It’s easy to plan for the future, make to-do lists for today and tomorrow, calendar appointments and upcoming travel plans, even make plans for the upcoming afternoon when it is still early morning. It is much more difficult to be fully present in the current moment where you are actually living. Why is that?
For myself, I find it a matter of gratitude, or perhaps forgetting gratitude. When I am overly focused on creating my next to-do list, or scheduling my next week of activities, I am looking more towards what the future holds for me and my family, instead of what I have in the present moment. Somehow, I think that once I cross these items off the list, or are productive by getting past all the appointments next week, then I will have time to slow down, rest and enjoy some peace in the moment. Then I will have time to appreciate where I am in life and be grateful. The reality of life is that there will always be more to do, more items to check off the list.
How can we avoid getting caught up in endless future planning and return to being aware and grateful for the present moment?
-Cultivate a positive attitude. Happy people are a joy to be around. They appreciate and learn from everything that happens throughout their days. Sharing a smile, a hug, saying ‘hello’ or even something as simple as letting someone cut in front of you in traffic, can help you become more positive and live more aware and in the moment. As you do this regularly, it becomes a habit of being present wherever you are, looking for ways to share happiness.
-Get real about your life expectancy. While none of us like to think about our mortality, the truth is, we all have a finite time, and finite moments of life left to live. When you keep that knowledge close to the forefront of your brain while planning, you will find that you plan less, and enjoy life more. I love statistics, and while this is most likely not entirely accurate, I enjoyed using the Life Expectancy Calculator to figure out my possible length of mortality. Looks like I have a shot at living to 94!
-Don’t hold on to past regrets or hurts. Brooding over poor choices you have made in the past, or choices someone else has made that has hurt you is one of the many ways we squander our present moments of happiness and awareness. Realize that everyone makes mistakes, including yourself and those who have hurt you. Let those mistakes pass, learn what you need to from them and move on to the present. When you view making mistakes as a natural part of existence, as natural as eating, breathing and sleeping, you realize that there isn’t the need to focus on them for long.
-Quiet your inner voice. We all have the little voice in our head that just doesn’t stop talking. It’s the voice that talks to us about our past and our future. It seems to talk about everything except the very present moment we are living. If you can learn to control that voice through meditation, quiet pondering or other methods, you can live much more in the present. When you are always thinking about the past or the future, you are living in a state of non-existence, since neither of those places actually exists in the present moment.
-Focus on one thing at a time. Multi-tasking feeds that inner voice that is always talking to us telling us everything that needs to be done at all times. If you focus on one task at a time, without thinking of your next to-do item, you will complete the task with a higher quality outcome and personal fulfillment then if you are half working on it, half thinking about the next project. As you focus on the task at hand, you may also realize that perhaps it isn’t something that is a good use of your time after all, allowing you to remove tasks from your life that aren’t really contributing.
-Plan in the present. It’s true that we do need to plan parts of our days and make plans for future vacations, retirement, etc. We can’t always live in the present moment and assume the future will take care of itself in a good way without any help on our part. As we set aside some time in the present to plan for the future, we can make our plans by considering how our ‘present’ will be affected once we get there, and make our plans accordingly. Once we have made those plans, we can feel more at ease in the present and not worry about the future. I like to spend around 10-15 minutes each night doing some light planning for the next day. I also spend around 30 minutes a week doing long-term planning. Once I am done, I can refocus on the current moment and situation.
Living in a state of gratitude for each moment we are alive and able to enjoy our family, friends, nature, experiences, food and anything else that brings us joy encompasses the meaning of living in and appreciating the present. While the present may not always be filled with wonderful days and rainbows, we can still be grateful for the opportunity to experience life and glean from it all the moments that help shape us into who we are. Focusing on the here and now instead of planning for tomorrow or next month keeps us in the present and feeling gratitude and happiness.
What do you do that helps you focus on appreciating the present?