“If we are not fully ourselves, truly in the present moment, we miss everything.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
Have you ever had one of those days where you catch yourself rushing and not paying attention to the present moment?
I had one of those days a few years ago.
I had just ordered some coffee at a drive-thru and was waiting for the clerk to open the window.
While I waited, I began plotting my plan of attack for running several personal errands. My to-do list was long, and I knew I was going to need to be efficient if I wanted to get everything done in the amount of time I had available.
The clerk opened the window and I paid for my coffee. Then I drove off.
A moment later, I reached down to my cup holder and realized that I’d driven off without the coffee.
I swung back around and went through the drive-thru again. I was fortunate there was no line. I laughed and apologized to the clerk for rushing off without the coffee. “No problem,” she said. “It happens all the time!”
I was surprised. This was the first time I had ever paid for something at a drive-thru and then drove off without it. I guess I wasn’t the only one that had done this.
In a supercharged world where we are encouraged to multitask, it becomes more difficult than ever to be fully in the moment with what we are doing.
If we are focused on rushing to the next event and our minds are on the future, it becomes easy to make mistakes in the present.
In my case, I almost drove off and wasted my hard-earned money because I was paying more attention to my thoughts about my to-do list than what I was doing in the moment.
Since that time, I have made an effort to bring more of my attention to the present moment. While it is not always easy, the following are six tips that help me stay in the moment during busy times.
1. Relax your pace.
After I realized my mistake at the coffee shop, I noticed how tense and anxious I was feeling about all of the things I wanted to do that day. When I paused to think about what I was doing, I realized there was really no need for me to be rushing through my day.
I was putting pressure on myself to move fast out of habit. There was no deadline I needed to meet. I had generated all of the pressure, internally.
As I gave myself permission to relax the pace and become more present, I felt relieved. The anxious and tense feelings melted away.
2. Find some space.
If you have a tendency to pack your schedule too tightly, try making a conscious effort to build some space in. You will be less likely to spend your time strategizing how you are going to get everything done and more likely to be able to be mindful in the moment.
After I left the drive-thru coffee shop with my coffee in hand, I realized that I didn’t need to rush and run all of those errands the same day. I could space them out and allow myself a little breathing room in my schedule.
I felt more at ease and found it easy to enjoy the rest of my day without continuing to obsess over my plans.
3. Use mistakes as a signal.
If you make a mistake doing something easy and familiar to you, this may be a signal that you have drifted out of the present moment.
Go easy on yourself. It happens to most of us. Just observe what happened and gently bring yourself back to the now.
If you find that you have drifted out of the moment and are focused on the future or the past, try pausing and taking a few deep breaths.
The simple act of paying attention to your breathing is an easy way to bring your focus back to what is happening in the moment.
5. Be aware that rushing can be contagious.
It can be tempting to join in if others are rushing, even when rushing is not in your best interest.
For example, let’s say you are making a purchase at a retail store. The clerk has a long line and is moving fast to try to serve the customers as quickly as possible. When you reach the front of the line, you are tempted to match the clerk’s pace.
As you speed up your pace, you lose your focus and forget to ask the clerk a question about the item you are buying. You regret rushing through the transaction later, after you remember that you forgot to get more information about the item before purchasing it.
Try sticking with a pace that is natural for you. You will be more likely to keep your attention on what is important to you in the moment.
6. Be compassionate with others.
If you notice that someone has made a mistake because he or she is rushing and lacks focus on the present, try to be understanding. This can help you reaffirm your own focus on the moment.
Many times, the person who made the mistake will acknowledge it, slow down, and come back to the present moment, like I did when I returned to the drive-thru coffee shop to claim my coffee.
I appreciate that the clerk was kind and understanding, and I hope to pay that forward.
Most of us have been less than fully present at one time or another.
While being mindful in the moment can be a challenge during busy times, we will all benefit if we can practice mindfulness more often.
Businessman meditating image via Shutterstock