. Last May, I published my book Free and Clear: Get Unstuck and Live the Life You Want after years of conducting research, countless interviews, and multiple major rewrites. I should have savored the moment, or at least taken a few days off. But nope, that wasn’t good enough. Instead, I kept pushing to secure podcast appearances, generate publicity, and book keynote speaking opportunities – all on top of my full-time corporate job. I was exhausted and missed celebrating what I had spent so much time creating to help others.

Over the past few months, I have learned how to become more present. Rather than dulling my edge, doing so has given me more peace, perspective, and smarts for when I need it the most.

Here are 5 ways to help us all live more in the moment:

1. Practice mindfulness.

The Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA defines mindfulness as “paying attention to present-moment experiences with openness, curiosity, and a willingness to be with what is.” On the organization’s website, it notes that “significant research has shown mindfulness to address health issues such as lower blood pressure and boost the immune system; increase attention and focus, including aid those suffering from ADHD; help with difficult mental states such as anxiety and depression, fostering well-being and less emotional reactivity; and thicken the brain in areas in charge of decision making, emotional flexibility, and empathy.”

Even better, it’s not hard to get started. You can go for a walk without listening to music, a podcast, or talking to a friend; but instead, just breathing and observing the world around you. Eating a meal mindfully means slowing down and savoring, rather than devouring, each bite, paying attention to the various aromas and tastes.

2. Schedule Mental “White Space”

Wish you could spend more time thinking at work, instead of doing? Block out time on your schedule for mental white space, which prevents the constant interruptions of meetings and email. Within this Forbes article on preventing burnout, Juliet Funt, the CEO of WhiteSpace at Work, defines white space as a chance to take a strategic pause for thinking and refocus.

Having that protected placeholder gives you the time and freedom to consider what’s possible, how to creatively solve problems or capitalize on new opportunities that benefit the organization. You don’t have to use it solely in your career. Scheduling white space time can also help you figure out how to get unstuck and thrive in all areas of your life.

3. Stop Optimizing

I remember getting angsty last year if I wasn’t listening to an educational podcast or audiobook when driving home from work because of the self-inflicted pressure to make every moment matter. There never seemed to be enough time to unwind, and it was frustrating.

These days, I listen to my favorite radio show podcast or catch up with loved ones when in transit. When I find myself with an unexpected slice of free time, I’d rather read a good book than push myself to achieve more.

Give yourself a break from the need to optimize. Focusing intently on one thing at a time and doing it well, while taking mini mental breaks between tasks, is going to help you deliver better results all-around.

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Cuddling Iggy

4. Get a Pet

We got a new puppy several weeks ago. My husband and I don’t have kids and are used to spending our free time traveling, socializing and the like, so it has been a big, wonderful adjustment. That source of unconditional love and sleep deprivation has forced me to stay in the present moment – and I adore her.

I can’t worry about work or anything else when Iggy (yes, I had to include her photo here just because I could) demands attention and care. That habit of working after dinner for just a little while longer is gone unless it is absolutely necessary.

Plus, the National Institutes of Health notes that pets can boost your mental and physical health. They cite benefits such as decreasing levels of cortisol, lower blood pressure, reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support and bolster one’s mood.

5. Explore Meditation

Meditation gets you out of your head and stops racing thoughts once you practice it – and you don’t need to lock yourself in a dark room with a yoga mat for an hour to benefit from it. Numerous apps offer five-minute or shorter guided meditations for people at any level of experience, which will enhance your well-being.

How do you stay in the present moment? What kind of benefits have you seen from being more mindful? 

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