How often do you find yourself looking at Facebook or Twitter, reading the news, talking to someone, and planning what you have to do next week, all at once? How often do you have a problem that you can’t take your mind off of? How often do you drift off thinking about embarrassing moments in the past, or something bad that might happen in the future? It takes you a while to remember the last time you felt relaxed and filled with pure and simple joy. If you can relate to any of these questions, you could be one of the 7 out of 10 Americans in 2012 who experienced physical or non-physical symptoms of stress.
There’s something we’re not doing in all of these scenarios that we can start doing to live a joy-filled life: Being present. Even when we’re reflectively trying to learn from the past or planning our future with a hopeful outlook, if we do it right, we come back to the most important point in time: the present. That’s because the now is the one thing we always have complete control of.
There are three things we can think about: the past, present, and future. And our thoughts have the amazing ability to be only in one place at one time. Taking advantage of this is the key to being in the present.
When your mind drifts off to an unhappy past…
Stopping ourselves from drifting backwards is not the objective of living in the present; it’s impossible and unnecessary. Self-reflection is also a valuable, constructive practice that leads us to a joy-filled life. On the other hand, drifting to the same negative place for a prolonged period will create an unhappy life, not a content one.
So to be present, learn from the past, and think about the changes you can make right now.
When your mind drifts off to worries about the future…
More often than not, worrying doesn’t change the future (as much as we wish it would) or prevent something bad from happening. But focusing on what we can do now, in the present, can improve the future. We can’t control what happens in the future, but we have complete control over our present, every single time!
So to be present, make a list of things that will improve your life, and start working on one of them right now.