When you were born, there was no need to try to be present.
You were completely focused and in the moment. Present moment awareness was your natural way of being.
Most infants and young children below the age of three have a total focus on the moment. They laugh, cry, and only focus on what interests them. The younger we are, the more oblivious we are to the social cues of others.
Of course, as we grow into teenagers and adults, our lives take on a lot more complexity. We have an identity, and responsibilities, and have to fit into a culture.
As the pressures of teenage and adult life begin to mount, we start to lose the ability to stay in the moment.
Many people have a constant internal dialogue, and spend a lot of their lives ‘living in their head’.
The Dangers of Non-Presence
Interestingly, there is no definitive word to describe the distracted, self-absorbed state that the majority of us live in each day.
The closest word to being non-present is distracted. However, it describes when we are focused on something other than what is important.
I think the term non-presence is a better description of how most of us live today. We are physically in one place, but our focus, our thoughts, our emotions, and our energy are not.
The danger of living in a state of non-presence is that we miss most of real life. We pass through it without experiencing it. We have no connection or memory to recall because we weren’t really there.
Why Is It So Hard to Stay Present?
Obviously, the answer to this is different for every person, but it does seem to be a common malady of modern life.
In fact, a study conducted by Psychologist Daniel Gilbert found that people spend 47% percent of every waking hour ‘mind wandering.’
The average person today is bombarded by distractions from every angle. According to research from Oberlo, most people spend 497 minutes a day consuming media of some type, which amounts to over seven hours per day.
All this distraction and information overload is added to the pressure of being a successful person in the modern world. No wonder so many of us struggle to find a sense of happiness, or can’t figure out how to stay present.
The Power of Presence
Why is it important to try to be more present? Well, according to science, there are many excellent reasons.
A 2009 study on the benefits of mindfulness showed that your ability to remain present in the moment is linked to numerous health benefits such as less stress, lower anxiety and depression, improved general mood, better mental health, and a greater sense of well-being.
Speaking for myself, I can say that some of the most profound and valued moments of my life have been when I stayed present in the moment and experienced what was happening.
With this in mind, let’s look at how to be more present in life, and benefit from the power of presence.
Five Ways to Be More Present In Life
Over the years, I have studied a lot of different experts on the topic of the power of being present, and how to reduce distraction in life.
Authors like Eckhart Tolle, the Dalai Lama, and Jay Shetty have taught me some valuable ideas about how to stay present. Of course, there is a lot of value in meditation, and learning to practice mindfulness. But I believe there are more simple ways to experience the present moment.
Everyone has to develop their own methods, but here are four ways that I have found work well for me, and the people I have shared them with. They take practice, but the rewards are worth it.
Practicing one or all of these ways to stay in the present moment will help reduce negative thoughts and increase your sense of gratitude and inner peace.
Let’s look at the five methods of how to stay present in life.
The most basic form of staying present is found in the physical realm.
Your connection to your physical body and your senses can help bring you back into the moment.
Everything we experience in the world has a sensation attached to it. It takes attention and awareness to be able to tune into what physical sensations are happening around us.
For example, while reading this, you can notice your feet touching the ground. You can bring awareness to your hand holding your phone, or resting on your computer. You have control of both these parts of your body, but it’s likely you weren’t conscious of them until just now.
Another great way to stay in the present moment is to simply take a deep breath. Mindful breathing instantly makes you feel calmer, and more in control and can give you a sense of inner peace.
Anytime you find yourself outside, take a moment to take in the sights, sounds, temperature, and the way your body feels. This is a physical form of practicing mindfulness.
The next method to help you stay in the present moment is to be aware of your emotions.
Every human being will have a strong sense of emotion that dictates the decisions they make and the different things they do with their life.
Very often, the distraction and non-presence that we allow to take over our lives will cause us to become numb to our real emotions.
Here is the thing about emotion: it doesn’t go away just because you ignore it. It lies beneath the surface and drives things like anxiety, worry, and any other negative emotion you can think of.
Take the time to tune into the emotion (or emotions) that you are feeling in the present moment.
Chances are if you haven’t done this for a while, it will cause a flood of feelings inside you.
That is OK. It’s normal to want to not experience emotions. But when you do, you feel a sense of relief and release from them.
Letting yourself experience a negative emotion or a positive emotion fully means that you are learning how to stay present.
The next level of learning how to stay present in life is to give more attention and awareness to the people around you.
Very often, we live in a fog of our own thoughts and feelings and ignore those of the people around us.
Other people can tell if we are not with them in the present moment, and can often feel hurt or disconnected from us as a result.
One of the best ways to be more present is to simply bring all your focus onto the conversation and connection with the person you are with. Get a feel for their emotions, and listen deeply to what they are saying without the need to reply.
Stay silent for a few seconds after they finish talking to see if there is more that they want to say.
The ability to give people your full attention is an amazing way to build trust and connection. Most people never experience a person actually listening to them, so if you are the one to do it, you will find more people want to be around you.
This is the most confusing and ‘woo-woo’ way to stay present, but it can be very rewarding.
There are many different ways to be in the present moment in everyday life, but above and beyond all this is a more profound sense. We just have to take the time and give it awareness.
Most people can agree that in some respect, all people are connected to each other. Whether you see each person as possessing a soul or being part of the same energy, it is much the same thing.
A great mindfulness practice is to see everyone and everything in the world as connected. See the people you interact with as part of the same spiritual experience. No matter if they are strangers, acquaintances, friends, or family – they are all people, and in that respect, we are connected.
Taking this perspective helps to stay more moment in daily life, as you are not in an adversarial or competitive thought pattern. Rather you are framing others as part of a collective whole.
Being Grateful For What Is
By far, the most profound way to learn to stay in the present is to examine what you are grateful for.
Gratitude is a trendy concept today, but it is also a mental game changer when you practice it regularly.
Many of us live with our minds tuned to what we want, or some future goal we think will make us happy. While pursuing goals and plans can be beneficial, they can also cause you to not value what you already have.
Gratitude for the simple things in everyday life realigns your thinking and can boost your mental health.
As corny as it might sound, focusing more on what is already going well for you will make you more present, and help you value the little moments where the best parts of life happen.
Learning to ‘Be’
As an achiever in the modern world, the hardest thing to do is to let go of the need to always do something productive. The urge to do more, and have more are constantly calling to us.
But, as Angela Attard eloquently explained in Psychology Today, you must get as good at “being” as you are at “doing”.
When you learn to live in the present moment, your anxiety and worry are slowly dissolved. Soon they are replaced by inner peace, presence, and enjoyment in the current moment.
You return to the experience of childlike wonder that we all had in early life. You have more memories to relish after the fact because you were actually there in the moment.
Most of all, life is more rewarding and enriching each day.
In closing, I believe this famous old saying (attributed to many different people) captures it best:
Yesterday is history.
Tomorrow is a mystery.
Today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present.