"Look at what you bring to the world, not what you lack." - Miranda Kate

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

The Art of Being Present: How to Stop Worrying about Then or When

Image of sunshine sparkling on the water with text: Don't miss the sparkles of today. Be here now!

Do you find yourself worrying about things that you did in the past?

Do you worry about how your life is going to be in the future?

Does it distract you from what you are doing now, today?

In the busy lives we’ve created for ourselves it has become an art to remain present and live in the moment. To truly greet each day and only think about what is happening on that day, as well as being open to everyone and everything around us.

We spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about the future and wallowing in the past – or even chastising ourselves about the past and fantasising about the future! And when we do this, it can put us in an overwhelmed or anxious state, making it harder to bring ourselves back to the present moment.  

By being distracted by either the past or the future, we rob ourselves of time in the here and now. We wish our lives away quite literally by thinking over the past and wishing we could change it, or what we want from our imagined future. And when we do this, we miss what is right in front of us: the people, the place, and the shared experience.

“The present moment is the only moment available to us and it is the door to all other moment.” - Thich Nhat Hanh

For me personally, I realised that whenever I found myself in a situation I was not enjoying, or wasn’t what I hoped for or expected, I would drift off, disassociating myself from the present life and living in a fantasy one inside my head. I would disconnect from the present moment entirely.

This is a form of escapism. When I was young it enabled me to survive a painful childhood, but once grown up I continued this pattern of behaviour resulting in me feeling like I was standing on the outside of my life, desperately wanting to be a part of it, but believing that I didn’t belong, which only perpetuated the cycle of disconnection.

I didn’t know how to be present, how to step into the life around me and find it satisfying and rewarding. But over the course of several years in therapy I started to work it out; I started to understand how I could change my way of thinking and start engaging in my own life.

“The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.” – Abraham Maslow

These are the things I started doing:

1) Reducing Expectations
I talked in a previous post about how reducing expectations can enable us to enjoy events, and social interactions better. It also applies to the present moment. By not expecting or wanting a different outcome, and not fearing a repetition of the past, we can experience the here and now as it is, without any preconceived ideas, embracing the moments as they unfold.

2) Feeling Appreciation
I started a habit of appreciation. Some call this ‘living in gratitude’ and connect it to following religious faith, but it has no religious connotations for me, it is simply seeing the things I have around me, right there in that moment, on that day, and enjoying them and recognising how much I have in my life to be happy about.

3) Active Listening
This is the act of being present with people. It requires making eye contact, and taking the time to actually hear what someone else is saying. Registering it both physically and verbally, and engaging in a conversation, without being distracted either by other things, or other thoughts. Giving yourself over fully in that moment to the interaction you are having with another. This article on Changing Minds explains how to go about it in more detail. 

I recognised I had a choice, both about how I chose to look at things, and in what I chose to do about them – even if that meant only changing my reaction rather than a physical action. I decided I was not a victim of my past, I was here now, and I could take steps to achieve the things I wanted, no matter how small, today. I could focus everyday on what I could do in that moment to bring about my future desires.

All of these things help me remain present. I still struggle with it some days, when I become overwhelmed by all the things I have to do to take care of my family, and all the things I want to achieve for myself. But I remind myself I don’t have to do it all today. I bring myself back to the day by noticing something as small as a flower in the garden, or a bird in a tree, or a cloud in the sky, and taking the time to see it, smell it, hear it, and feel that day, be in that moment, and not anywhere else in my mind.

“In the present, when we allow ourselves to fully live there, we are restored, made wiser, made deeper and happier.”- Marianne Williamson


  1. I've had to teach myself this, having spent much time lost in both the past and the future! I do much better these days. The most important thing with my family is to be present when they need me. So listening is paramount. It's so easy to be 'somewhere else' and just not hear them...which is easy when like me you spend half your life in a fantasy daydream world!

    1. Thanks for comment Lisa. Me too! And the delay in getting this post together was very much down to understanding what it is I do now to bring myself out of the daydream and into the present. It takes work, but this year I have been much more 'skilled' at it!