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Simple Tips and Reminders about Living in the Now

“If we are not fully ourselves, truly in the present moment, we miss everything.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

A person I work with recently left me an article about the unproductiveness of multitasking. On it was a sticky-note saying, “I think you’ll like this article. I wish I could do better in this area. I find it difficult, if not impossible, to not look at e-mail for a couple of hours if I’m at my desk.”

I immediately thought of my dad. He and I had met for lunch a few days earlier. He’s in his mid-70s and still loves his career, continuing to work nearly full-time.

At one point in the meal it occurred to me that unlike everyone else I know (myself included), he wouldn’t be receiving a call or a text message during our time together. He has a cell phone, but he always turns it off when he’s meeting with someone, whether a business meeting or a personal get-together.

He doesn’t put it on silent. He doesn’t put it on vibrate. He turns it off.

What a nice feeling for me, to be with someone who was totally present—and what a nice thing for him, to be living fully in the present moment.

My smartphone isn’t set to notify me when I get a new e-mail, but I regularly feel the temptation to check it, particularly in moments when there is a “lull in the action.”

For example, I recently checked my email (under a jacket so as not to disturb anyone else) when I was bored during a movie. That’s just the kind of thing that caused me to hold out on making the move to a smartphone in the first place—the concern that I would let the ease of access to things like e-mail suck me in at times when I previously would have been happy to do without.

Back to my eating with my dad. Here’s another thing that anyone who has a meal with him will notice: He’s an incredibly slow eater—likely the slowest eater you have ever met. He chews for a long time, and he savors every bite.

He eats mindfully.

My dad loves to tell everyone about great meals he’s had, regularly recommending his newest restaurant “discovery.” It used to seem funny to me that he was so passionate about so many restaurants until it occurred to me that he has an advantage over most of us—he’s totally present when he tries out those new restaurants, and everything is better when you live in the present moment.

Eating slowly is also good for your physical health: It’s good for your digestion and it helps you to not overeat. And that’s the way my dad eats at all times—at home, at restaurants, alone, with others, during meals, and during dessert (he loves whipped cream éclairs, napoleons, chocolate, and more.)

But you won’t see him eat a whole bag of potato chips while watching TV. He doesn’t engage in mindless snacking.

All of us are so busy. We have so much on our minds that it’s challenging to live in the present moment.

We spend a lot of time thinking about things that have happened in the past, or thinking (and often worrying) about the future.

And we’ve become addicted to the instant access available to us that we think will make us more productive, but mostly serve to makes us into 24/7 multitaskers—not a happy, nice, or healthy place to be.

So, how do we become more present? The same way we learn to make any other change in our life: Create a goal, break it down into smaller pieces, and work on it one small change at a time.

First, make a list of all situations in which you can become more present. For example, some of the ways discussed in this post:

  • Eating more slowly
  • Not reading the newspaper (or anything else) while eating
  • Turning off your phone when you go to the movies or to a restaurant
  • Not looking at Facebook, text messages, or e-mails while you are talking with someone else in person or on the phone
  • Pouring a single serving of potato chips into a bowl rather than eating out of the bag
  • Stopping to breathe when you’re feeling stressed about something

Then, pick one idea from your list to adopt as a new habit and commit to practicing that new habit for the next 21 days. When the 21 days are up, celebrate your success and pick another idea for the next 21 days—and so on.

If you try to do too much, too fast, like so many people try to do with New Year’s resolutions, you’re likely to fail.

While it’s true that “life is short” and that we have to “stop to smell the roses,” it’s also true that “life is long,” meaning that we have time, and that we don’t have to try to make giant changes, or a million changes all at once—which can leave us so overwhelmed that we make none.

If we slow down to make changes, focusing on one new habit at a time, we’ll accomplish much more.

Even if you slow down further (for example, one new habit every month, or every six weeks), you can experience many positive changes this year, and an awesome number in the years ahead. This applies to any goal you want to achieve, not just the goal of becoming more present.

At the same time, this slow and steady approach to change in and of itself will make you more present about accomplishing your goals. And that’s a real win-win.

Photo by mindfulness

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  • http://grattitude.squarespace.com/ Jenna Joy

    Well articulated! I’m going to try practicing the habit of not checking my texts while in the presence of another. I’m not very attached to gadgets or my computer, but I know I’ve checked messages when in the company of others before.

    I have a sister that checks her phone all the time while we’re hanging out. She’ll literally stop what she’s saying, mid-sentence, and start tapping away at her phone. Honestly, how irritating. I use it as an opportunity to practice patience, but really what I want is for her to stop leaving me hanging and actually talk to me.

    Best to lead by example! Thanks for the inspiration.

  • http://twitter.com/GeorgePirintzi George Pirintzi

    It seems that people are always running to get somewhere without realising that they are already ‘there’.

  • http://www.hireeducation.co.za/ Robyn

    Love this article! I turn my phone off regularly. I have also started closing programs on my computer when not in use. I realised that at any one time I have over 10 open! And most of that time I am only using half, yet every time I accidentally switch to one I’m not using it creates unnecessary pressure by reminding me of all the other things I have to do which prevents me from focusing on the task at hand. A good start for someone is to turn your cell off when you go to bed. Amazing how it’s not going to be of any use when we are sleeping yet we still leave it on. And I know when I wake up in the middle of the night I can’t resist checking, which causes me to not be able to go back to sleep peacefully. Also love the concept of mindfulness – a whole blog could be dedicated to that and how we can all be more mindful of our thoughts, actions and words.

  • Jennifer

    I enjoyed your post.  It made me realize something.  My boyfriend owns neither smartphone nor cell phone.  I have his work number (which is hard to reach him at) and I have his home phone number.  He refuses to get a cell and in the 5 years we’ve been together, it’s only caused inconvieniences once or twice.  He is also the most laid back and calm guy I’ve ever met.  Maybe it has something to do with being in the moment.

  • http://twitter.com/AlannahRose Alannah Rose

    This is an outstanding post, and I take these tips to heart in my daily life!  I often frustrate people I eat with because I take so long to eat.  I really enjoy food, and I am unable to eat quickly (in fact, if the only chance I have to eat is in between meetings, or “on the go”, I usually won’t eat until later).  I enjoy eating out alone, and I might read before the food is served, but once it comes I put everything down and concentrate on the food and atmosphere.  It’s always funny to me that I often get strange or pitying looks from people when I eat alone and don’t have my phone or book out. 

    My family sometimes gets irritated with me for not always hearing my cell phone (I leave it in my purse when I’m out), or taking a while to return a call because I didn’t know there was a message right away.  It’s funny how we all used to survive perfectly well without constant access to each other, but now we expect instant responses.

    On a related note, I think it’s sad when I’m at a concert and everyone is so busy filming it or taking pictures that there’s no way they’re enjoying it as it’s happening.  That’s the same reason that, the few times I’ve met anyone famous, I have just enjoyed shaking their hands and talking to them (I don’t ask for pictures or autographs).  I’d rather have that time to say hello and look them in the eye than have a keepsake to show everyone afterward!

    Thanks for sharing this – best to you!

  • http://twitter.com/AlannahRose Alannah Rose

    I used to turn my phone off at night, but then it occurred to me that if I had an emergency I wanted to be able to access it right away so now I just turn the ringer off.  I live alone, though, and don’t have a land line.  I agree with you though!

  • David J. Singer

    Pretty cool observation by you. Many years ago, when I first met my brother-in-law, he had an extraordinarily long commute to work. Over and over I would hear people at family gatherings lament about his “horrible” commute. One day I said, “Everyone complains about Murray’s commute except Murray.” No one complained after that day. Reminds me of your boyfriend. Everyone but him probably complains that he doesn’t have a cell phone. Great that you quantified that the inconveniences have been so infrequent so you can join him in the minority who see that maybe his way has a lot of merit. :)

  • David

    My wife did me a huge favor when she told me that I don’t “need” to keep my phone by my bedside. Glad you figured that out too–and shared that here!

  • David J. Singer

    That’s a fantastic quote. I LOVE that. It reminds me of the line from the John Lennon song, something like, “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans,” but I like your version better. Excellent!

  • David J. Singer

    I, too, have worked to get better at that. I wasn’t like your sister, but I wasn’t where I should be. It wasn’t nice and it’s so much better now that I made that change. Thanks for your good thoughts.

  • David J. Singer

    Beautiful! I couldn’t help but think a similar thought to yours (It’s funny how we all used to survive perfectly well without constant access to each other, but now we expect instant responses) when I read about Jennifer’s boyfriend (comment above) not having a cell phone. I love your point about the concerts. When my children were young and I brought my camcorder to film bits of their ball games and other activities, I never enjoyed it as much as when I put the camera down. Lots of cool thoughts by you. Thanks for posting them.

  • MLY

    Thank you for your great article!!  I am always in constant worry that I need to get this done and that done.  Sometimes, I feel like I don’t have time for myself and my kids because too much of my time is spent on worrying about unnecessary things!  Your story reminds me that I need to live my life one minute at a time and just enjoy the moment.  Thank you! 

  • David J. Singer

    That’s a great goal to strive for. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you can’t instantly make that change. Take it slowly and make the change happen over time. Glad posted. Regards, 

  • http://twitter.com/nochnoch Noch Noch

    indeed. we spend too much time multitasking haha
    Noch Noch

  • Anna Linder

    Being in the moment and actually being allowed to be in the moment is tricky these days.

    It’s facinating how phones and smartphones have become so important in our lives that not answering a phone ringing or beeping is something “weird”. 

    If I’m doing something I enjoy, it could be painting or reading, it can be somebodys company and a interesting conversation, why on earth should I answer my phone? I’m in the midst of doing something else.

    And this is a problem for everybody but me.

    “It could be an emergency”, people tell me. Well if it is, they call again, and again and how often is it an emergency in the meaning of a life and death situation? 

    It’s not that I dismiss other people, it’s just that I want to be present in what I’m doing. But when it comes to not answering your phone – that is not sociable accepted.

    Nowadays I have to explaining why I don’t answer my phone or don’t answer an email immediately and the answer “I was doing something else” just doesn’t cut it…

  • David J. Singer

    When I was a kid, my parents would tell the babysitter they were going to a movie. They didn’t tell her what theater they were going to. If there was an emergency (and there was at least once), the babysitter would start calling down a list of neighbors. Funny how that was good enough back then. Of course, a generation later, my kids’ babysitters (and my kids themselves) had our cell phone number. I taught my kids the difference between “wanting” to talk with me and “needing” to talk with me (I’ve also taught them about “wanting” things and “needing” things, such as expensive electronics) and that served us well.

    Stick with your way. You’re doing the right thing. Thanks for your comments. 

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  • friend forever

    Wow! David……. how I would LOVE to meet your Dad Becoming present. It’d be nirvana when u reach that state and live in it constantly. Great post. Thanks for writing. I have bookmarked it so that I can return to it when I want to and be inspired by your dad.

  • friend forever

    I loved this bit Alannah “It’s funny how we all used to survive perfectly well without constant access to each other, but now we expect instant responses.” and the concert part. It’s so true. People are like, I want to capture this moment so that I can look back on it in the future and enjoy it. But, in that distant future they are never able to ‘cuz they were busy capturing it and not enjoying it. Great thoughts!

  • learning men

    what does quote mean i can’t understand