You've heard the advice time and time again: Staying present in each moment of your life allows you to cherish your existence more fully. But often, being in the "now" is much easier said than done. Everyone has obligations, to-do lists, worries and annoyances that transport them from the world around them and into the labyrinths of their minds. However, by learning a few simple techniques, you can shake yourself out of your head and back into your life. Here, experts share easy changes you can make today to fully live in the present.
1. Start noticing your breath.
Structured breathing is a great way to guide yourself back into the current moment, says licensed professional counselor Julianne Schroeder. She suggests adopting what's called 4 x 4 breathing — a technique used by Navy SEALS — anytime you notice that you're lost in thought, anxious or just feeling emotionally out of sorts.
"Take a deep inhale — as if you were going to blow a balloon — for four seconds followed by a deep exhale through your nose or mouth for four seconds," she says. "Continue this cycle for one minute." Afterward, you should feel a sense of calm, looser muscles and decreased heart rate. With a clearer head, you can more easily focus on what's right in front of you.
2. Incorporate mini meditations into your day.
While we often associate meditation with quiet rooms, being alone and maybe some chanting, you can actually meditate anywhere and at anytime as a way to feel present. "My favorite presence exercise is simply concentrating on your breath and the rise and fall of your chest," says stress expert Kathy Gruver, author of "Conquer Your Stress."
"On the inhale you think, 'I am.' On the exhale you think, 'at peace.' If other thoughts intrude, which they often do at first, just dismiss them and return to the mantra." You can use this technique at work, at home, on your commute — anytime you feel yourself floating away from right now.
Listen now: How to Calm Down in Under 3 Minutes
3. Stash your technology.
One of the benefits of being present lies in how you can deepen your connections with the people around you. But most of us aren't very good at splitting our attention between people and devices. In fact, we're not actually able to multitask effectively and can only switch our attention from one task to another, says marriage and family therapist Shadeen Francis.
"Every time you check your phone, you are missing moments of connection to those around you," Francis says. "Make a rule for no phones at dinner, or turn off your ringer as you enter a party." The virtual world can wait. Being present requires your full attention.
4. Diffuse your thoughts.
The anxiety and stress of what might happen in the future can overcome the present moment, which really gets you trapped in your head. To combat this, Julianne Schroeder, a licensed counselor, suggests trying a technique she calls "thought diffusion," in which you train your mind to stop judging negative thoughts.
"For example, as you are preparing to give an important presentation and find yourself nearly in panic mode, you might say to yourself, 'Thank you, Anxious Mind. I appreciate you caring about how well I do, but freaking out just isn't helpful,'" she says. "As you turn your focus back to the present, you may have to repeat this sentiment until your attention is rooted in the now."
5. Strike a yoga pose.
Yoga is an incredibly mindful practice that helps you get out of your head and into your body. "In addition to cultivating present-moment awareness, continued practice helps to reprogram your body and brain's physical and emotional response to stress," counselor Julianne Schroeder says.
But you don't need to commit to an hour-long class to reap the benefits of yoga. Schroeder suggests trying two key grounding poses when you feel the present slipping away: Lie down with your legs positioned up a wall or do a basic sun salutation sequence to instantly change your focus.
6. Call a short time-out.
Taking solo time to recharge your batteries is a great way to ground yourself. But not everyone has enough hours in the week to make this happen. However, you can still find peace in the present by pausing before beginning any new task or part of your day, suggests wellness chiropractor Michelle Robin, D.C.
"If you're rushing to a meeting, pause outside the door and take a breath or two before going in," she says. "Before you start hustling to get dinner on the table after a long day, pause to take a breath and let go of the time before now and be present while you lovingly prepare food for your family." This will bring you back to the present so you can give that activity or person your full attention.
7. Set reminders.
It's easy to forget to stay present, despite our best efforts. So instead of trying to outsmart your wandering mind, find a way to remind yourself, suggests certified yoga instructor and integrated life coach Madeleine Culbertson.
"Set reminders on your phone. Every hour or so, have a soft chime go off with a personalized reminder to bring you back to the moment," she says. Some questions she uses are: "What is the quality of your breath?" "What makes you smile right now?" "What do you appreciate right now?" Use these or create your own to keep on the path toward living more in the moment.
8. Begin to practice gratitude.
Setting aside time to give thanks each day helps you remember what's meaningful and important to you. "Find three things every day that you can be grateful for," says licensed counselor Julianne Schroeder.
"It can be as simple as having a good cup of coffee or having noticed less traffic on the way to work. The act of being grateful not only can shift your awareness to the present, with continued commitment to practicing gratitude it could contribute to improved mental health over time." Soon enough, you'll be seeking out moments, people and things to be thankful for, encouraging you to soak up every experience.
Read more: The 30-Day Thankfulness Challenge
9. Ground yourself outside.
Being in nature can both invigorate you and make you feel more focused, licensed counselor Julianne Schroeder says. If you don't already make time to get outside, start incorporating short walking meditations into your day. "Stand solidly on the ground and spend several moments noticing how your body feels. Start with the soles of the feet and work upward, relaxing each body part as you become aware of it," she says.
"Begin to walk slowly, focusing on your surroundings and what you see, hear, smell and feel." As thoughts come up, acknowledge them and then get right back into the present moment. End your walks by sitting on a patch of grass to further ground yourself, Schroeder says. Pay close attention to the sensations of the sun, wind and grass on your feet and skin.
10. Write it down.
The act of writing out your thoughts helps empty your mind, steering you closer toward being in the present. "You can find journals with prompts or free write," licensed counselor Julianne Schroeder says. "Allowing yourself to identify thoughts and feelings as they are in the present can help you clearly see if there are action-based steps you can take to help yourself."
Even if you're not a writer, giving yourself the freedom to put pen to paper, without judgment, can be a helpful emotional release as well, freeing up your mind to focus on what's happening in the current moment.
Read more: 10 Ways Journaling Will Transform Your Life
What Do YOU Think?
How do you stay present in your life? Can staying present make you happier? What are the biggest challenges to staying in the moment? Let us know in the comments!
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