You come up with any brilliant, original thoughts today? That question is a setup. The fact is, of the thoughts that you and I have had today, most of them are simple repetitions of the same thoughts we’ve had over and over for the past few days, weeks, months, possibly years. Our brains like the comfort of repetition. It likes to seek out patterns. It values familiarity. You’ve heard that we are creatures of habit. Turns out, it’s not just your life that looks the same, day in and day out. It’s also your thoughts. Pay attention and you’ll find yourself listening to the same thoughts, day in and day out.
So my point is not to insult you, but to illustrate that we live predominantly on autopilot. Our brains are full of autopilots. there’s the one for driving from your house to work in the morning and back. We’ve all gotten home from work and not even remembered the ride getting there. One of our brain’s other autopilots is constantly thinking about the past or the future. Life can’t happen in the past, nor can it happen in a future that doesn’t yet exist. And yet our mind persists; it’s comfortable.
Many of the thoughts we’ve had today have dealt with things that have happened. You know what I’m talking about: rehashing the argument with your boyfriend, picking apart that meeting at work, feeling guilty about the donut you just ate. Conversely, many of our thoughts are about the future: what you’re going to wear to the party on Saturday, whether or not that party is worth going to, what you need to buy at the grocery store later, what that car repair will do to your finances, reminding yourself to google later how to initiate sex without feeling like a slut.
Do you remember getting dressed this morning, how it felt? Do you remember the feel of your hairbrush traveling along your scalp? Did you enjoy that? Did the co-worker you said good morning to look genuinely happy? Did you really look? How was the sky this morning? Were there clouds? You’re still thinking about the past.
How does your body feel In this moment? Are you thirsty? Could you use a stretch? Are you in a good mood? If not, can you do something right now to improve it, even just a little bit? Have you adjusted your body in some way while reading this? Is there something you can do in this moment that will make you more comfortable?
I remember stretching in dance class. bodies spread across the floor, breaths measured and deep, muscles firm. My professor would tell us to relax our bodies, and I would find myself relaxing. And then she would say, “make sure that your shoulders are falling into the ground,” and I would realize that my shoulders had not been relaxed. Then she would walk by and tap my quadricep, and I would realize that too wasn’t relaxed. And we would go through this process where I thought I had it, but she saw otherwise. So, what happened? I wasn’t fully present in my body. I was present in my thoughts. I gave my body the time and attention I assumed it needed, and I moved back to the place where brains like to go, my thoughts.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being present in our thoughts; however, I was needed elsewhere. When we allow our thoughts to be taken over by past and future, we are not present where we are needed, which is where life is happening, which is the present. We can’t change the past and the future is made up of present moments. So the best thing that we can do if we are concerned for the future is to focus on the present; think, what can I do in this moment right now that will ultimately lead to a better future? (We also want to be aware that a fixation on doing everything for the future is ultimately taking us out of the present as well).
Ways to Get Off Automatic and Be More Present
- Pay attention to your thoughts. If they are of the wash and repeat sort, then they are empty calories and taking up time that you can be living in and enjoying or learning from your present moment. (How do you like my mixed metaphors? Nevermind, pay attention).
- Trying to make sense of the past will take up your whole life. In addition, every moment that passes adds to that past which must be analyzed. That’s not to say, forget your past, but are those thoughts building you up? Are they encouraging who you want to be or how you want to live?
- Make car rides like a road trip movie. You know, there’s always perfect music and windows rolled down and sunshine. If you can do that, great. If your driving consists mainly of rush hour and rain, live that experience. How does the rain sound? Remember when we were kids and we had raindrop races? We didn’t sit around complaining about the rain (yes we did) but we found the beauty, something to appreciate.
- Do things with intention. Pay attention to whatever you’re doing in the moment. Find the art in it. It’s very difficult to focus on past and future when all of your focus is fully engaged in a present moment.
- It’s a continuous work in progress, so keep checking yourself. How am I being right now? How am I experiencing the world?
- Use your senses. Being present is more than thinking in the present moment; it’s about experiencing the present moment. Pay attention to your food, the environment, the way your body feels, your emotions and what stimulate them, the light, colors, etc.
- Don’t dismiss all of this as hippie shit.
This isn’t a complete guide to being present in life, but it’s an excellent start. Life is always taking place in the now.
My name is Lyz-Stephanie and I want to inspire you to live a more interesting, fulfilling and beautiful life. Think of me as your well-being and happiness guide. I know that things aren’t always easy. Life doesn’t drop dreams into our laps, but every day we can do something to make our lives happier and richer, make our minds more active and engaged. I’m on the journey. Will you join me?