As a small business owner that works with other small businesses, I get asked all the time about how to NOT focus on a problem or issue that seems all consuming in order to be productive or enjoy time with friends or family, or just simply take a day off.

In other words, how do you put away a problem that you can do nothing about and focus on what's happening right now?

The first step to living in the present is this: take a deep breath and ask yourself, “what can I do to change or fix things right now?”

Most of the time the answer is, nothing.  Not one thing.

I have found that the problems we tend to obsess over are the ones that are out of our control, the ones that depend on someone else, the ones that we have to wait for an answer on… and none of these have a fix or solution that is immediately available to us.

Life unfolds in the present. But so often, we let the present slip away, allowing time to rush past unobserved and unseized, and squandering the precious seconds of our lives as we worry about the future and ruminate about what's in our past. "We're living in a world that contributes in a major way to mental fragmentation, disintegration, distraction, decoherence," says Buddhist scholar B. Alan Wallace.

When we are with someone we love, we think about intrusive memories of times past, or we obsess about what may or may not happen in the future. When we are at work we dream about being on vacation, and when we are on vacation we worry about all the work waiting for us back at the job.

We don’t appreciate the present moment because we allow our mind to jump from thought to thought without ever stopping to focus on what is right in front of us.

In order to feel more in control of our minds and our lives, to find the sense of balance that eludes us, we need to step out of this current to pause, and, as Kabat-Zinn puts it, to "rest in stillness—to stop doing, and focus on just being."

Living in the moment, or mindfulness, is something that needs to be cultivated and practiced.

Mindfulness is the intentional attention to the present.

Even medical studies have shown that people who practice mindfulness are happier, more exuberant, more confident and more secure. They tend to have a high self-worth and are more accepting of their own weaknesses.

In fact, mindful people tend to avoid issues like depression, binge eating, and attention problems. They tend to have less conflict in their lives in general, and tend to fight less with romantic partners. Studies have also shown that mindful couples have more satisfying relationships.

I believe that most people know that they should “live in the moment”, but the trick is how to accomplish this.

While there are many tactics to avoid obsessing over a problem or situation, I believe the most effective one and the one that I use most often is this:

To avoid worrying about the future, focus on the present. (Savoring)

In her memoir Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert writes about a friend who, whenever she sees a beautiful place, exclaims in a near panic, "It's so beautiful here! I want to come back here someday!" "It takes all my persuasive powers," writes Gilbert, "to try to convince her that she is already here."

Often we're so trapped in thoughts of the future or stuck in the past that we forget to experience, let alone enjoy, what's happening right now.
Think about it: We go to a great movie and think, "This is not as good as the one I saw last week." We eat a cookie and think, "I hope there are more cookies."

To avoid this type of thinking, decide instead to relish or luxuriate in whatever you're doing in the present moment. In modern day, this can mean relishing that you're getting to text a great friend. Or that you're able to get on a flight with relative ease.

Being present in this way is what psychologists call savoring.
"This could be while you're talking on the phone, eating a pastry, playing with your kids, taking a shower, or basking in the sunshine. You could be savoring a sweet email, a precious success or savoring lovely or uplifting music," explains Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychologist at the University of California at Riverside and author of The How of Happiness. "Usually, it involves your senses."

In fact, when subjects in a study took a few minutes each day to actively savor something they normally rushed through—texting a loved one, eating a meal, drinking a cup of coffee, driving to the office—they began experiencing more joy, happiness, and other positive emotions, and fewer depressive symptoms.

So why does living in the moment make people happier—not just at the moment while they're enjoying the lovely sunshine, but lastingly?

Because most negative thoughts concern the past or the future.

As Mark Twain said, "I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened."
The true hallmark of depression and anxiety is catastrophizing—worrying about something that hasn't happened yet and might not happen at all. Worry, by its very nature, means thinking about the future or dwelling on the past—and if you hoist yourself into awareness of the present moment, worrying melts away.

The other side of worrying is ruminating, or thinking bleakly about events in the past. And again, if you press your focus into the now, rumination ceases. Savoring forces you into the present, so you can't worry about things that aren't there.

One of my favorite historical figures, Dale Carnegie wrote: “Let’s be content to live the only time we can possibly live: from now until bedtime.”

Tweet: Let’s be content to live the only time we can possibly live: from now until bedtime - Dale Carnegie

The idea here is to stay grounded in the present moment (where you actually have influence) instead of worrying and losing sleep over things that have already happened or haven’t happened yet, and that you have no real control over at the moment.

“Shut the iron doors on the past and the future,” Carnegie advises. “Live in day-tight compartments.”

Here are some ways that I've found to focus on the moment:

1) Create a mental picture of putting the problem, situation or even the person causing your anxiety away.

My mental picture is of an attic, with an old-timey trunk that has a lock. I picture myself putting that problem into that trunk, slamming it shut, locking it tight, and walking away from the dusty, old, dirty trunk, that is hidden away in the attic. In this way, I am not trying to pretend there isn’t something that needs to be dealt with, but I am putting it away to be dealt with at another time. It releases my mind to allow me to focus on what is happening in my present.

2) Pay attention to small things.

When you're struggling to live in the present, make an intentional effort to notice the small things around you that are wonderful. Did you get a message from someone that always makes you happy? Did you eat an amazing double chocolate chip cookie? Is the sky bluer than usual?

Noticing and then being grateful for small things will help you take notice of your present. It will also help you cultivate even more positive experiences.

3) Smile.

Yes, just smile. Smiling can have a major impact on how you feel. There is a direct association in our mind between how we feel and our expressions. If we feel happy, we smile. And often times, if we smile, we feel happy! Many times you'll find that your face communicates your state of feeling to your mind- so smile!

4) Get Rest.

Rest often and rest before you get tired. I've discovered that just by preventing fatigue, you can avoid the emotional instability that comes from tiredness and often leads to worry, anxiety and restlessness. So rest a lot. And under times of excessive stress, allow yourself even more time to rest.

5) Be Willing to Have it So.

This comes from the wisdom of the father of applied psychology, William James: “‘Be willing to have it so.”
In other words, if you truly want to stop worrying and start living, it is imperative to stop arguing with reality or what has already been.

“Acceptance of what has happened,” says James, “is the first step in overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.”

I know, when challenging times seem to surround us, of course we want a better future (whether that’s 3 seconds from now, 3 days, 3 weeks, or even years from now), but first we have to accept what is.

Whatever the present reality, we must simply “be willing to have it so.”

In my past I spent a fair amount of time arguing with what was my current situation. Almost as if thinking about it over and over would change it somehow. I've learned that part of creating a different future was learning to accept my current reality.

When we’re not resisting the present, tension melts, worry evaporates, and we have the strength we need to embrace the moment and take the next constructive step toward creating our ideal life.

This is a tough one, but with practice it becomes more natural, and you can see the results, almost immediately.

6) Decide!

Another quote from Dale Carnegie that I try to live by is this:


“Experience has proved to me, time after time, the enormous value of arriving at a decision,” Carnegie writes. “I find that 50% of my worries vanish once I arrive at a clear, definite decision; and another 40% usually vanish once I start to carry out that decision.”

This means you can banish about 90% of your worries by taking these four steps:

1. Write down precisely what you are worried about.

2. Write down what you can do about it. (Remember this step is what you alone, can do about it!)

3. Decide what the first step is you need to take to do it.

4. Start carrying out that decision — immediately.

So those were just a few things you can do to compartmentalize, live in the moment, stop worrying and start seeing all the joys that are around you each day.  Implementing these will make everything you do more pleasurable, whether it's in your business or personal life!

Now go enjoy!

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Kristi Brown

Creativity Consultant, Sales & Marketing Strategist
/krēāˈtivədē/ /kuh n-suhl-tnt/
Noun: An energetic native Floridian with a passion for smart, authentic, imaginative, effective marketing strategies and original ideas.
Synonyms: Netflix Junkie, Cockapoo mom, crazy aunt, world traveler, foodie.
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