As we approach the new year it is customary to take stock of ourselves and make New Year’s Resolutions. Some of us may resolve to lose weight, to stop smoking, to be on time more, or to display less of an inappropriate temper. But, I wonder how many of us will resolve to be more in the present moment. If intending to be more in the present moment is not on your resolution list, please consider placing it there. For, being in the present moment will most likely help you with all of the rest of the items on your resolution list.
At a recent workshop with Jon Kabat-Zinn, the father of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, I was intrigued that when he was asked, “What time is it?” he responded, “Now”. In our busy, modern day society we are often not in the ‘now’, but in the past or the future. This focus on every time but now can hinder focus and performance, making it less likely that we will have success with our New Year’s resolutions. Being in the ‘now’ is similar to an athlete or artist being ‘in the zone’. When we are ‘in the zone’ we are fully present in our current activity and anyone who has been ‘in the zone’ can most probably attest to its positive effects on performance and outcome.
Sounds simple enough, right? This being in the ‘now’. But it is actually far from simple. Learning to be in the present moment takes practice; the kind of practice that takes a life time. So, what are some strategies we can use to nurture more of living in the now?
1) Take several ‘Mindful Pauses’ throughout the day. Hugh Byrne and Rebecca Hines have given suggestions for bringing ourselves back to the present moment during the course of the day. They recommend using the ringing of the phone as a cue to take a few seconds to be fully present. They recommend relaxing tense muscles, and taking a couple of slow, deep breaths before answering the call. They also suggest downloading a bell tone to go off at random intervals which would signal you to bring yourself to ‘now’ and taking a three-breath-break during transitions or after focusing for an extended period of time. When driving we often move to automatic pilot mode, or we might find ourselves becoming very reactive when traffic moves slower than we would like. Byrne and Hines recommend using the red stoplight as an opportunity for a Mindful Pause.
2) Practice Mindful Eating. Many of us eat on the go in a mindless fashion, barely tasting the food we are fortunate enough to be eating. Practice slowing down while eating, first acknowledging gratitude for the food we are about to eat. Notice how the food looks, how it feels in our mouth, how it smells, and how it tastes. Notice our response to the food, without judging that response. Learn to be aware of when we are actually physically hungry and when we are full. Approaching our food in this mindful manner can also help us to maintain a healthy weight.
3) It is not uncommon to space out while in the middle of a conversation and end up having no idea what has just been said. Practice Mindful Listening by trying to be fully present in conversation. When our minds do wander, immediately, and without judgment, bring our focus back to the words been spoken. Practice listening to others without our own agenda and without thinking about how we are going to respond to what is being said. Just listen to the other with an openness and curiosity for what he or she is saying.
4) In addition to these informal mindfulness practices, developing a more formal mindfulness meditation and yoga practice can help us exercise our muscle of attention which in turn can help us to live more fully in the present moment. Research has indicated that mindfulness and yoga practices can actually make measurable changes in our brain, both structurally and chemically. Through these practices we can learn to be more aware of our thoughts and bodily sensations which can aid us in achieving many of our New Year’s resolutions such as losing weight, quitting smoking, and better managing our intense emotions.
As we approach 2016, consider the resolution of trying to live more fully in the present moment. Our busy lives are really just made up of strings of moments; each moment is all we have. Notice it, at least from time to time. And when we forget, that’s OK, we can just notice it when we remember.
Marcia Kaufman, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist