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What is living in the moment?
Have you ever been so immersed in a conversation, environment or experience that you forgot that there was a world outside what of you were doing? This feeling of being fully present in a situation is defined as living in the moment and is the state of true happiness.
The most noticeable times we see the power that living in the moment can have for our emotional health are when trying to forget a negative, life-changing event has just happened. The death of a loved one, the end of a failed relationship or loss of your retirement fund on a bad investment.
Often you will try and distract yourself to forget about the problem. You’ll find when you’re distracted, you’re happy and may even crack a smile, but eventually, thoughts of what you were trying to escape from creep back in to mind and you start to feel physically sick.
This proves that when you live in the moment, you truly stop thinking about the past or worrying about the future and are in a state of happiness. Unfortunately for humans, we’re thinkers, and most of us spend almost half our time thinking about something other than the task at hand.
For me, this happens if I’m doing a repetitive task I don’t find enjoyable, or doesn’t require any problem solving ability. This also holds true if I’m having a conversation that doesn’t quickly progress past small talk, or if I’m stuck in a place that I don’t want to be. Basically, anywhere where I have time to think.
I want to be clear, I’m not saying to live in the moment to avoid dealing with problems or thinking about the future. There are things from our past that need to be worked through, and we have to plan for the future, but there are specific ways to approach these problems that have a more positive impact on our emotional health.
Why is living in the moment important?
When we aren’t present in the moment, we are often thinking about the past or future.
If you’re like me, when you think about the past you often come up with alternate scenarios of what you could have done differently to get the result you wanted. Be it with a person you’re interested in, your university results or where you could be if you kept playing sport from a younger age.
When I think about the future, I often come up with a countless number of scenarios, and anxiously try to find which would be the ideal one. How am I going to fit in all these things in the week? What should I reply to the text from the girl I’m interested in? Did she like my reply? I knew I should have sent the other message I thought of.
This starts a viscous cycle, because no matter what you do, you’ll always question whether you did the right thing, and you’ll start thinking about what you could have done different. This starts a negative through process and actually teaches your brain to think this way. If left unchecked, it makes it almost impossible to unconsciously live in the moment, even if you are in good company doing something you enjoy.
When you start consciously trying to live in the moment, you are breaking the bad thought processes and habits you’ve created by living in the past and future. After some time, your anxieties and questioning of your actions starts to reduce. They may never be gone for good, but they become very manageable and easy to stop from progressing to the chain reaction they can start.
Living in the moment also makes every moment more enjoyable. I used to work on the registers at a supermarket. I never really enjoyed the job, as it gave me what seemed like forever to think about things I could’ve done differently, develop future plans and consequently made me extremely anxious; but sometimes I would act happy, talk to customers and have fun with the job. When I was doing the latter, time would pass faster, and I would be in a much happier state.
Living in the moment is perception thing, and the perception can be learned.
How to live in the moment?
There is no grand answer that will keep you in the moment, but I’m going to talk about the things that have helped me stay in the moment when it starts slipping away.
Exercise – Any exercise is good. I used to train at a gym, but I eventually transitioned to yoga while I recovered from chronic fatigue. Yoga has been fantastic, as stretching and focusing on your breath requires concentration and keeps you in the moment. It also helps keep the muscles limber and flexible which is great for people that sit down for work and get stressed about the damage it does.
Mindfulness Mediation – I often do this after yoga, as I’m already in a relaxed state, but you don’t have to. I start with my eyes open, take 5 deep breaths, and on the last exhale I slowly close my eyes. I continue to focus on my breath, but am also aware of the ambient sounds around me and any textures, smells and temperature changes in or on my body. This develops the sensate brain, or the brain that interprets external stimuli.
With practice it becomes easier to switch to the sensate brain, as the meditation strengthens the connections between your brain and external stimuli. The practice is great, as when you feel your mind wandering back to negative thought processes, you just start focusing on what you can the textures and temperatures objects you can touch, the aromas in the air and what you can see behind your eyes. This shifts your focus from thinking about the past and future and keeps you in the moment.
The next step is to progressively relax the muscles. Start at the toes and work your way up your legs, switching off each muscle one by one. After your body is fully relaxed, focus on your breathing and consciously try to feel and slow you heartrate.
Once you are in this sensate world, you’re only focus is the external stimulus. You’ve allowed your body to relax, and allowed your mind to be quiet. If you start thinking about the future or past, put extra focus into concentrating on what messages your senses are sending to your brain. The more you practice training your brain to focus on the senses, the easier it gets, and the easier it becomes to use your sensate brain to live in the moment, both while meditating and otherwise.
Dismissing Thoughts – There are many times throughout the day where it can be easy to slip into a negative thought process. Most of the thoughts that cause anxiety are irrational, and no matter how much we think about them we won’t find a solution we are happy with. If an unpleasant thought pops in to my head, the way I stop it spirally out of control is by focusing on my breathing and the sensations around me.
Sometimes I wake up with anxious thoughts about the past or future. These thoughts often catch me off guard as I’m not fully conscious, but the same principle applies. I start noticing how nice the material of the bedsheets feels on my skin, I have a drink of water to moisten my dry mouth, and I get up.
Other times I get negative thoughts, I’m alone at home, in the shower, driving or am somewhere I don’t want to be. It may be different for you, but the same principles apply. Always focus on breathing deeply. Feel the temperatures around you, ask yourself what the temperature is, and notice the little details about things that you never noticed before.
If I’m driving I’ll feel the texture of steering wheel, turn up the radio and actually listen to the music, instead of it being ambient sound to my thoughts. If I’m in the shower I’ll feel the temperature of the water, and listen to the sound it makes when it hits the ground.
If practiced correctly, dismissing these thoughts before they manifest will generally have them out of your head completely within 15 minutes. It is a constant battle, but the more you practice and win, the easier it becomes. You may not win every battle, but you will win the war.
You’re your best you in the moment
Ever spent time with someone and felt drained when they left? This is because they don’t live in the moment. They spend all their time talking about the past and future, in a negative way. There are times when you need to vent, but after the venting you should return to the moment.
People are their best when they are their happiest, and they are happiest when they are in the moment. When you see someone that’s having the best time, they are in the moment, and nothing can take them away from it.
It you’re not in the moment, people will know. You won’t maintain eye contact, you’ll be constantly looking around, fidgeting and thinking about what else you could be doing. This body language is one of the primary reasons someone is bad company. You won’t make any friends, or have any experiences that may help you live in the moment if you don’t first immerse yourself in it.