How do you know if you are really living life to the fullest? Do you live in the now? Or do you ruminate over past decisions and worry about the future? Do you let yourself fully engage in daily experiences - even those that are mundane - so that your body and your brain have the opportunity to learn and grow?
Many experts believe that present-moment awareness is the key to living a more meaningful life. And the good news is that anyone can learn how to be more present. It's a skill that requires practice and patience. But you don't have to be a guru to gain the benefits. Learning how to be in the moment can enrich not only your life but also the lives and relationships of others around you.
How to Live in the Now
What does living in the now mean to you? Maybe you want to reduce unwanted thoughts throughout your day. Or, maybe you want to focus on making memories that really matter. Think about what presence means to you, and how you hope to use it in your own life. Then, explore the strategies below to create a tool kit of techniques that can help you to engage in the moment more frequently.
Use Sensory Engagement to Ground Yourself
Grounding is a technique that you can use to anchor yourself in the present moment. It can help you bring your attention to what's in front of you so that you maintain full awareness of the experience.
One way to practice grounding is to explore your five senses. Ask yourself questions to bring your attention to your sensory experience.
- Sight: What do you see? What is physically happening right now in the moment? Who is present? What colors and textures are apparent in your environment?
- Taste: Can you taste anything? Are you eating or drinking something special? What does it taste like? Put words to the sensations.
- Smell: What smells are present? Have you hugged someone with a certain scent of cologne? Is a candle lit? Can you smell your own shampoo or deodorant?
- Touch: What can you feel with your hands or your body? Are there any noticeable textures? What sensations do you feel on the inside of your body?
- Sound: What do you hear? Is there laughter, yelling, talking? Are there ambient sounds like traffic noises or an air conditioner? Is there total silence and how does that feel?
All the details that you collect from your observations can help you stay centered in the surrounding moment by keeping your mind and body engaged.
Respect Your Feelings
Studies suggest that the typical person has about 70,000 thoughts a day. These thoughts can trigger emotional reactions. In fact, research shows that people experience at least one emotion 90% of the time throughout the day.
So, when emotions arise, remember that they are normal and allow yourself to experience them. Explore how the moment makes you feel. Notice how your surroundings impact you. You don't necessarily have to analyze your feelings, just respect them and acknowledge them when they're present. But if you want to explore the emotions further, respect that need as well.
Pause and Ask Questions
Give yourself permission to pause and reflect throughout the day. Often, if we experience something that makes us feel uncomfortable, we try to escape the situation as soon as possible. We don't give ourselves enough time to process our emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.
The next time you experience a situation that evokes a strong emotion, try following these steps:
- Put a name to your emotion. What triggered it? Are you trying to escape the situation or embrace it? Is it temporary? Can you learn from it for the future?
- Encourage yourself to stay in the moment, even if it's uncomfortable.
Going through this process can help you to learn more about yourself. In addition, the more you pause and sit with uncomfortable feelings, the longer you'll be able to stay in the moment in the future. As a result, you'll build resilience and feel more in control of your emotions.
Savor the Moment
When you savor something, you allow yourself to thoroughly enjoy it. Have you ever had a bite of your favorite food and found yourself closing your eyes as you enjoy the flavor? That's savoring, and you can bring this practice into all aspects of your life.
Some ways to practice savoring on a daily basis include:
- Capturing a mental picture of a meaningful moment
- Closing your eyes and feeling the sunlight on your face
- Experiencing full belly laughs without embarrassment or self-consciousness
- Taking time to stop and smell flowers, fresh cut grass, coffee roasting, or clean laundry
- Slowly sipping a cup of tea or lemon water.
- Stretching as soon as you wake up and noticing how your body feels
- Taking a deep breath or fresh air whenever you walk outside
Find ways to allow yourself to fully enjoy the moment in front of you. You can practice savoring the small, daily activities, as well as the bigger events that you want to completely embrace.
To be mindful means to do things with your full attention. Although people often connect mindfulness with meditation, you can practice mindfulness during almost any activity.
Not only can being mindful help you live in the moment, but it can also reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, improve your sleep, and decrease physical pain symptoms in the body.
Some ways to practice mindfulness include:
- Avoiding multitasking - only focus on one thing at a time and give it your full attention
- Setting an intention for your day and revisiting it periodically
- Slowing down and not rushing through your day
Monitor Your Thoughts
Our thoughts can pull us away from the present moment. We often get lost in memories from long ago, get caught up about something we said or did, or even worry about the future. When you monitor your thoughts, you give yourself the opportunity to return to the present.
Monitoring your thoughts doesn't mean that you can't think about things that aren't happening right now. After all, you're human and thoughts are bound to arise. Instead, when a thought pops up that tries to pull your attention away from the now, follow these steps to help you regain focus.
- Simply note that you're thinking
- Don't judge yourself or your thought in any way
- Remind yourself that you can return to the thought at a later time (write it down if you prefer)
- Take a deep breath and return your focus to the moment in front of you
You can repeat this process as often as you need to. If you find that it's difficult to keep your attention on the moment at hand, it's okay to take a break from the activity you're doing to address whatever worries keep popping up. You can place a time limit on it if that helps. Then revisit the thought later if you weren't able to resolve it.
Allow Yourself to Experience Opportunities
How often do you say "yes" to opportunities? If you tend to avoid new experiences, then one way you can practice living in the now is to start saying yes more often.
We might avoid new opportunities because we lack self-confidence. Negative thoughts, imposter syndrome, and our perceptions of ourselves can all get in the way of expanding our life experiences. The "could haves", "should haves", and "it's too lates" can keep you stuck in the past. In order to fully experience the present, you need to allow yourself to live.
Focused attention is an important part of living in the moment. Have you ever felt like you were physically present, but checked out mentally? We've all been there.
One way you to keep your mind engaged is to eliminate distractions. Some ways you can reduce disturbances include:
- Put your phone on silent or turn it off
- Turn off notifications from apps
- Turn off all electronics when eating, reading, or preparing for sleep
- Wear headphones and listen to calming music or no music at all
- Close the door to your office to focus on a task
Give Yourself Time to Reflect
You don't always have to live in the now. It is okay to allow yourself time to think of past memories and experiences - both good and bad. We're human, and we hold memories as a way to connect to experiences and people that are gone. These memories are meaningful to you and they deserve a place in your life. We just don't want to remain stuck in the past as it can detract from living in the now.
When we don't live in the present, we miss out on the amazing experiences that are happening in front of us. So give your world your full attention. You might just notice that you feel more gratitude for the people around you and experience more joy in the little things that truly make life worth living.