“With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future. I live now.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
I like to plan ahead.
(Shocker, I know.)
With a family, a business, and friends I like to see regularly, it’s important to me to know where I’m going and when and with whom. I also love bigger-picture planning. I like designing my life in a way that aligns with my values and how I want to feel and who I want to show up as in the world.
(Isn’t there always a “but”?)
I can’t always be looking to the future. We can’t. Often—okay, always— we’re planning for an outcome over which, ultimately, we have no control. We can design our lives, sure, but we also have to take a step back and live them.
Listen, you will never hear me say that you shouldn’t set appointments, make your to-do lists, or otherwise plan for the future. (Again, shocking.) But I will say this:
Plan for it, but don’t worry about it.
It is ultimately, and wisely, out of our hands.
And there truly is no time like the present. This is where your life is actually happening. There is no better time than right now to play with your children on the living room floor, tell your partner you love them as you both drift off to sleep, or even curl up by yourself with a good book.
Don’t ignore what is happening, what is possible, right now, because you’re too busy planning for the future. Many of these moments can’t be added to the calendar, and many of them will never happen again.
So, how can we actually be more present?
Well, there’s meditation, if you haven’t heard. (Jokes.) And I have no doubt that it works. I trust that it does. But it’s not always realistic for me. (Or, I find other ways to incorporate my “mama meditation time”—usually while driving, cleaning, or showering.)
There are other ways to slow your mind, and enjoy what is, too. Here’s just a few simple tips I’ve used to stay grounded in the present moment, wherever and whenever that moment may be:
I put my phone down. This one actually applies to any screen—my cell phone screen, of course, but also my computer screen and the television, too. There are few things better at taking me out of the moment (and launching me into a spiral of comparison-itis, to-do list-anxiety, or wife-and-mama-guilt) quite like the warm glow of a screen. When I step away from that, I can fix my attention on the people and the experiences who truly deserve it.
I look people in the eye. It’s hard not to stay present when you’re eye-gazing. Sure, it’s possible for your mind to drift, but that becomes apparent pretty quickly when you’re locking eyes with someone. With my husband, with my kids, with my team, with my friends—I give them my undivided attention and focus by, quite literally, focusing my eyes on them.
I do less. Or, at least, I attempt to. Very rarely does everything on my to-do list require the “EMERGENCY” status that I tend to give it. Every day, I take a look at the list and try to pare down to the essentials, keeping in mind that quality time with the people I love is what’s most essential to me.
I breathe deeply. I know what you’re thinking—we’re back to meditation?! But bear with me—taking deep breaths is actually not all that common. We’re a world of shallow breathers! Why? Because we never give ourselves the time and space to stop…and breathe…in the present moment. And if even that can’t slow my mind down, I will count my breath, too—because this is what I know I need to do to focus on it. This one is deceiving because it is so simple, but often the simplest solutions work the best.
I express gratitude. By offering my thanks for what I have and what is here, right here in this moment, I find that I’m incredibly grounded in my present experience. Of course, taking stock of what we’re grateful for is a valuable practice, no matter our end goal—but I’ve found it especially helpful in keeping me in my present moment; one that I’m almost always profoundly grateful for.
* * *
Truly living in the present and enjoying today is your best shot at achieving any big plans for tomorrow.
And it’s your best bet for being truly happy, too—anxiety and negative feelings can come from dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, but we can usually see that we’re okay in the present moment.
Right now as I write this, and right now as you read it—this is our life. This time is the most important. I will always love planning, but I never want to waste or wish away these moments.
What practices do you engage to help stay focused on the present?