1. How many times a day to you relive a conversation or confrontation that occurred sometime in your past? Think about it. You probably do it several times a day. Have you ever noticed that if you rehash an upsetting moment or situation, you physically re-experience your emotional reaction (muscle tension, increased heart rate, even tears or anger.)? Do you fret that someone misinterpreted your intentions or words, do you worry what people thought of you?
2. How often do you prepare for a future event or conversation by rehearsing what you will do or say (either in your head or out loud)? Do you find yourself lost in anticipation of tasks or confrontations, spending energy preparing so you will be understood or appear confident?
3. Do you spend large quantities of time going back and forth between past events and future anticipations? Really stop and think about this one.
If you answered yes to any of these questions (and if you answered yes to one you probably answered yes to all three), you are not alone. Most of us whittle away hours of our lives ping-ponging back and forth between two time zones: past and future. This behavior adds to the constant feeling of emotional pressure that many of us suffer, as well as creating excess physical stress.
So how do you stop? Live in the now. Stay present. Pay attention to the moment. The past is past, and nothing can change it. The present will roll out regardless of any preparation. Too many variables outside of yourself play in the game of life. So how can you really prepare, except to be present and aware? Easy to say, hard to achieve, right? For some reason, it is ridiculously difficult to turn off that inner monologue (our ego) that constantly criticizes or commends our past, while worrying and pestering us about our future. But it is only in the present moment that life occurs.
While you digest this, and hopefully achieve a delicious epiphany, let me offer a few tips to help you increase the time spent in the now. If nothing else, you will find daily moments when you have no worries, feel no stress, and truly enjoy life.
1. Stop. Stop and think about what you’re doing (besides reading this article). Where are you? What are the sights, sounds, smells around you? How do you feel? Are you tense, relaxed, depressed, elated?
2. Keep Focus. As soon as your mind drifts backwards (to the past) or forwards, pull your attention back to your present environment.
3. Treat your senses. To make the present moment more engaging spend a few moments allowing any bright colors to saturate into your vision, or inhaling the scents around you (coffee, fresh air, etc.), or feeling the weather upon your skin, or running your fingertips over differing surfaces.
4. Spell it out. Take a few moments to write down exactly what you’re feeling. Do not elaborate on why or how you came to feel this way. Just focus on all feelings at the present moment: physical (internal and external); emotional (and how it affects you physically).
5. Breathing. Anyone who performs yoga or mediates knows the importance of breathing. If you lift weights or practice martial arts you should be familiar with the benefit of proper inhalation and exhalation (as my clients will attest). Why don’t we think about our breathing the rest of the time? Such a wonderful tool at our disposal that we take for granted. If you don’t breathe, you die, literally, and in this case, figuratively. Slow deep breaths will lower your heart rate and blood pressure, and bring more oxygen into your blood stream which increases energy and elevates moods. If nothing else works, the best way to bring yourself into the moment is to take deep, slow breaths focusing on nothing but the in and out of air.
Being in the Now may not solve all your problems or remove stress from your life, but it sure can lighten the load. Give it a try. Any moments spent away from pain or pressure are invaluable to your body, mind, and spirit. Also, I highly recommend reading Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now series available at all major book stores or Amazon.com.