Mindfulness is a state of mind where a person is truly living in the present and engaged with what is happening around them. Many people think they are living in the present moment, but really, their thoughts are stuck on what is in the past or the future. It can be very difficult to truly live in the present moment, but it is a challenge with a worthy reward.
It’s generally accepted that mindful people are more secure with themselves, happier, and more empathetic towards others. Studies have also suggested that there may be a number of physical and mental health benefits. These benefits include pain relief, reduced risk anxiety, improved work performance, and reduced stress.1
Understanding the importance and benefits of living in the present moment is easy, but actually doing it is going to be more difficult. Here are just a few steps that you can follow to help yourself live in the present.
Start the Day with Meditation
It’s much easier to live your life in the present moment if that is how you start each day. Meditation is a great way to break away from television screens, phones, and even your own thoughts. By starting each day with a brief meditation session, you are taking time to notice the intricacies of the earliest moments in the day.
Starting each day with meditation also helps place you in the right mindset for the rest of the day and makes you more likely to appreciate each moment afterward. It’s the same reason why people on a diet are more successful if they start their mornings with a healthy breakfast. By starting the day with the right mindset, you are more likely to make the best possible decisions.
Meditation also happens to be very good for the mind and the body. A recent effort was made to comb through more than 19,000 studies regarding meditation. Of those studies, dozens were considered well-designed and of the highest quality. Those studies showed that meditation can help relieve anxiety, stress, and pain.2
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Meditation isn’t an exact science. However, the basics are always the same. First, find a comfortable position and take a seat. Close your eyes and breathe naturally. Don’t think about controlling your breathing. Don’t allow yourself to be lost in thought. Instead, focus on your body and your surroundings. Truly absorb the moment and everything that it includes.
Separate Yourself from Your Thoughts
This can be extremely difficult for some people. If you are an introvert, a worrier, or a deep thinker, then you probably spend more time in your head than you do in the present moment. But life is happening all around you. The more time you spend trapped within your own head, the less time you spend living in the present moment.
Learning that you are not just your thoughts can take a lot of time and practice. Today’s world can often make this an even more difficult. For example, you might find yourself at work daydreaming about going home or going on that next big vacation. You might sit on a bus and think about when you can afford a new car. Or, you might lay awake in bed and worry about what’s going to happen in the coming months.
It’s natural for the human mind to constantly jump from one thought to the next. In Buddhism, there is a term for this called the mind monkey. It refers to the unsettled and restless nature of the human mind. However, they also put effort into calming the mind monkey and learning to live in harmony with it.
Regular physical exercise is often recommended as a tool for quieting the mind monkey and separating yourself from your thoughts because the attention required to exercise and the endorphins released during the process make it difficult to drown in your thoughts. Chances are, if you were to exercise outside, you couldn’t help but notice the world around you. You will be forcing yourself to live in the present moment while also improving your health.
Meditation or mindful breathing are also techniques that can be used to quiet the mind and return to the present moment. There’s certainly no need to limit your meditation to the mornings only. A few other tricks include writing, coloring, and striking up a conversation with another person. These techniques will help snap you out of your thoughts and bring you into the present.
Make an Effort to Appreciate Each Moment
It’s easier to realize when you are stuck in the past as compared to living in the future. For example, if you are sitting somewhere thinking about how good life was years ago, then you’re obviously living in the past. Once you consciously realize this, you can snap yourself out of it and return to the present moment. But how can you notice when you are fixated on the future?
A common example of this problem is when a person is doing something they enjoy and they say, “I can’t wait to do this again!” or “I can’t wait to come back here!” In their mind, they have already stopped living in the present moment and have started living in the future. It’s often a mild sense of anxiety that plays into these types of thoughts. They are very subtle and often happen without being noticed.
It’s actually much easier to prevent these thoughts than to notice them and stop them. One way that you can do this is by making an effort to savor and appreciate important moments. If you are on an amazing vacation, don’t think to yourself, “I can’t wait to return here.” Instead, focus on pointing out what is great about each moment. Why do you like this exact moment? What about this view is impressive? Focus entirely on what it is you are enjoying at that moment.
Random Acts of Kindness
You don’t have to be a kind person to live in the present moment, but it does make it a lot easier. Random acts of kindness are an excellent way to snap out of your thoughts, forget the past, avoid the future, and truly live in the present moment. Acts of kindness require empathy, attention, and focus.
Once again, living in the present moment via random acts of kindness is good for your health as well. Studies have shown that being kind to others will increase your own happiness, the happiness of the person you were kind to, and the happiness of people who saw what happened. Other studies have also shown that being kind can lead to mental health benefits like reduced anxiety.3
Some individuals may believe that it’s impossible to break away from their thoughts and live in the present moment. Maybe you are constantly stressed by the need to pay bills, go to work, and take care of your family. People all over the world face extremely difficult problems, yet many of them still learn to appreciate life by living in the present moment.
For most people, it will not be an easy task, but the mental and physical health rewards will be worth it. Remember to start your day with meditation, exercise to calm the mind, spread happiness with random acts of kindness, and find reasons to savor every moment.
Photo credits: Kite_rin/shutterstock.com, OlenaYakobchuk/shutterstock.com, PetarPaunchev/shutterstock.com