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A Practical Guide to Staying Present in Daily Life

Image by aussiegall (license).

There is only one time and place where you can be and have any control over. The present moment.

But most of us still spend a lot of our regular days lost in memories, reliving a sunny vacation or maybe more commonly repeating an old conflict or negative situation over and over in our thoughts.

Or we get lost in scenarios about what could happen in the future. Maybe through wishful daydreams. Or maybe by building monsters in our minds as thoughts go round and and round and create scary and dangerous mountains out of molehills or just air.

Or the mind may become split and unfocused between several different things and tasks.

If you spend a lot of your everyday moments and time in the future or the past – or both of them – or you have difficulty focusing and you feel this may have a negative effect on your life then maybe you want to learn to live more in the present moment.

I first tried it several years ago and it has had some huge benefits for me. Some the most important ones are:

  • Less negativity and more action. Too much time in the past or future tends to create a lot of fear, worry, lowers your self-confidence and you’ll get less of the very most important and often difficult stuff done.
  • Less stress. When you try to do things but put a lot of pressure on yourself by reliving past failures that you want to avoid now then that adds a lot of stress to anything.
  • You’ll find more fun and excitement in what you do. Rather than feeling stressed and like you just have to get to the finish line as quickly as you can. Doing something and just being focused on that and nothing else makes the doing more joyful. Or it at least feels more OK to do it.
  • Sharper and more relaxed socially. Learning to be present has had a huge positive effect on my social skills. When you are just in the present moment in a conversation then you don’t fear what could go wrong based on bad previous experiences. You won’t build up a big negative future scenario before your date or meeting at work. You may do a bit of planning. But when you are in the conversation or meeting you are just there to 100%. And that makes it so much easier to think fast, to be witty, to listen well and to have a great and relaxed interaction.

Those are some of the biggest benefits.

Here’s what works for me. Just a few simple things that I use in my normal day.

Don’t aim for staying present all the time though. Because that is probably impossible and perfectionism tears self-esteem apart.

Just focus on improving. That is what I have done. Little by little I have learned to stay present more and more during my day. I hope this guide can help you to do the same.

Single-task not only your work.

I and many others have often written and talked about the importance of single-tasking your work to get it done more effectively.

I have found that it becomes easier for me to stay present for more time throughout my day if I single-task everything as best I can.

That means to not use tabs when I browse the internet but to just be fully engaged with one thing online at a time. It means to not use my smartphone or my computer as I also try to watch the TV. Or to use any of those internet-devices during a conversation.

Get a good start to your day and set the tone for it by single-tasking as soon as you wake up.

If you have to multitask, then try to set off some specific time for it during your day. Maybe an hour or so in the afternoon.

Do it slowly.

When you wake up and starting doing your first thing of the day, then slow it down a bit.

Do it and the next few things at a relaxed and calm pace. It will probably not take that much longer than if you do it fast. And you’ll be able to stay present more easily, to focus on each thing you do and to find a simple joy or stillness in it.

Do that instead of increasing your stress right away and getting stuck in worries or though loops about what may happen today before you even have had your breakfast.

As you move through your day, try to do it slowly when you can. Walk or ride your bicycle a little slower. Talk slower (this not only makes you feel calmer but I have also found that people tend to listen better to what you say when you talk a little slower).

Tell yourself: now I am…

This is something I have started using quite recently and it helps my thoughts to not wander off.

As I do something I simply tell myself this in my mind: Now I am X.

For example, if I am brushing my teeth, then I tell myself: Now I am brushing my teeth.

This habit is maybe most important when doing things where it is easy to drift away to the future or past. It could be when you brush your hair or teeth or when you are taking a walk to the supermarket.

I don’t tell myself this line all the time, but I pepper it a bunch of times throughout my day.

Minimize the input to have less thoughts running around in your head.

If I check the email, Facebook and three newspaper websites online early in the day then I have found that I will have more thoughts bouncing around in my head. And so it becomes a lot harder to concentrate on anything, to stay present and to not be dragged away into some negative thought loop.

So the kind option towards myself has become to not check anything early in the day. And to check things as few times as I can. If I minimize such things then my day becomes lighter and simpler and I not only stay present more easily but I also tend to get more things of importance done.

No, no, no + reconnect with the here and now

The four tips above make it easier to stay in the present moment and to use it and enjoy it fully. But each day I still drift into the past or the future. Or my thoughts become split between different things.

If you have read any of my stuff on self-esteem then you know that I often use a stop-word to quickly disrupt and stop the inner critic or a self-esteem damaging train of thought. I do the same thing here. As quickly as I notice that my thoughts have drifted away I say to myself: No, no, no.

Then I quickly follow that up with focusing on just my breathing or just on what is happening around me right now with all my senses for a minute or two to draw myself back to the present moment.

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  • Clay November 21, 2012, 8:01 pm

    Thank you for the great advice! It is necessary to me to take some time everyday to “feel” the present moment and just enjoy it, these tips will definitely help me to do that even better.

    • Henrik Edberg November 23, 2012, 11:28 am

      You’re very welcome, Clay! Glad you found it helpful.

  • KarenYvonne November 21, 2012, 11:09 pm

    great article! I find that when I am down, I am usually not being present. I completely agree with your action steps.

  • Paulo November 26, 2012, 6:29 am

    Thank so much for this!

  • Derek November 26, 2012, 3:32 pm

    Thank you for the wonderful reminder on the importance of staying present. I really like the “I am …typing this comment”. I meditate and focus on my breathing throughout the day and I think the simple “i am” mantra will help me when I start to lose my focus on the moment.

  • Roman Soluk November 26, 2012, 4:22 pm

    You’re right Henrik, less negativity is very important. Positivity can bring great changes into our lives, especially when adding some action.

    Thanks for this great post!

  • James November 27, 2012, 3:24 am

    This is great. Thank you very much for this!

  • Claudia Adelhardt - Moving For Love November 27, 2012, 8:05 pm

    One of the best things I have read. In a world where multi-tasking is seen as a strength, I fail miserably and then I live in a world of stress and “would’ve, should’ve & could’ve”. Being in the moment, doing one thing and doing it correctly is much more time efficient and enjoyable.

  • Harish November 28, 2012, 6:26 am

    Hey Henrik,
    Thank you for a wonderful post! Slowing down and being present is such great advise for a hectic and frantic world where attention spans are measured in seconds!
    I attempt to bring mindfulness into my daily meditation and into my life by being aware and present to the in breath and the out breath and labeling the breath as “breathing in” and “breathing out” much like the wonderful meditations that the Vietnamese monk Thich Naht Hanh teaches.
    Thanks again!

  • Pam Sallegue November 28, 2012, 2:40 pm

    Great article from you Henrik! You know I, myself has the same belief. We really gotta live the present to the fullest, no worries, no fears. Just enjoy every single breath you have. Living is a privilege. Just go on, and always look at the bright side of things! :)

  • Jordan Ayres November 30, 2012, 12:56 pm

    Being mindful and in the present is something I’ve been heavily working on over the past few months. This serves as a great guide.

    Minimising input is such a great tip and something I find is crucial in the early mornings and late at night before bed.

    Keep up the great work

  • Jorge Blanco December 1, 2012, 8:58 am

    Single-tasking is indeed an excellent way to focus and a fast way to finish tasks compared to multitasking. In addition to eliminating other distractions, turn off other things in your head as well. Only think of the task at hand.

  • Petite Caja December 2, 2012, 6:11 am

    Excellent! I might try to do this. I’ve started to be more here when eating, before I did lots of things at the same time now I try not to and just enjoy the food :) Small steps!

  • Lisa December 4, 2012, 6:50 am

    Excellent advice! Single-tasking is such a novel concept these days but can be very rewarding. I recently wrote about practical ways to experience the present moment. You can check it out here: http://recreatinglisa.wordpress.com/2012/12/01/presence-is-a-virtu/
    Keep up the great work!

  • AlaskaAbbey December 4, 2012, 2:13 pm

    Another great post! I love everything you write!! It’s all very very helpful and it’s really helping me open my eyes to how simple it really is to be happy once you have the right set of skills and now i really am learning how, thanks to you :D and I really appreciate how you write because it feels like I’m chatting with a very wise friend. Keep on doin what your doing because your fabulous!! Just thought I would say so since I have been researching these same topics and never getting advice I was truly satisfied with. So thanks again for all your great information and help :D

  • Bianca S December 7, 2012, 1:41 am

    This was a great posting and a much needed read for me. Lately I have been wanting to just quit my job, pack up and go…no set plan..just go. I know this is unrealistic but sometimes you need to read something like this article to help ground you a bit… Thank you! I am a traveler at heart and I’ve been pretty much travel free for almost two years now (beginning to wear on me..) Everything about travel gets me excited and energized! The problem is…the money and the time needed to do so! I lived in London for two years where I was able to travel and see the world! I am back in the states now, working and living…and not traveling. So I guess for me the balance needs to be…work (save), travel, and when I can’t travel perhaps just reading about travel will do the trick! I guess this goes along with the idea of getting enjoyment from the smaller things in life! Travel and reading are my two favorite things so if I can’t travel I can read! I know, I know it’s not the same at all…but depending on the book….sometimes that excited feeling in the pit of my stomach returns! “Eat, Pray, Love” did that for me and now I just read the book “Until Brazil” by Bethe Lee Moulton and the feeling is back! It’s about a married woman, in a steady job looking for a little excitement! She goes on a business trip to Brazil hoping for a promotion and instead gets immersed in a culture and an experience that she will never forget! http://www.untilbrazil.com/ –recommend 100% – It has given me the little escape that I so desperately need! Time to be an adult right? And make adult decisions! “Less negativity and more action. ” – My new mantra! Time to make things happen, but in a balanced way :) Thanks so much, looking forward to embracing the moments and reading more of your posts!

  • Shahid December 13, 2012, 3:40 pm

    Brilliant article Henrik. I sometimes find I tend to worry about things, which are way further down the line, instead of practicing just living for the moment a bit more. And just enjoying the company and laughter of those who are special to me around me solely.

    Glad I`ve signed up to the weekly updates.

    Thanks a bunch!

  • Robert M December 31, 2012, 1:43 pm

    Excellent advice! I just stumbled upon on this post which nails it right on the spot. I’m working really hard on being present, and finding this post today, on new year’s eve is a wonderful gift!

    Keep up with this great writing, thank you very much for this post and have wonderful New Year!