Mindfulness is quite the buzzword these days. We tell people to live in the moment and be present in the moment. However, it’s easier said than done. Learning to quiet the other thoughts racing through your head so you can focus on the here and now is hard. Understanding what gets in the way of living in the moment will help you find ways to enjoy the present.
Why is it so hard to live in the moment?
Here are 6 reasons that may be holding you back from being able to fully enjoy the moment you’re in.
Power of the mind
As I’ve discussed in other mindset posts, the mind is powerful. However, it seems like the brain is hardwired to focus on the past. It’s a defense mechanism. Focus on the past so it won’t be repeated.
The problem is focusing on the past—especially the bad parts—will lead you to be more stressed out, anxious, and depressed. It is possible to retrain your brain. You can teach yourself to focus on positivity. It takes time and commitment, but you can do it.
We like to think we’re great at multi-tasking (especially moms – yeah, I’m guilty of it too). We think we always need to juggle two or three things in order to be truly productive and effective in getting things done. But oftentimes, multitasking actually slows us down. Instead of giving one thing our full attention and getting it done, we have multiple half-finished tasks.
In addition, multitasking requires our brain to be focused on other things. It is the enemy of living in the moment. Your mind is not present because you’re thinking of the 5 other things you need to get to.
I know I’m not going to convince you that you should never multitask (it does have its place), but it shouldn’t be your default setting. If you start giving your full attention to the task or event at hand, it might take longer to finish things, but you will probably be less stressed and fatigued.
As mentioned, the brain likes to take control, and anxiety can really cause your mind to focus on things other than the present. Anxiety tends to focus on the past and always worries about the worst-case scenario. If you have severe anxiety, you might need therapy and/or medication.
If your anxiety is mild, you might be able to learn coping mechanisms and strategies on your own to control it. Getting your anxiety under control will help you be more present in your daily life. You won’t worry about all the things that could happen or what could go wrong; you can enjoy what is happening right now.
Fear of the unknown
Fear is anxiety’s best friend. Fear comes from not knowing what to expect. Fear tells you that leaving your comfort zone isn’t worth the risk. If you don’t know what’s “out there,” you’ll stay where you are, even if it’s not the best place for you. You get stuck in the “what ifs” and won’t take chances.
Letting go of your fear of uncertainty will allow you to live in the moment and enjoy life’s moments.
Emotions can be as powerful as your mind. Emotional regulation is something that many people who struggle with executive functioning also struggle with. Overwhelming emotions can prevent you from enjoying the present.
Learning to control your emotions (note: I said control, not ignore or don’t have) is difficult, but learning to do so will help you learn to live in the moment. You manage your emotions instead of them controlling you.
The end isn’t everything
I know you’ve heard the expression that the journey is as important as the end result, but many people don’t actually believe that. They are so focused on the end that they can’t enjoy the journey. You spend so much time working toward a goal and achieving that goal is all you see.
However, if you can learn to enjoy and celebrate the steps along the way to that goal, you’ll enjoy more of your life. You can learn to be in the moment.
Now that we’ve looked at what’s holding you back from living in the moment, let’s look at ways you can do it.
Ways to Enjoy Life in the Moment
As I mentioned, mindfulness is all about living in the moment, learning to be present now. There are many ways to practice mindfulness: meditation, yoga, and deep breathing exercises are some of the most popular ways to get started. However, practicing mindfulness isn’t the only way to learn to live in the moment.
- Practice gratitude – This might not seem like it helps you to be more present in the moment, but thinking about the things you are grateful for does help with mindfulness. Many studies have shown that practicing gratitude regularly has led to people being happier and having a more positive mindset.
Having a positive mindset is one way to live in the moment. You recognize all the good things in life and want to participate and interact with those things more. Practicing gratitude can happen in any way that works for you. You can keep a journal where you write about the things you’re grateful for, but you can keep it simple and write one thing a day on an ongoing list. By the end of the year, you can reflect on 365 things you are grateful for.
- Unplug – Technology is great. It has allowed us to connect (or reconnect) with people that we don’t get to see in person. It brings us news from around the world and makes regular tasks easier. However, sometimes we are so dependent on technology that it consumes too much of our time. Learning to unplug and see what’s around us in real time can help us connect to the present.
- Stop autopilot – Every day, we accomplish many tasks without really thinking about them. Have you ever gotten in the car to drive and suddenly realize that you’re already at work or you’re on the wrong street because you’re so used to going the same way every day that you don’t think about it? We get caught up in our heads and do things without thinking.
One way to stop doing this is to force yourself to pay attention to what you are doing. It seems like such a little thing, but doing so can lead to building long-lasting powerful habits. On that drive to work, instead of thinking about what you have to do when you get there, look at the color of the leaves on the trees or listen to kids playing at the park on the way to school. Notice the beauty in the small things and you’ll realize the benefits of living in the moment.
- Change it up – Habits and routines are an excellent way to be effective and productive, but they can also lead to you doing things on autopilot. This isn’t always bad. You all know I love helping you build habits. But, change is good. I don’t want you to change the things you need to function. If your meds are on the nightstand so you remember to take them at night, don’t suddenly move them as a way to change it up.
I’m talking about the less important things, like the route you take to work or the order in which you do the household chores. Switching up some of those daily routines or tasks will force us to really pay attention to them.
- Be patient – We live in a hurry-up world. We rush everywhere and hate to wait. Learn to enjoy the wait time. Being stuck in line at the store or waiting in the doctor’s office doesn’t have to be torture. What can you do to enjoy the time? Play a word game with your kids. Ask them about their favorite thing they did in school. They will love to be the center of your attention and it will make the wait less painful for everyone.
- Retrain your brain – The best way to learn to live in the moment is to redirect wandering thoughts. When you notice your mind begin to wander to other things, bring it back to the moment. Engage your senses to experience everything around you. Think about what you see, smell, hear, etc to ground you in the moment. It takes a lot of practice, but once you start noticing that your mind is wandering, you’ll be more aware of when it happens.
Learning to live in the moment won’t happen overnight. Start with small changes that make the most sense for you and your life. Think about what resonates with you right now. Implement that and incorporate other things. Trying to do everything at once will just lead to overwhelm.