8 Ways to Return to the Present Moment

by Henrik Edberg

8 Ways to Return to the Present Moment
Image by visualpanic.

As humans we tend to spend a lot of time in the past or the future. We spend much time thinking about what was and what could have been. And we spend much time projecting into the future and wondering about what may happen.

This way of thinking is indeed a great way to make much of your life a lot more miserable and limited than necessary. The key to solving this problem is of course to live as much as you can in the only moment that you ever really live in and control. This moment right now. The moment that is all there ever was and – probably :) – will be.

There are more advantages to being in the moment besides being able to decrease mindmade suffering. Some of those advantages are:

  • Clarity. When you are in the moment you have a much better focus and things flow naturally out of you. This is very useful in conversations, at work, while writing or while on the tennis court.
  • Calmness. You feel centred, relaxed and whatever you do you do more easily. Since you are not projecting into a possible future or reflecting on previous experiences there is very little fear holding you back.

Now, that sounds nice and useful.

But how can you step away from the thought loops that whirl back and forth through your memories and fantasies?

How do you actually return to the present moment?

Here are 7 ways. But before we get to them I’d just like to add that this is a skill. You will slip back into involuntarily thinking about the future/past. But the more time and effort you spend connecting with the moment the easier it gets reconnecting with it. And staying there longer.

1. Focus on what’s right in front of you.

Or around you. Or on you. Use your senses. Just look at what’s right in front of you right now. Listen to the sounds around you. Feel the fabric of your clothes and focus on how they feel. For the last three days the dark winter seems to have left us here in Sweden. It’s been clear skies and sunshine all the time. So I have been using the unexpected light and warmth of the sunshine on my skin to reconnect with the moment.

2. Focus on your breathing.

Take a couple of dozen belly breaths and just focus your mind on your inhaling and exhaling. This will align you with the present moment once again. You can learn more about belly breathing in this article.

3. Focus on your inner body.

This is a bit similar to focusing on your breathing. In both examples you focus on what’s inside you rather than the outside. What is the inner body? Well, I guess you could say it is energy inside of your body. How your body feels from the inside.

A practical way to do this just to focus on your hand. To just put your focus there and feel how the hand feels to you and how the energy is flowing through it. Yeah, this suggestion may sound a bit weird to the mind. But if you actually try it a few times you’ll probably find that inner energy within your hand.

4. Pick up the vibe from present people.

If you know someone that is more present than most people then you can pick his/her vibe of presence (just like you can pick up positivity or enthusiasm from people). If you don’t know someone like that I recommend listening to/watching cds/dvds by Eckhart Tolle. His books work too. But cds/dvds are better than books for picking up someone’s vibe since the biggest part of communication is voice tonality and body language.

5. Surrender to the emotion that is already there.

It’s easy to get stuck in a loop of old memories. You may want to move away from them but there is a feeling there that brings them back over and over. So you need to decrease the power that feeling has over you. And you don’t do it by fighting it. You do it by surrendering to it.

The feeling is a loop within your mind that you are feeding with more energy by resisting it. When you accept the feeling then you stop feeding it and it vanishes.

Here’s how you it:

Say yes to the feeling.

Surrender and let it in. Observe the feeling in your mind and body without labelling or judging it. If you let it in – for me the feeling then often seems to physically locate itself to the middle of my chest – and just observe it for maybe a minute or two the feeling just vanishes.

As you can see, this way is similar to ones above. They are all about observing.

6. See things as for the first time.

This one pretty similar to the first way. But it can be useful when you have a hard time just observing your surroundings.

That’s when you can look at things as for the first time. Imagine it like that, take that role. Like someone who has never experienced this before. Like a child or someone who has never been here before. I like this one and I have been doing it from time to time for years (although back then I didn’t really understand why it felts nice when I did it).

Note: These last two ways are certainly not the best ways to reconnect with the moment and I’m not really recommending them. They aren’t that healthy (especially in the long run). But they work to some degree. It’s up to you if you want to try them.

7. Punch your leg.

Try punching your leg. Or pinching your arm. Or have someone else do it. And focus on that sensation to quickly bring yourself back to the moment.

8. Drink a beer or two.

It’s Friday so I thought I’d include this one. This is probably the most common way to connect to the moment (at least over the weekend). You may have said or heard that it’s nice to grab a beer or two after work to “take edge off”. What is this edge? I think it’s the clutter of thoughts that can run around in your mind after a long and busy week at work.

The alcohol quiets down these thoughts (and the decreases the number of thoughts in your mind). And you feel more relaxed. You don’t think about the past or future as much. You just enjoy your beer and the company. You enjoy the moment.

Drinking a couple of beers – or getting really drunk – can remove the past or future from your mind. It can add calmness and positive feelings. However, it throws the clarity out the window. :)

So besides the health aspects of drinking, this isn’t exactly an ideal way to be in the present moment. Use it at your own risk. Or just try out a few of the more healthy and effective techniques.

What other ways can you use to return to the present moment?

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{ 39 comments }

Jeff@My Super-Charged Life February 15, 2008 at 8:25 pm

I once read a great technique for helping to refocus on the present. It is similar to what you have above. It suggested looking at the common items around you. Observe their color, their texture, stop and think about the details of the items. Be in wonder of the common items by thinking about their complexity, beauty, or what it took to make them. It works for me and I find it very useful.

Great article! I gave it a review on StumbleUpon. Also, I want to congratulate you on topping over 6000 subscribers. That is an amazing achievement!

Mike King February 15, 2008 at 9:09 pm

This topic is great and one that many people completely overlook. Use this in your work, your relationships and in the fun in your life and it WILL make a serious impact.

Great list of things to pay attention to, thanks for posting this!!!

Kacper February 16, 2008 at 12:32 am

Nice post, Henrik.

Unfortunately, I can’t try point number 8. It’s Friday evening, but I can’t drink a beer (I’m taking care of my health and liver, especially).

My way to return to the present moment. I go to a calm place, usually my room. No strong light, maybe ambient music in background.

First I close my eyes. I work for a while on my breath, trying to make it a little slower and regular. Then I imagine myself in endless space between two glass surfaces. One is in front of me and it separates me from future, another is behind me and separates me from past. Therefore I’m only here and now. I focus on feelings coming from being separated from future and past. My thoughts can pass these glass bariers.

I slowly open eyes keeping that state of mind. Stay relaxed it present moment as much as you want. You don’t have to care about anything, as there is only now and here.

Have a nice weekend.

Philip February 16, 2008 at 7:29 am

Hey, you have a great blog here! I’m definitely going to bookmark you!

etavitom February 17, 2008 at 3:02 am

Thanks so much for the profound wisdom! All the best, Brad

Kaled Asmri February 17, 2008 at 11:06 pm

Hey… OK, there is many tactics to add to the list, but if I have the master-key, I won’t worry. Here is the master-key from the post:

“But before we get to them I’d just like to add that this is a skill. You will slip back into involuntarily thinking about the future/past”

This is a great skill and requires a lot of practice.

thanks Henrik, and keep up the good work.

Truthteller February 17, 2008 at 11:43 pm

Somewhat similar to #6, I use a technique I call…really seeing. I will look at a person and thing and try to see as much detail as possible. For instance when you look at a person and block out everything around and behind the person, after a short time you start seeing them in a surreal way. It’s like watching a 3D movie. I would imagine that painters see things this way, with shadows and light.
Ok, I admit, I like looking at the women more than men! Better shapes, I suppose….

Nick Pagan February 18, 2008 at 12:48 am

Nice article – I stumbled it.

I think that the one thing that troubles most of us is wanting things right now that we cannot have. As soon as we do that we start drifting out of the moment and into other thoughts of past and present and problems in general.

Staying focused on the moment is, for me, all about doing things that are ‘possible in the moment’ so consequently managing my desires and expectations is key to staying centered, focused and cheerful.

This is my take on things:
http://www.nickpagan.com/blog/27/possible-in-the-moment/

I’ve no beer in the house :-( but I do have a bottle of wine cooling in the fridge :-) Time for a refreshing moment…

Nancy February 20, 2008 at 5:52 pm

That’s hilarious, punch your leg! I’ll try that next time I loose a $5 bill haha.

GlamSpiritKristen February 22, 2008 at 3:02 am

I really like #5: surrender to the emotion that is already there. I spend too much time trying NOT to think about something, when I’m actually just fueling it.

I’m going to bookmark this page and review at my breaks ;)

Also, good for you for including alcohol! I think it gets overlooked too much in the health/wellness field. I’m not a big drinker, bet every now and then a nice glass of wine tones me down enough to forget the past and future and just enjoy the present.

Kacper – great visualization idea… I’m going to try it. Thanks!

:) February 24, 2008 at 3:24 pm

try meditation or stretching

shelly February 25, 2008 at 5:36 am

What a great post, Thanks. I especially love the idea of punching my leg as well as drinking a beer as inspiration in which to return to the present.

RJ Weller March 5, 2008 at 7:54 am

Love this post! Very practical; I am impressed you were authentic enough to add the last option – it is amazing how drink a beer or two helps.

Cristian Muresanu March 20, 2008 at 8:03 am

Hi,

I had discovered Eckhart Tolle back in 2005 but at that time, my mind was so oscillating that it was impossible to me to even listen the slow spoken words, apparently not explaining anything. But after a powerful and deep inside confrontation, a kind of limit situation in my life, happenned in february 2006 I had re-discovered the same Eckhart Tolle and this time everything was different. Only few months later when I had watched one of his lectures the impossible became possible.
Now, my mind was just ready to enter the stillness. Since that time, I kept inside me a peaceful background and silence within, even in the most active moments. Since then and until now, no emotions ever affected me, and the former emotional deceptions just evaporate permanently from me. Negative events cannot tocuh me and positive events are recepted with consciouss joy and happiness.
I feel happiness and fulfillment almost every moment of the day, as never before, and that is contuously for 2 years until today. Is Tolle teachings helpful ? Yes ! And they are to be achieved by everybody. However, in order to make them permanent, I needed a small amount of mental and biological discipline, so to speak, which means not loosing the vitality created by the endocrine glands and a little breathing excercises in order to achieve a lower rhythm. That’s all

Pearl April 14, 2008 at 4:37 am

I think that #5 is pretty healthy, why add the note? Maybe surrendering to your emotions is not useful for “returning to the moment” so much as enabling you to keep a healthy awareness of yourself, accepting your real feelings rather than ignoring the usefulness that can come of them.

Also, the process you described of saying yes to your emotions and then letting them go is a technique frequently used for dealing with thoughts that come up during meditation. Works well for a lot of people. Great post!

NervousNellie May 1, 2008 at 5:56 am

So glad I found this blog at this time in my life. I am embarking on a new job situation. I have been burned badly in the past by similar work. I need to make this new job situation work, so I’ve been focusing on trying to remember the bad things about it so I can learn from my mistakes. The problem is that I’m really freaking out and full of dread whenever I think of those bad memories. So … how do you learn from the past if you are supposed to focus on the present? Stupid question, but I really don’t know the answer. Thanks for any tips!

harleen March 23, 2010 at 6:43 am

if you learn positive things from the past then reoccurrence of those words or events will not harm you. just learn and move on. let the idiots live in the past and think about it.

David May 14, 2008 at 2:20 pm

NervousNellie,

It is always good to learn from your mistakes. But at the same time you do not want to DWELL on them to the point of freaking out. I have a similar problem. I don’t have to travel much for my job but occasionally I do. I used to get sooo worked up and bent out of shape worrying about my trip(sounds silly, I know, but I can’t help it).. what was going to happen, what could happen, will I get everything done etc, that I would be a MESS before I left. I started trying to live in the present and just focus on the now and not think about my trip that wasn’t for another 3 weeks. This has helped me soo much! There is a fine line obviously… while I want to plan my trip out and get all the prep work out of the way, I don’t want to be worrying about it all the time. I told myself that while I was at work I would prep for my trips, but when I am at the grocery store for example, or driving home, I tried to stay in the present.

It remains a struggle to constantly do it but its worth trying to accomplish every day.

Asif Ali Beg May 16, 2008 at 6:55 am

Thanks for those wonderful tips!But the one on the beer, I sincerely recommend you delete! Alcohol is only a false escape and completely unhealthy!I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone!

CV Prakash May 20, 2008 at 7:15 am

One method that I use to fullest to be in the present moment and I call the 5 second Yogi is as follows:

When thoughts are racing through my mind and i need to find the moment all i do is this:

I sit in a place quietly and tell myself “You are going to notice the next thought that’s coming into your mind”. The moment I start looking out for my next thought find that all thoughts stop.

Its simple and explained in short thus:

It is all about becoming aware. A thief can only enter your house when he knows you are not watching. But if we keep an eye on the door, the thief will think before it enters into your house.

Same is with thoughts. Most of us live in the past and the future because we are not in a state of watchfulness or awareness. Thoughts like thieves come in and rule our lives and makes falsehood into realities.

Worrying over the future is like someone once said “Paying interest on money you never borrowed”.

So become a 5 second yogi by this simple method. You wont believe its immense power. Transcendental Meditation could not be more easy.

Enjoy the state of the Thoughtless mind that brings clarity and immense wisdom. Cheers!

Ash Srivastava June 4, 2008 at 10:43 pm

Hello Henrick, I found this article extremely useful. I have just finished reading The power of Now and your article makes some very good points. Every now and need to be reminded of the power we have as individuals if we can remain in the present moment. Thanks for this article.

I am sure you put the last two points in for humour, but i tried pinching and it is quite effective :)

Alcohol – hmm its definitely a temporary fix and if anything it uplifts to further unconsciousness rather than consciousness.

But overall great points.

Ash

Karen J. June 7, 2008 at 2:59 am

Dear NervousNellie ~

Good luck to you in your new job! It’s been a month – how’s it going?
Keep in mind the difference between the “learning” and the actual “experiences” and the reasons that you have bad memories about them. The important parts of your history are the lessons. As David said, don’t DWELL on the negative situations themselves.
~~~~
Dear Henrik ~

Another great post! I think of #6 as the Buddhist “Beginner Mind”, and #8 as definitely temporary, but sometimes VERY useful. Thanks for including both 7 and 8.

Hope it’s getting to be Spring by you – in Chicago, it’s definitely Summer!

Bright Blessings!
Karen J.

Angie June 11, 2008 at 5:18 pm

LOVE IT ,HERE IS ANOTHER WAY TO STAY IN THE PRESENT MOMENT…….GET COMFORTABLE THAN CLOSE YOUR EYES DO A FEW DEEP BREATHS THAN COUNT STARTING WITH 5 USEING ALL YOUR SENSES START WITH…. CLOSING YOUR EYES AND PAY ATTENTION TO 5 THINGS YOU CAN HEAR THAN OPEN YOUR EYES AND PAY ATTENTION TO 5 THING YOU CAN SEE,THAN 5 THINGS YOUR TASTE IS EXPERIENCING,5 THINGS YOU CAN FEEL THAN GO TO 4 THINGS 3,2AND1.wHEN YOU ARE FINISHED ANY FEELING YOU WERE EXPERIENCING WITH TRIGGERS FROM YOUR PAST OR WORRIES ABOUT THE FUTURE WILL HAVE VANISHED.yOU ARE NOW IN THE PRESENT MOMENT.FEELS GOOD DOESN,T IT.IF 5 IS TO MUCH START AT A LOWER NUMBER.TAKE CARE IT REALLY DOES WORK

mavis June 21, 2008 at 10:28 am

being calm, clear, and positive at the moment is something i find so damn hard to achieve! i’m naturally pessimistic, and i find myself getting bored, pissed off, and restless most of the time.

i guess i need hell lot more practice…

“The alcohol quiets down these thoughts (and the decreases the number of thoughts in your mind).” you’ve got that right. things just lighten up and seem suddenly humorous after a few beers…

great article!

Ernest June 27, 2008 at 9:24 am

Thank you for this article, and for your blog; I’ve gotten a lot of benefit from reading it, and always enjoy your perspective. I felt a need to weigh in on the beer one, though, like a lot of other folks. On the one hand, I think I know exactly what you mean — alcohol often seems to take the edge off, and put me in a more receptive place where I can just take the moment as it comes. But something Eckhart Tolle said in “A New Earth” stuck with me; he makes a distinction between going “above” thinking (being truly present) and dropping down “below” thinking with TV or alcohol or exhaustion. The effect feels similar on the surface, but in the long run it’s the “above” that we’re shooting for, isn’t it? The thing that I like best about the beer-free version is that I can access it (sometimes, anyway) when a beer wouldn’t exactly be appropriate :-)

Thanks again for your writing — it always gives me a lift!

tabi July 11, 2008 at 4:54 pm

Good advice, up to the end.
Alcohol is probably the biggest impediment to spiritual advancement and living in the present that exists in the world. If you don’t believe it, ask an alcoholic or the friend or family member of one. You can find one easily in every family. I don’t get why you include that.

jaybird August 29, 2008 at 6:56 pm

nothing will train you or bring you into the present more than being the parent of a young child: you face your past, hold hopes for the future, but if you don’t bring yourself into every moment and be there with your child in a real way, all is lost.

Anonymous September 9, 2008 at 6:36 am

it’s greate article.This is very useful

anonymous 2 September 27, 2008 at 12:17 am

dear jaybird,

it’s great that you have found that the way to remain in the present moment is by becoming a parent. however, i hope that everyone understands it’s not like that for everyone!! sometimes, it’s not so easy to stay in the present moment so you can’t get to the point of “being there with your child in a real way”. although that would be an ideal goal, having a child isn’t the solution.

Claudia November 15, 2008 at 9:06 pm

Those are great ways to come back to the present moment. But for some people it may be a bit harder to do, a lot of people under the influence of drug or alcohol are completely cut off from reality and can’t exactly concentrate on what’s in front of them. Thankfully, there are some great ways to solve this problem now. Many drug rehab centers are available for the public and can help them get back up to present moment and make the most out of their lives.

Dylan February 1, 2009 at 10:43 pm

There are a few great tips here. I really agree with focusing on the things around you and focusing on deep breathing. You can relax alot by just breathing deeply. The GREATEST technique I have found that works for me however, is to think of it this way.
-Look around in your present surroundings and think to yourself all the things you can do and ways you can interact. Not even doin those things but just knowing you can do anything you want right now is a really “mind-freeing” experience. Sometimes we get too caught up in our daily routines and the things we do. We get drifted into a kind of cruise-control mode. Thinking of all the interactions you can do in your current situations helps this and helps you get back on touch with the present. I also believe religion and faith help alot in building self-esteem, positive attitude, and enjoyment of life as well

DAnny March 7, 2009 at 4:25 pm

The way I like to return to the present moment very easily is by listening to the song “New Slang” by the shins.
Anyway, I subscribed. Love all your articles.

rahul March 9, 2009 at 10:02 am

thanks sir

Bill March 18, 2009 at 1:19 am

Drinking alcohol is really bad advice.

jimmydeeee April 20, 2009 at 6:12 am

While Tolle describes the use of alcohol as bringing one to a “lower” level of consciousness, as opposed to the “higher” level which is preferred, I have found that drinking a few beers or a glass of wine has helped me experience a mind-less state nonetheless, which I feel can be used as a stepping stone to the preferred higher state.

Listening to music also seems to stem the automatic flow of thoughts, unless the songs initiate past memories.

Nice post.

Smerdis June 3, 2009 at 10:54 pm

great one! Thanks

Jay November 1, 2009 at 11:22 am

Great article. I’m reading New Earth by Eckhart Tolle now & this article is really relevant.

Tip #8 cracked me up though. That was exactly what I did last Friday at an event I had to attend. I get pretty jittery and uptight when I’m in large crowds & I just had to have a beer to calm my nerves a little. The voices in my head quietened.. but I wouldn’t recommend it to people who can’t stop at one. One glass too many & we might start acting goofy in an important event. That’ll give us more things to regret & think about the next day!

paspartu November 16, 2009 at 1:57 pm

ah, easier said than done!

everywhere, but everywhere in the internet, everyone talks about “living now”!

hey people, dont fake it, dont pretend to have it!

besides that, it cannot be done following instructions! forget it!

it becomes a business to talk about “the now”.. dont try to get it! as long as you do, you wont get it, anyway!

cheers!

nm September 1, 2010 at 3:07 am

what paspartu says is exactly true. you’re not going to be present by thinking present. it’s a state of mind….and if you’re thinking about it…you’re not really in it.

when you are really present, you don’t even care about this stuff lol.

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