When we are present, we are not thinking about the past or worrying about the future. When we are present, we listen better, and we communicate more effectively. We are available for new opportunities to present themselves to us because opportunities are beyond the thinking mind. They happen in the moment.
How to be more present in your life
When I was an actor, it was all about being present to the senses, the script, and other actors. The training was so helpful because I began to pick up the tools to transform my anxious brain.
So how do you stop the mind from focusing on the past or the future? I suffered from worry loops and anxiety for many years. I felt little relaxation because my emotional brain was stuck in fight or flight. Here are just a few of the tools that have helped me be present and in the moment.
1. Tune into the Senses.
Feel something, listen carefully to the sounds in nature, smell a rose or your soap, taste something you love and eat it slowly. The senses can bring us into the moment. When you are smelling a rose, the smell goes directly into your brain for processing and you are present to it. When we touch thorns on a rose, we can’t think about anything else; It’s immediate and demands our attention. There are pleasurable ways to use senses to come into the present moment; touch someone you love or eat a nice meal slowly can both bring us to the present. An educator and writer, Carla Hannaford told me in an interview, “learning comes in through the senses first.”(1) If you want to really remember something, try to get more of your senses involved: touch it, taste it, hear it, see it. It will sink in more fully.
There are slow movements which can bring the left and right brain into a coherent pattern which helps the brain function better. Simple cross lateral movements like walking help us be present in the body and less in fight or flight which is a stress reaction. It is more difficult to think about the past or future if you are dribbling a basketball or concentrated on a yoga pose. Getting back into the body with a coherent pattern of movement (versus a chaotic one) can help you come out of the worrying brain. Trained athletes learn to be more present because their bodies and muscles are awake and aware to the action of the body. Walking is such a good exercise and swinging your arms can add to the cross-lateral calming brain effect.
My favorite way to get back to the present is to breathe especially if I am worrying or panicking. I just breathe and focus my attention on the breath and belly as it comes in on the inhale and then on the release of the belly and ribs as I exhale. More about qigong breathing can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tnoJuMCneAs.
4. Give something to someone, even your attention.
Focusing on helping another takes us out of self-conscious worry brain right away. And it can feel so good especially when we are tapping into our talents to help another. My depression finally lifted when I started teaching and doing things I loved to help others. And that eventually grew into my career as a writer. So it all started with beginning to help others. Now–there is a difference between taking a back seat to everyone else and being polite by listening to another’s problems just so they can dump on you. Listening is an important way to get out of worry brain and self-consciousness, but it is more helpful when both parties have the intention to improve their situation by finding a solution. So there is helping someone but not to the point of enabling someone.
When we give others some attention or help them with some small kindness, we go from fight or flight to the feel good hormones like dopamine, serotonin and oxcytocin.
Little children are always in the present, mostly because of play. Play is a childlike curiosity. Today I go to the flea market so that I can find toys and games to play with my family more. I need to recover more of that sense of play because it is this state of mind—curious and light—that we are most likely to attract those next positive steps, people, ideas into our lives. We set our goals but then we go about our life with a curious attitude which brings us into the present. It is THIS attitude that moves us along into brilliant avenues and careers. It is different from the controlling mind. We need some of that too, but if you are in a career where innovation is key, you need to be open and curious.
6. Break down the resistance to presence.
What is in the way of truly being here now? What are you not willing to see, hear, know. Do the work. The work is facing the truth of yourself, the good the bad, the ugly and the beautiful.
There are many more tools to come into presence and live and learn beyond anxiety. I suffered from panic attacks and over thinking for many years. I write about these tools in my book and blog. When we are operating in the present moment, we have more to give the world. We can receive more as well and life becomes an adventure.
(1) Interview by the author with Carla Hannaford, Summer 2013.