We live in a world that is permanently switched on. Our phones are forever pinging, our inboxes are constantly refilling and our to do lists never go down. Is it any wonder we’re left feeling burnt out, overwhelmed and unable to appreciate what’s going on in the here and now.
I am forever having to stop myself from thinking about things that are coming up in the future. And no I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with looking forward to something, sometimes it can be the positive boost you need to get through a shitty week, but when it affects your ability to live in the present moment, then it’s probably time to do something about it.
Perhaps it’s because I’m a relentless planner that I struggle to chill out and just be? Or maybe it’s because I’m a self-confessed control freak and the fear of letting go fills me with the intense worry that something will go wrong if I haven’t got everything running like clockwork? Whatever it is, I am certain I’m not alone in feeling like this. In fact research tells me that this behaviour isn’t common in the slightest, so much so that it’s been given its own name: Destination Addiction – the addiction of enjoying the act of planning for something, or reminiscing about something, more than the event itself.
But it’s terrible isn’t it, because just think of all the precious moments we miss out on because we’ve already moved onto the next thing, and the next, and the next. Whatever happened to our ability to be present, to take each moment as it comes, to find joy in the doing.
All is not lost though, as there are a few simple steps that you take to help bring you back to the present and help you to start enjoying life as it happens again. Heaven knows I definitely need it, so this is going to help me as much as it is hopefully going to help you!
1. Pay Attention To Your Body
The human body is a wondrous thing and its capabilities are far greater than we give it credit for. The problem lies in the fact that many of us ignore the messages that our body sends out – it’s talking to us, but we’re just not listening. Which is crazy, because for some bizarre reason we’re quite happy listening to the messages being streamed at us from the likes of social media and yet we are entirely deaf to our own personalised messages – the ones created by our own bodies, unique to us, the ones, the only ones that actually matter.
One of the best ways to help you be more present is by tuning into your body’s messages. So instead of denying it certain foods, because you’re worried about putting on weight or because it feels too piggy or you think you’ll be judged, listen to what your body is trying to tell you. Fancy a bit of chocolate? Blimmin’ give yourself some. Likewise exercise… feel like going for a run? Go for one. Feeling a bit tired? Don’t go for one, have a lie down instead. Simple. None of us need to do anything we don’t want to and certainly not for the likes and follows. Your body is telling you everything you need to know. You just need to listen. And by taking the time to listen, you will as a consequence immediately be more present.
2. Ditch The Distractions
There are so many things going on around us that we may often find ourselves in a permanent state of distraction. And I’m sure it will come as no surprise that these distractions are mostly related to our phones and computers. If it’s not a WhatsApp notification it’s a ping of an Instagram like. If it’s not a bleep of a new email it’s a ding of a retweet. We could ignore it, but do we? Course we don’t. We immediately stop what we’re doing and claw at our phones like some crazed drug addict eying up their next hit.
I am a huge procrastinator and will use the distraction of social media as a means of getting me out of doing the hard stuff on my to do list. I might for example have a bit of a brain block when I’m in the middle of writing an article and suddenly my mind wanders and before I know it my fingers are automatically typing out web addresses and the next thing I know I’ve wasted half an hour flitting between the Cockapoo Owners Club and Rate my Plate groups on Facebook. They’re bloody brilliant groups, but there’s a time and a place and it certainly isn’t conducive to getting my work done.
So how do you regain the focus? How can you bring yourself back to the present to focus on what is important now?
Well firstly you need to be honest with yourself. What is it that causes you the most distraction? It might be helpful to keep a note over the next couple of days of when and by what you get most distracted. Maybe it’s the dog… perhaps you need to take him/her out for a longer walk so that you can get more work done when you get home? Or maybe you get more distracted when you’re hungry… perhaps you need a bigger breakfast or you could do with drinking more water throughout the day? Or maybe it’s the relentless noise coming from your phone that you just cannot ignore… perhaps you should try turning it to silent for a set period each day or at least turn your notifications off for a while. Find your distraction devil and ditch it.
Concentration is a key tool in helping with focus, which is directly linked to being present. Now clearly we cannot be expected to have 100% concentration 100% of the time, it simply isn’t realistic, there’s just too much going on in life. However, we can at least aim to take some time in our day to focus on something that requires our full concentration.
One easy way to introduce periods of concentration is by occupying yourself with a task or hobby that gives you pleasure. For example, baking, knitting, doing the crossword, colouring etc. all require you to concentrate on that one activity in order to achieve a good end result e.g. a completed crossword or not going out of the lines. If you’re trying to bake a cake, but you’re also checking your phone, yelling at the kids about their homework, and watching the TV all at the same time, not only are you likely to burn the cake (if you’ve even got that far before mucking it up!), but you also reduce the pleasure you get from doing that activity. Which kind of defeats the purpose right?
Concentration is a skill we develop over time. Many of us learn it as children in school, when we are faced with numerous occasions where concentration is necessary to succeed in a task. But as we get older and our opportunities, and possible our desire, to learn new things start to decrease, it is inevitable our concentration levels start to decline too. But who said that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Why not start something new – there must be something you’ve always wanted to try out.
4. Spontaneous Planning
I love planning. LOVE IT. I like the making lists part, the getting everything in order part, the anticipation part. Everything. I love everything about it. I love it so much, that I think I love the planning more than the actual doing. Take Christmas for example. I much prefer the run up to Christmas over Christmas day itself, hands down. All that baking preparation, present buying, list making, it’s a planners dream. But then the day arrives and that’s it, what then… So yeah it’s a problem 😉
When we plan out every minute detail of the days, weeks, months ahead, we deny ourselves the opportunity to simply go with the flow. I’m fairly certain my younger, child free self was a lot more spontaneous than I am now (I remember rocking up to the airport with my husband and two friends and buying tickets to any flight that had seats. We ended up in Amsterdam for the weekend – it was awesome!). Of course I have way more responsibilities these days, but as I am quickly learning, it is important to loosen the control leads a little and allow others to be part of the planning process too – for your own sanity as well as theirs! This not only takes the pressure off of me, but also allows me to chill the hell out a little and to enjoy things for what they are rather than everything becoming a ‘project’.
Spontaneous planning does sound a little like a contradiction in terms I know, but I guess it’s about striking that balance between making sure things don’t go to shit and yet also allowing things to run their natural course. If I don’t remember to pack the sun lotion when we go away what’s the worst that will happen? What? You mean they sell that stuff abroad? Wow, who knew 😉 That’s just one example, but hopefully you get what I mean. We could probably all do with chilling out a bit and just going with the flow.
5. Switch Off
Yep you could have predicted this one, we all knew it was coming. The only way to be fully present is by switching off from everything else and yes that includes your phone. You should be able to spend time away from your phone and computer every single day and if you can’t, well you’ve got a problem and you should probably seek help. We’re all guilty of social media scrolling of an evening and a little bit of what you fancy does you good for sure, but set a deadline. Set a time when it’s devices away, switch off, and go and do something else instead. Not only does this make you more aware of your surroundings and the people around you – hey you might even engage in actual real life conversation – but it also helps you unwind for the day and you are much more likely to get a better nights sleep as a consequence.
It’s also worth taking a digital detox from time to time as a mini break from your phone and other devices. Holidays are the perfect time to do this, because there’s so much more going on and you should definitely be spending time with your loved ones rather than complete randoms on Facebook! Take them away with you if you must, but make a deal with yourself that as soon as the plane lands it gets switched off and then locked in the hotel safe.
Or how about setting yourself a daily challenge to do something that doesn’t require a connection to the Internet. Take a walk, read a book, meet a friend for coffee (and leave your phone on silent in your bag!) anything that takes you away from the digital world, if only for a fleeting moment.
Ultimately you, and you alone, must decide what works best for you. By following these 5 simple practices it should at least set you on the right path, so that you can start enjoying life as it happens.
Join In The Conversation – What Do You Do To Feel More Present?
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Becky Stafferton is a full time blogger over on her website The Art of Healthy Living, mum of 2 and certified Queen of the hashtags. She continually strives to promote a realistic, sustainable and positive image of how to lead a healthy life. When she’s not writing she can be found swigging Prosecco from the bottle, running through muddy puddles, making lists of lists, having a good old moan, scoffing flapjacks and squatting like her life depends on it.