Mindfulness is the practice of being present. It is not always a natural state of mind. Most of us are focused on what has happened in the past, the “should have, could have, would have” thoughts, or focused on the future “what if” thoughts.
The problem with focusing on the past is there is no way to change what has happened. Focusing on the future is simply a waste of time, particularly when these thoughts only highlight every possible mistake, pitfall, or error that occurs. By being present in the moment, you can focus on the possibilities, the reality, and how and where you can make changes to bring about the changes you want.
This quote by Lao Tzu sums it up beautifully: “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.”
Being Present – What it Looks Like
Being present means being fully engaged in what is happening at the moment. It is perhaps easiest to think about living by experiencing the world through your five senses.
When you are fully present, you notice details, colors, textures, patterns, and the things in your environment. You listen carefully for the tone of voice, body language, expressions, and responses. This helps you to be authentic and intentional in your communication, both at home as well as at work.
The opposite of being intentional and present is being on autopilot. Most people have experienced eating a meal and not remembering what they had, or driving their route to work and not recalling one specific detail of the trip. Sometimes, we may even have entire conversations with a spouse, child, or colleague and walk away and have no recollection of the specific details.
By tapping into what is happening in the moment, we become engaged in real-time. We are not worrying about the future or the past, multitasking, or simply tuning out. When we tune in rather than tune out, we understand more, handle stress more effectively, and build stronger relationships at work and in our personal lives.
Breathe In and Out
It is very normal to find our mind drifting to the past or the future and avoiding the present, particularly in difficult, boring, stressful, or routine types of activities. Being present can seem like a challenge, but it is just a habit you need to develop.
Start by noticing that you are not focusing on the present and what is in your immediate environment. Next, take a few deep breaths and sense the air coming in and out of your body. Then, take a focused look at the things around you, listen to hear the sounds, feel the texture of items you are touching, smell the scents, or maybe really enjoy that next sip of coffee, tea, or water.
Being present is being fully there for the people around you as well as for yourself. It is highly effective in reducing stress, improving communication, and building relationships at home and at the office.