How To Live In The Moment & Be Happy If You're Always Thinking 1 Step Ahead
It's difficult to live in the now. In fact, it might be one of the most difficult things there is to do, since the world is practically built of distractions. We always seem to be planning for the next step, or rewinding the tape on things that have long since passed. While sure, everyone wants to know how to live in the moment and be fully present, actually being able to do it is a whole other can of worms.
So, what is it that actually makes it so freakin' difficult to just be here now? At least for a minute or two? Well, as therapist Julia Colangelo, LCSW, explains to me, the present moment is often the most painful to be within, because it can be a little scary. She says, "the past and future are both areas where people can (falsely) feel in control," she says, "but the present moment, where they have a say, is often overlooked."
And yes, it's also a struggle to fully engage in the present moment because forward and backward thinking are how we plan our days, she points out. It's all lists, appointments, expectations, dates, meetings, deadlines, you name it. But noticing how being present really can lead to more inner peace and calm.
So if you feel like you have trouble just enjoying the moments of your day as they pass, take a few of these tips from pros about how to start enjoying life from exactly where you are.
1. Humor Is Key
Nothing can disarm a negative mindset and bring you into the present quite like a joke. It is, after all, the best medicine.
Positive workplace strategist and TEDx talk speaker Paul Osincup explains to me that he uses humor as a mindfulness technique. But it's not as simple as just having a laugh at the drop of a hat when you are feeling worried or PO'd.
"We often hear advice of 'just find the humor in things,' or 'laugh it off,' which is very difficult to do," he says. "Am I just supposed to have a laugh when I lock my keys in the trunk of my rental car before a job interview?"
However, he points out that learning how to find the humor in things is something that can start really shifting your mindset. He recommends a mindfulness exercise of writing down three funny things that happen in your life each day.
"Once you start doing this, you'll notice that when something bad happens in life instead of getting immediately upset you'll think "I'll be writing this one down later tonight," he says.
That's when you know you're beginning to train your mind to stay present.
2. Be Aware Of Your Body
Move a muscle, change a thought, as the old saying goes.
Colangelo explains to me that becoming more aware of your body can start with simply with doing a scan of your body parts. It takes you out of your head, and into the embodiment of the present moment.
"This can be done by saying, I'm aware my feet are on the ground, and I'm aware my hands are on a keyboard. You can build off of that and notice the way your face is resting," she suggests. Then you can even try for a little smile. Or at least a nice, long exhale.
3. If You're Thinking About Past Mistakes, Stop
Regret is not your friend. Thinking about what you could have done differently is a common habit, and can be helpful if you use it to approach things differently in the future.
"People have a destructive tendency to harp on [things] about their past, which inevitably prevents them from ever truly living in the present," Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics tells me in an email.
So, begin to reconsider your relationship with parts of your past that you often get down on yourself about. And if regrets seem to plague you during the day, recognize the thoughts, say thank you, and experiment with moving on for now.
4. Make Your Own Affirmations
Having an inspirational sticky note on your bedside table or saying "you're beautiful" in the mirror every morning might not resonate with you. Same, girl.
But that doesn't mean you need to forget all affirmations; just make your own. Dr. Gayle Carson tells me that affirmations are how you program and center yourself.
"If you start your day with your own affirmation (not someone else's) that says something meaningful to you, you are setting up your day," she says. You will be less likely to be mired in negativity or deep in your head.
And yes, it is something you can come back to when you get tested throughout the day, or find yourself thrown back. Your personal "mantra" will bring you back to the ever-present center of yourself.
5. Put A Major Halt On Comparisons
Comparing yourself to others might be the most dangerous and icky thing of all mind tricks, no?
Regan Walsh, NYU-certified executive and life coach, says that another way to approach being in the now, and relieving yourself from constantly thinking and preparing, is simply to consider the standards you are holding yourself and others to, and if it's actually realistic, and if it's actually worth it.
"So many people chase 'success' without knowing what, exactly, that looks like," says Walsh. "I like to measure it by the number of meaningful interactions I have with those I love most. How many of those moments can you make time to enjoy?"