You’ve certainly heard it said before—many times—that living in the present moment is crucial.
You also may have heard related bits of advice like:
“Don’t get wrapped up in the past or the future; live in the present!”
“Be present in your own life.”
“You just have this moment. Don’t let it slip away.”
All of these (possibly overused) sayings have the same basic message: living in the present moment is important.
It is not easy in our twenty-first-century lives. There’s always something we need to plan for or expect, and our lives are so well-documented that getting lost in the past has never been simpler.
Given our fast-paced lives and hectic schedules, a baseline of anxiety, tension, and unhappiness has become the new normal. You may not know it, but your proclivity for getting dragged into the past and future will leave you exhausted and out of contact with yourself.
The solution for this ailment is what so many people have been saying all along: conscious consciousness and a dedication to remaining in the present moment. Living in the moment is the answer to a dilemma you might not have even realised you had.
You may think that all of this sounds wonderful, but what does it mean to “live in the present moment?” How could we be living in anything but the present? Continue reading to find out!
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You can download the free PDF here.
The Psychology of Present-Day Living
Living in the moment isn’t just a catchphrase or a catchphrase; it’s a well-known and scientifically validated way of life that counsellors often prescribe to people who are dealing with anxiety and stress in their daily lives.
What does it mean to be in the present moment?
Being in the present moment, also known as the “here and now,” means being conscious of and respectful of what is going on right now. We are not disturbed by thoughts about the past or concerns about the future, but rather by the present moment. The whole focus of our attention is on the present moment (Thum, 2008).
According to author Myrko Thum, the present moment is all there is:
“The only place where time does not exist is in the present moment. It is the juncture between the past and the future. It’s still there, and it’s the only point in time where we can get to it. Anything that occurs takes place in the present. All that has ever happened, and will ever happen, will only happen now. It’s unlikely for anything outside of it to exist.”
What Is the Importance of Being Present Minded?
Being mindful of the present moment is important for remaining safe and happy. It aids in the reduction of anxiety, the reduction of concern and rumination, and the maintenance of a sense of groundedness and connection to yourself and everything around you.
While it has become a common subject in recent years, living in the moment is more than a fad or fashionable lifestyle tip; it is a scientifically supported way of life.
Being present and using our ability to be conscious will help us deal with pain more effectively, minimise stress and its negative effects on our wellbeing, and enhance our ability to cope with negative emotions such as fear and rage. 2017 (Halliwell).
Why Living in the Present Can Be Difficult
Since we are constantly motivated to worry about the future or reflect on our past, living in the present is extremely difficult. Advertisements, reminders, updates, texts, and warnings are often focused on the past or future.
Consider how much you’re engrossed in something else, or even completely immersed in it, when you’re interrupted by your phone’s abrupt “ring!” Consider how much the message or notification assists you in being present and mindful of the present moment.
If you’re anything like me, your response is probably “almost never.” Our phones are amazing pieces of technology that allow us to do so much more and do it so much more efficiently than ever before, but we do need to disconnect from them every now and then.
Other factors that contribute to our inability to live in the moment are the following:
We always edit out the negative aspects of our past encounters, making them seem more fun than they were.
When we live in the moment, we are constantly confronted with confusion, which can be stressful.
Our minds have a habit of wandering!
Fighting these forces may be difficult, but we are fortunate in that we are not slaves to our brain’s tendencies (Tlalka, 2017). It is possible to resist our more destructive or negative impulses and make better decisions.
Keeping the Past, Present, and Future in Balance
It’s healthy to reflect on the past and the future from time to time.
What would we be if we didn’t look back and learn from our past successes and mistakes? What would we be like if we never planned for the future or prepared for what lies ahead?
In any case, we wouldn’t be in a good place.
Spending some time thinking about the past and the future is necessary for a healthy life, but it’s unusual that we don’t think about the past or the future enough—our issue is typically concentrating too intently (or even obsessively) on the past or the future.
Balance the thoughts of the past, present, and future is one of the goals of mindfulness and a crucial factor in living a balanced life. Overthinking all of them can have significant negative consequences in our lives, but keeping all three in check can help us live happier and healthier lives.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what the right combination is, however you’ll realise you’ve found it when you worry less, are less stressed on a regular basis, and spend the majority of your time in the moment.
How to be Present and Live in the Moment
To achieve this healthy balance, keep the following recommendations in mind:
Consider the past in small doses, and make sure you’re doing it for a good cause (e.g., to relive a pleasant experience, identify where you went wrong, or figure out the key to a past success).
Consider the future in small doses, and make sure you’re doing so in a safe, low-anxiety way (e.g., don’t waste too much time thinking about it; just think about it long enough to plan for it and then pass on).
Spend the rest of the time in the present moment.
Of course, observing these rules is easier said than done, but with practise, it will become second nature!
How to Be Present in the Present When Planning for the Future
It may seem difficult to achieve this delicate balance, but it is not as difficult as it seems.
We are not ignoring or dismissing thoughts of the past or future while we practise mindfulness or present-moment meditation; we are actually choosing not to focus on them. It’s fine to recognise and mark our past and future-focused thoughts, classify them, and recognise their significance.
The main thing is to avoid being caught up in thoughts about the past or the future. As Headspace’s Andy Puddicombe puts it,
“When deliberately focusing on past events (as opposed to being caught up, disturbed, and exhausted by the past), we can be present.”
The year is 2015.
We don’t have to think about being wrapped up in regrets from the past or anxiety about the future because we’re conscious and present—we can look back and look forward without losing ourselves.
Stop Worrying by Using Present-Moment Awareness
When it comes to worry, practising present-moment mindfulness is a perfect way to reduce how much you worry.
To become more attuned to the present moment and reduce anxiety, follow these six steps:
Allow yourself to be unconcerned about your success by letting go and not worrying about it.
Practice savouring: by thoroughly enjoying the moment, you can stop thinking about the future.
Enable mindfulness to make you more relaxed and smooth your interactions with others by focusing on your breath.
Find your flow: lose track of time and make the most of it.
Improve your willingness to accept: rather than denying or avoiding what bothers you, drive toward it.
Enhance your engagement: to develop your mindfulness, focus on reducing moments of mindlessness and noticing new things (Dixit, 2008).
Yoga is an excellent way to remain linked to the present and stay in the moment, which should come as no surprise.
There are many reasons why yoga is beneficial for mindfulness, but the emphasis on the breath is undoubtedly one of the most important.
Kelle Yokeley, a yoga instructor and enthusiast, says,
“Our journey to presence is through the link of our mind and body—our path is through our breath. The breath is the true present moment because it is Still the here and now… Our presence is embedded in the rhythm of our breath, which is our constant relation to the here and now.”
Yokeley (Yokeley, 2014).
Yoga as a tool for connecting with the present moment
We have no choice but to be in the moment as we concentrate our attention on our breath.
Try this breathing exercise from Yokeley to get yourself back into the present in a stressful situation or when you’re feeling stressed by the past or the future:
Breathe in and tell yourself, “I am breathing in,” then exhale and tell yourself, “I am breathing out.” Try saying to yourself, “I am here” and “This is now” on the next breath cycle.
Yokeley (Yokeley, 2014).
This easy exercise will bring you right back to the present moment, even though your mind is stubbornly preoccupied with worries.
The postures and poses that we render with our bodies are another aspect of yoga that helps us to improve our present-moment awareness. Your mind can become filled with anxious thoughts (called “Monkey Mind” by Buddhists) as soon as you get into a good pose.
This is really a positive thing, because it means we’re starting to process our tension and moving closer to being able to properly practise mindfulness (Bielkus, 2012).
Yoga’s gentle transitions from one pose to the next are ideal for honing the ability to remain present. The transitions are modelled after the changes we go through as we go from working to relaxing, cooking to cleaning, sleeping, and everything in between.
Try this affirmation if you love yoga and want to improve your present-moment awareness:
“I am conscious and present in this moment; it is complete and wonderful.”
5 Mindfulness Exercises to Improve Present-Moment Awareness
If the breathing exercise mentioned above sounds beneficial, you may want to try some other mindfulness and present-moment awareness exercises. These five exercises are a good place to start.
Make a conscious body scan.
This easy exercise will help you become more aware of your surroundings and connect with your body. Doing this first thing in the morning will also help you start the day off right.
Take a few long, conscious breaths while sitting or lying down on your bed (just don’t fall asleep if you try this lying down!). Pay attention to how your breath reaches and leaves your lungs.
Concentrate on one part of your body at a time, beginning with your toes. Pay attention to how the area feels and take note of any sensations you’re having (Scott, n.d.). Switch on to the next part of the body after a few moments of concentrated attention (i.e., after your toes, focus on your feet, then ankles, then calves, etc.).
This is not only a good way to get you into a conscious state right away, but it can also help you realise when your body is acting strangely. By scanning your body for a few minutes each morning, you could catch an accident or illness that you wouldn’t otherwise notice.
More information on the mindful body scan and other activities can be found here.
Make “morning pages” in a journal.
Writing in your journal is another useful practise that will help you set the right mindful tone for the day. The author Julia Cameron recommends a particular version of this exercise called “Morning Pages.”
Here’s how to use your journal to help you live a more mindful life.
Take a few minutes in the morning, before heading off to work or school or starting to cross items off your long to-do list, to pull out your journal or notebook and make an entry.
You can either start a new page every day and write whatever you want, or you can try Cameron’s Morning Pages exercise:
“Morning Pages” is a collection of three pages of longhand, stream-of-consciousness writing done first thing in the morning. Morning Pages are not high art, because there is no right or wrong way to do them. They aren’t really “writing,” as the term implies. They’re about anything and anything that comes to mind—and they’re just meant to be used by you.
Morning Pages stimulate, explain, comfort, cajole, prioritise, and synchronise the day ahead” (Cameron, n.d., as cited in Scott, n.d.).
Taking just a few minutes to write down some mindless “chatter” in your head or record any especially insightful dreams, whether or not you follow Cameron’s instructions, will clear your head and help you start your day in a mindful state.
Visualize your everyday objectives.
Visualizing your goals is a great way to not only increase the likelihood of you achieving them, but it can also help you become more conscious on a daily basis.
Take a few moments to imagine each of your daily goals after you’ve set them (if you need guidance, see #15 – Define Three Daily Goals on this list) (Scott, n.d.).
Visualize yourself tackling and achieving each goal today. Make the visualisation as realistic as possible by using as much detail as possible.
When you can imagine yourself crossing the daily goal off your list, move on to the next goal and repeat until all of your daily goals have been visualised.
Visualizing task fulfilment will help you not only strengthen your concentration and mindfulness, but also lower your stress, improve your performance, increase your preparedness, and provide you with the extra energy or inspiration you need to complete everything on your to-do list.
Take a walk through the woods and be careful of your surroundings.
A good way to promote greater mindfulness is to take advantage of the natural beauty that surrounds us.
Make your next walk a mindful nature walk, whether it’s a short trip around the block or a longer stroll through a beautiful, scenic location.
It’s easy to transform every walk into a mindful walk; all you have to do is engage all of your senses and remain conscious of what’s going on both around you and inside you.
Be aware of everything going on around you; remember your feet touching the ground with each step, see what there is to see around you, open your ears to all the sounds around you, feel each inhale and exhale, and just be aware of what is going on in each moment.
This exercise not only helps you communicate with your true self, but it also helps you connect with your surroundings and increases your perception of the beauty that is all around you, waiting to be discovered. When you combine these advantages with the well-known advantages of daily walking—reduced tension, enhanced heart health, and improved mood—you have one handy workout!
Take a moment to reflect on your day.
At the end of the day, it’s easy to get exhausted and stressed out and let things slide. Try this exercise to help you maintain a mindful tone at the end of the day.
Take a few minutes at the end of the day, either after you’ve completed all of your “must-dos” for the day or just before going to bed, to evaluate your day (Scott, n.d.).
Think back to the beginning of the day and the mindfulness practise that started it all. Consider how you felt as a result of it.
Consider the remainder of the day, noting any especially thoughtful moments or unforgettable events. As you went through your everyday routine, take note of your mood.
It’s a good idea to write all of this down in a journal or a diary if you want to keep track of your progress toward greater mindfulness; nevertheless, the point is to give yourself yet another chance to be conscious and finish your day on the right note.
5 Everyday Mindfulness Practices and Tools
Meditation is one of the most effective methods for staying in the present moment.
Any meditation would suffice, but there are some that are especially designed for present-moment awareness.
Follow these basic steps to try this meditation:
Set aside a daily time during the day to meditate (e.g., 5 minutes first thing in the morning or before you go to bed).
Get into a comfortable—but not too comfortable—position. When you’re trying to meditate, you don’t want to fall asleep. The best posture may be to sit upright.
Create a “inner gatekeeper” to monitor what enters the mind and what must be kept out. For the remainder of your present practise, instruct the gatekeeper to keep any feelings of the past or future out.
“Now is the time to be mindful of the present moment,” repeat three times quietly to yourself. I let go of the past and my expectations for the future.”
Concentrate your concentration on the sounds you hear. Allow them to wash over you and concentrate solely on the sound you’re hearing right now, not the one you just heard or the one you might hear next.
Concentrate on your bodily sensations, such as your arms resting on the arms of a chair or on your lap, your legs resting on the chair or folded up behind you, the feel of your clothes on your skin, any discomfort or muscle aches, any twitches or flutterings, and any other sensations you might be experiencing.
Concentrate on the emotions that are running through your mind. Observe them as they enter your consciousness, swirl around it, and then leave. Allow each thought to move by, marking them as you go (e.g., “hurt” or “happy”) and holding your mind open for the next one.
Finally, pay attention to your breathing. Take note of how your chest rises and falls with each breath as you observe your normal breathing pattern (Henshaw, 2013).
While the word “mindfulness meditation” refers to a variety of strategies that help you become more aware of and dedicated to the present moment, there are some particular styles of mindful meditations that you can try.
There are a few examples:
Basic mindfulness meditation involves concentrating on your breathing, an expression, or a mantra while allowing your thoughts to come and go without judgement.
Body sensations: being conscious of bodily sensations such as itchiness, tingling, soreness, or a tickling feeling, embracing them without judgement, and then letting them go.
Sensory awareness is described as being conscious of what you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch without passing judgement, then marking and letting the sensations pass.
Emotions: allowing emotions to be present in yourself without judging or attempting to neutralise them; practising naming/labeling emotions and allowing them to come and go as they please.
Urge surfing is a technique for dealing with cravings that involves embracing them without judgement, observing how you feel when they strike, and reminding yourself that they will pass (HelpGuide, n.d.).
A Look at the Current State of Psychotherapy
If you’re having trouble using these methods or putting them into practise, and/or if you have a diagnosed mental illness like depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, present-moment psychotherapy might be the answer.
Present moment psychotherapy is similar to other types of therapy, but it differs in that it emphasises present-moment awareness.
Present moment psychotherapy is about “regulating our nervous system through an incorporation of conventional therapeutic modalities with new, experiential modalities and meditation,” according to Adrienne Glasser, therapist and creator of Present Moment Psychotherapy & Coaching (n.d.).
This emphasis on being present and mindful may be a powerful addition to conventional, evidence-based treatment approaches.
6 YouTube Videos to Watch
Try these YouTube videos to get a simple, detailed description of living in the present, learn why living in the present is so good for you, or get some advice on being present and mindful:
The Present Moment – Alan Watts Wisdom from The Motiv8
Sam Harris – It Is Always Now from AJ Salas
Want to be happier? Stay in the Moment – Matt Killingsworth from TED
Surrender Yourself to the Present Moment – Dharma Talk by Thich Nhat Hanh from plumvillageonline
Oprah & Eckhart Tolle – Living in the Present Moment from Fearless Soul
Here’s a Simple, Proven Way to Live in the Moment from Mel Robbins
7 Books Definitely Worth Reading
If you’re interested in learning more about the present moment or getting some extra tips and tricks on cultivating mindfulness, check out these books:
- Present Moment Wonderful Moment: Mindfulness Verses for Daily Living by Thich Nhat Hanh (Amazon)
- A Guide to the Present Moment by Noah Elkrief (Amazon)
- You Are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment by Thich Nhat Hanh (Amazon)
- 10-Minute Mindfulness: 71 Habits for Living in the Present Moment by S. J. Scott and Barrie Davenport (Amazon)
- Present Moment Awareness: A Simple, Step-by-Step Guide to Living in the Now by Shannon Duncan (Amazon)
- The Present Moment: 365 Daily Affirmations by Louise Hay (Amazon)
- How to Live in the Present Moment, Version 2.0 – Let Go of the Past and Stop Worrying About the Future by Matt Morris and Shah Faisal Ahmad (Amazon)
You can also check out our comprehensive list of the top 50 mindfulness books.
20 Quotes on the Here and the Now
For a great list of quotes on living in the present moment, check out this piece from Habits for Wellbeing. Their 20 quotes include:
Life is available only in the present moment. If you abandon the present moment you cannot live the moments of your daily life deeply.
Thich Nhat Hanh
The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.
Mindfulness isn’t difficult, we just need to remember to do it.
Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry—all forms of fear—are caused by too much future, and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of non-forgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence.
You’ll seldom experience regret for anything that you’ve done. It is what you haven’t done that will torment you. The message, therefore, is clear. Do it! Develop an appreciation for the present moment. Seize every second of your life and savor it. Value your present moments. Using them up in any self-defeating ways means you’ve lost them forever.
The next message you need is always right where you are.
When you are here and now, sitting totally, not jumping ahead, the miracle has happened. To be in the moment is the miracle.
The only time we suffer is when we believe a thought that argues with what is. When the mind is perfectly clear, “what is” is what we want.
The only time you ever have in which to learn anything or see anything or feel anything, or express any feeling or emotion, or respond to an event, or grow, or heal, is this moment, because this is the only moment any of us ever gets. You’re only here now; you’re only alive in this moment.
Remember then: there is only one time that is important—now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power.
Stop acting as if life is a rehearsal. Live this day as if it were your last. The past is over and gone. The future is not guaranteed.
The meeting of two eternities, the past and the future… is precisely the present moment.
Henry David Thoreau
The more I give myself permission to live in the moment and enjoy it without feeling guilty or judgmental about any other time, the better I feel about the quality of my work.
You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land, there is no other life but this.
Henry David Thoreau
What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: Our life is the creation of our mind.
Living in the present moment means letting go of the past and not waiting for the future. It means living your life consciously, aware that each moment you breathe is a gift.
The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.
Past and future are in the mind only—I am now.
Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
When you have an intense contact of love with nature or another human being, like a spark, then you understand that there is no time and that everything is eternal.
I have realized that the past and future are real illusions, that they exist in the present, which is what there is and all there is.
A Message for Everybody
I hope you enjoyed this article and learned something new that you can use in your own life to improve your mindfulness.
If you just remember one thing from this article, make it this: being aware is incredibly easy! Yes, developing a consistent mindfulness practise takes time and effort, but it’s extremely simple to stop and be aware at any time during the day—including right now!
It’s fine if you don’t have the time or resources to do any of the more involved exercises right now. Simply take a few moments each day to be conscious. The more you practise being conscious, the better you will become at it, and it will eventually become second nature to you.
What are your views on present-day living? If you have any pointers or suggestions to share? What do you think the most significant advantages of living in the present are? Please let us know in the comments section.
Thank you for taking the time to read this!