April 08, 2022 by Lauren Gombas
Time moves forward, the leaves change colors, and before anyone can sneeze, children go from one to eighteen in what feels like seconds. We as humans often lament this lost time.
Focusing on the present helps us better preserve moments we may easily miss, and help us avoid the feeling as if we have lost precious time with loved ones. It can look like anything from refocusing thoughts, being present with all five senses, and hearing every word a family member is saying without simultaneously preparing a response.
Henry James, a British-American novelist, advised aspiring writers to seek out experiences and actively collect fascinating things.
These experiences often elicited a sense of being in the moment, allowing the writer to truly experience things as they were happening. For a writer, this helps make their writing more vivid and intriguing. It gives them the opportunity to truly capture the moment, and gives the readers an opportunity to experience that moment over and over again.
Being present or practicing mindfulness can fuel one's ability to develop more insights and complete creative projects. In a state of mindfulness, the goal is to stay focused only on what’s happening in the moment. Many mindfulness practices encourage you to focus on your breath, but there are many ways to practice mindfulness. The main focus should be to seek out present sensations, feelings, and thoughts without judgment. As a thought enters your brain, acknowledge its presence and simply let it pass. Doing so frees you from any negative emotions or thoughts that you may typically experience.
Mindfulness isn’t just a way to stay focused on the present. Mindfulness has been linked to cognitive improvements, enhanced emotion regulation, and an improved working memory. In addition, some people have seen a stronger grasp of their chronic pain after participating in mindfulness interventions.
Although being mindful and in the present offers many benefits, it can sometimes take a concentrated effort to achieve. Statements such as "Stop worrying!" or "Focus on the task at hand!" may not always be helpful or powerful enough to help refocus. A worry about the future or even excitement over the future can be enough of an opportunity for distraction. Working with a coach can help someone understand the barriers that prevent them from fully being present. Consider the following questions in coaching sessions:
A daily routine can be helpful. Having a routine can help reduce stress, provide better sleep, and contribute to overall better health, making the ability to focus more achievable. For example, your daily routine might include waking up a bit earlier to enjoy your favorite morning beverage and practice some mindfulness or meditation, followed by a mindful walk during lunch. Incorporating intentional opportunities for existing in the present moment into your daily routine can enhance your overall well being.
Although following a routine that blocks out time to seek the present can be done alone, an accountability partner who reminds you to stick to your routine is an incredible bonus. This can be done one-on-one, where two people hold each other accountable to new routines or in a group setting, such as a yoga or meditation group.
Another way to stay in the present is following the lead of the author of The Opposite of Loneliness, Marina Keegan. Part of her routine would be to write down details like a waiter's hands or a cab driver's eyes. Through this exercise, Keegan allowed herself to slow down, and by doing so, she was able to define each day as unique instead of seeing time pass in a blur. By hyperfocusing on small details, she was able to remain engaged with her curiosity in the moment, which made her life feel more full.
Let's say that it's challenging for someone to be present at night because it's time they are the most isolated. At night, their mind wanders back to the loss of a romantic relationship that ended over three years ago.
To distract themselves from ruminating, they save their daily tasks, like laundry and cleaning, for the evening hours. At first, this plan works, and they are able to keep the feeling of loss at bay. After a few weeks, however, this new routine becomes so automatic and mechanical, that rumination begins to churn their thoughts once more.
While there is ample opportunity for coaching around their ability to move on from the loss, there is also an opportunity to experiment with other techniques to keep their minds more present and future-focused. Mindfulness techniques may be useful in helping the client both identify a solution and start up a new hobby.
The experimentation begins by having the client identify activities they may find enjoyable in the evening. Perhaps they want to listen to a new science-fiction podcast or get into crossword puzzles. The next step would be to test out each of these activities to determine how they impact their thoughts when their mind begins to wander to the past.
During this experimentation period, clients should record their findings. When are they most engaged? What is it that feels most engaging? What activities are not engaging enough? In this case, the client may find that they do best when they have a variety of activities to look forward to scattered throughout the week. With this new insight, they develop a plan to incorporate their most engaging activities into their evening routine. Perhaps they eventually invite others to join or host future game nights. Either way, the client has discovered something new on which they can focus, rather than ruminating on their past.
The experimentation process itself can be wildly rewarding in itself, providing the bridge over which clients can practice remaining present.
Sometimes all it takes is stillness. For example, sitting down and listening to the washing machine make its swirling sounds or the fridge's hum doesn't just bring you back to reality; it can also create an appreciation and gratitude for the senses. As defined by the recognition of receiving a gift, gratitude reminds every person of what they are lucky to have.
It's a constant reminder of what's through the windshield, not in the rearview mirror. Gratitude can serve as a guide to get through turbulent times when it's easy to only think about the negatives and not process the small details that add joy to daily living. A few other ways to engage with gratitude include:
Truly living in the moment can provide a sense of peace, but more often, a sense of connectedness. Being present allows us to feel our senses and feel more clear-headed. Being in the present reminds us that we are whole and that we have the ability to handle whatever it is that comes our way. So today, think about how you've been able to be present. Reflect on the benefits of presence and how you can use those benefits to improve your life.
Kaufman, Scott Barry, and Carolyn Gregoire. “3. Daydreaming.” Wired to Create: Unravelling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind, Ebury Digital, London, 2016, pp. 31–31.
Kaufman, Scott Barry, and Carolyn Gregoire. “7. Mindfulness.” Wired to Create: Unravelling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind, Ebury Digital, London, 2016, pp. 99–100.
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