Do you live in the moment, or are you living in the past? Do you enjoy the moment, or do you let the moment pass you by? And are you being mindful and present in a room with others, or are you lost in the world or self absorption?
If you chose the latter to any of those statements, don’t worry: you’re normal. And I’m not preaching from the pulpit here because I’m just as guilty as anybody else.
But why should we settle with normalcy? Shouldn’t we strive to be better? Step 1 is to identify that we have a problem with not living in the moment, but Step 2 is to stand up and actually do something about it.
How to live in the moment
- Put the cell phone down: The simplest, easiest solution to living in the moment is to disengage from your cell phone. We have an addiction to our handheld devices and it leads to a disconnect with our loved ones and the rest of society. In this powerful piece by Eric Pickersgill called Removed, when phones are removed from photographs, you can see just how absurd life can be with our faces buried.
- Engage in more small talk: How often do you run to the grocery store or stop by a fast-food restaurant for some quick grub, go about your business and then leave without speaking to another soul? Open your mouth and say hi to someone. Give someone the gift of a smile. Hold the door open for someone and give them a pleasantry.
- Make better eye contact: When you’re having a conversation with someone, how engaged are you? Look them in the eye and let them know you’re present and in the moment.
- Take less photos and be in more: In a world that contains Instagram, we’re practically begged to take multiple photos in a day and share them with the world. Nothing wrong with that, right? Share the beauty of what you see. But sometimes that can lead to being disconnected with the world, being a bystander instead of actively living. Instead of taking the photos, choose to be in them.
- Daily tell someone different you love them: When you tell someone you love them, you’re filling their bucket and letting them know that they are integral to your life. Sharing the love is a great way to be in the moment and by spreading it out to your many loved ones, you’re truly engaged.
“We spend precious hours fearing the inevitable. It would be wise to use that time adoring our families, cherishing our friends and living our lives.”Maya Angelou
- Do what others are doing in the moment: Here’s an easy solution to making sure you’re in the moment: do what everybody else is doing. Join in a conversation, gather in the kitchen or dining room to eat, go outside and play sports, etc. I’d caution you to avoid using your phone just because everybody else is, though.
- Call loved ones regularly: Similar to telling someone you love them daily, calling them regularly pushes you out of your routine and forces you to think of others and their welfare.
- Slow down!: The wise Ferris Bueller once said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.” And that movie was back in the ’80s, before the internet and social media took over our lives! Slow things down. Don’t be in such a rush to get things done.
- Live purposefully: In all that you do in life, have a purpose for it. Because the more laid back activities that you do, the less likely you are to be actively engaged in them. Be intentional and give meaning and reason to what you do in life.
“The past is behind, learn from it. The future is ahead, prepare for it. The present is here, live it.”Thomas S. Monson
- Don’t shoot from the hip: In my opinion, one of the most egregious things a person can do is to speak or act before thinking. Sure, certain situations require you to act fast like in emergencies and such. But in normal life situations, if you think something through, you will remove a lot of unneeded stress and likely find ways to better engage in the moment.
- Treat your life more like a tunnel and less like a maze: I don’t mean to suggest being narrow-minded and tunnel-visioned, rather, keep your eyes on the prize, stay on a given track and always move forward. If you happen to hop all over the place, jumping around and taking all sorts of twists and turns, your focus clearly will be divided and your mind will more likely be distracted from the moment.
- Practice Baby Steps: There is a scene from one of my favorite Bill Murray movies, What About Bob?, where Murray’s character is receiving therapy from his psychiatrist, played by Richard Dreyfuss. Dreyfuss hands Murray a book called Baby Steps, which describes setting small, reasonable goals. I suggest you do the same. When you are focused too much on long-term goals, you lose site of the here and now. Setting long-term goals is fine, but once you’ve set them, focus on the incremental progress and what you can do for that goal right now.
- Cut down on the personal multitasking: Multitasking is a wonderful skill highly sought by employers that will help make you a productive individual. The only problem with that skill is that it bleeds into our personal lives, and by doing so many tasks at the same time, we’re also dividing our attention among the different tasks and not doing them great justice.
- Budget your time more effectively: Spend some quality time writing down everything you typically do on a given day, and in a given week. I think you’ll surprise yourself with how much time you have when you spread activities out and reallocate time as needed.
- Trim the fat from your time budget: Look at your list of activities from the previous example and put them in a priority list and see if you can find some activities that can either be shortened or cut out completely. It’ll free up some time and allow you to focus on the higher priorities.
- Give yourself a timeout: When we were kids, we received timeouts for misbehaving in some way. The punishment essentially removed us from a place and an activity that we wanted to be a part of. Why does that have to be limited to children? Instead of “punishing” ourselves, we’d actually be doing ourselves a favor by calling a timeout from the busyness of our daily lives and giving us a nice breather to refocus.
“Learn from yesterday, live for today, look to tomorrow, rest this afternoon.”Charles M. Schulz
- Become a minimalist: You don’t have to sell all your possessions and live as a wandering nomad in some remote location. But by keeping things simple in your life, you don’t have to divide your time and attention amongst too many things and you can really zero in on the moment.
- Learn to say no: Saying no to everything is a bit of a reclusion problem. But learning to say no on occasion is healthy. I’m a people-pleaser and I have trouble with this at times. But if you say yes to every opportunity that comes up, you’re going to spread yourself too thin like Jim Carrey in Yes Man.
- Start small and don’t skip steps: When you start a new activity or hobby, or maybe even a business venture or home project, you need to start off small or else you’re asking for trouble. Set a small reasonable goal and then take it one step at a time. If you look to skip ahead a few steps, you lose focus.
“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!”Unknown Origin
- Space out your obligations: I know from personal experience that when we tend to live busy lives, we so often feel like everything on our schedule is important and cannot be sacrificed. While I don’t necessarily agree with that statement, you don’t have to abandon everything. But I would implore you to space out your obligations so that you’re not so busy for prolonged periods of time.
- Change up your routine: Routines are good for structure and discipline, but they also leave you susceptible to habits, and habits — whether good or bad — can often make you coast through life. We don’t want to coast through life because coasting takes the necessity of creative thought out of the equation, and when our brains stop functioning, we stop living in the moment, like some robot on autopilot.
- Don’t waste your most precious resource: your time: As financial guru Dave Ramsey likes to say: “in the history of time, there is a 100% mortality rate.” We’re all going to die, and we only have limited time on this planet. That time is not liquid like currency. We can not gain or earn any more of it. What are you doing with your time? If you waste it by mindlessly trudging through life, you’re not living in the moment.
“Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life is made of.”Benjamin Franklin
- Be in the room when in a conversation: If you’ve seen the movie Hitch, you’d know that Will Smith’s character has some good advice in regards to conversation. When you’re in the room, be in the room. Daydreams are for personal time. Listen to what somebody is saying and respond directly.
- Reprimand your mind when it wanders: Don’t be afraid to hold yourself accountable and to reprimand yourself when you catch your mind wandering. I have a habit of saying, “c’mon, Ryan, stay focused!” when I wander. And I quickly ask God to allow me to keep my mind on topic.
- Savor the moment: Sometimes it’s not enough just to live in the moment, for in the moment we may not realize how great it is. Purposefully savor the moments that are unique in your life because you may not see those again for a long time — if ever.
“We’re so busy watching out for what’s just ahead of us that we don’t take time to enjoy where we are.”Bill Watterson
- Give yourself a daily examination: To live in the moment, in part, means to be aware of your life’s health. Give yourself a wellness check physically, mentally and emotionally on a regular basis to stay in tune with what needs improvement.
- Learn how to meditate: I’ve never been one to meditate personally, but I’ve heard it can be quite refreshing and help you regain focus if you are drifting.
- Give your mind a dog run: Do you know what a dog run is? It’s a fenced-off area in one’s yard that allows a dog to run freely, but keeps it within the property boundary lines. How does this apply to your mind? Well, you must allow your mind to churn and run freely, but don’t let it out of the yard. If it escapes, you’ll be anywhere but living in the moment.
- Keep your eyes on the road, not the rear-view mirror: “If you spend too much time looking in the rear-view mirror, you’re going to crash into what’s right in front of you.” This is a philosophical metaphor I developed and started using over a decade ago. They teach you in driver’s ed that you should periodically check your mirrors for what’s going on around you. Using your rear-view mirror as a metaphor for looking behind you or looking at the past, can you guess what happens when you spend too much time living in (or looking at) the past? Yep, you crash into what’s in front of you. Stay in the present, and do no more than glance at what’s behind you.
“Life is a preparation for the future; and the best preparation for the future is to live as if there were none.”Albert Einstein
- Read the living biographies of loved ones: Every individual has a fantastic life story because we’re all unique individuals. When you interact with your loved ones, read them like a book. Keep turning the pages and revealing more of their life story. Don’t just glance at the pictures.
- Journal regularly: You might wonder how sticking your head in a notebook might qualify as living in the moment, but here’s how. Writing is an excellent form of focusing on one’s surroundings. It allows you to tune in to your senses, your thoughts, feelings and emotions and clearly articulate your perceptions. That is much better than drifting aimlessly through life.
- Understand why you’re doing something: Sometimes we go through the motions in life. That’s no secret. We might be tired, bored or disinterested, and we just might not have the energy to put forth the effort. And sometimes we do things just because we think we have to. But if we don’t know why we’re doing something, we’re not really “all in” on the moment.
- Understand that the present is all you can do anything about: You cannot plan or schedule the future any more than you can change or correct the past. Spend more time focusing on the present, which is the only period of time where you can do something about your life.
“Remember then: there is only one time that is important — Now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power.”Leo Tolstoy
- Come back to the ball: I’m going to throw a football analogy in here. When a quarterback throws the football, they teach wide receivers not to stand still and wait for the ball to get to them. Because if you wait too long, the defender might step in front of you and intercept it. Instead of waiting for the ball, move toward it and snatch it out of the air. In other words, beat the defender to the punch. Seize the day and every opportunity instead of waiting for it to come to you.
- Write (or program) reminders: If you’re an old-school kind of person, bring a pad of paper and a pen with you to take notes about things you want to remember later. Or, you can use your smartphone to make reminders for later. Either way, you’re freeing your mind from having to remember too much, and instead you can focus on what’s happening in front of you.
- Prepare for a Pop Quiz: Do you remember the fun of your school days when the teacher would surprise the class with a pop quiz? What did you invariably think every time one of those came up? “I should have studied more.” Don’t let life’s pop quizzes catch you by surprise. Live intentionally and study each day’s events and interactions as if you’ll be quizzed on them later.
“Study as if you were to live forever. Live as if you were going to die tomorrow.”Mahatma Gandhi
- Prepare the winning game plan: If you’re a sports fan, surely you know the importance of a game plan. It’s an outlined agenda of initiatives that you need to execute to win the game. If you want to win in life, give yourself some preparation. Outline what you would do in certain situations. This way, when they come up “in the moment”, you’re prepared to engage and take action.
- Either (No. 2) or get off the pot: Everybody knows this somewhat crude analogy, which states that you either go to the bathroom or not. Don’t just sit there. How does this relate to living in the moment? It means if you’re going to do anything in life, either do it intentionally or don’t do it at all, because you’ll be wasting time otherwise.
- Use your five senses in more situations: When we sit idly by and let the time pass, we’re definitely not living in the moment. But when we actively pay attention to our senses, it heightens our alertness and we’re more in tune with what’s going on.
“The next message you need is always right where you are.”Ram Dass
- Take down the clocks; lose track of time: What happens when you watch a clock while at work? It feels like the day is dragging, doesn’t it? Try removing all devices that give you the time when you don’t have anywhere pressing to be.
- Notice the small things: We often overlook the small details wherever we are because they’re either difficult to notice or we don’t think they matter. But it’s often the small things that give us greater insight and we miss out on something good.
- Give your life a soundtrack: Music is fuel for the soul. Anybody who doesn’t feel better and more in tune with their life, during and immediately after listening to music, must be listening to the wrong stuff. Try putting on more music: at work, during your commute, while cooking, cleaning or doing any number of chores, or even when going to bed — if you’re somebody who can sleep with it on.
- Don’t overlook the ride for the destination: We have this natural inclination to focus too much on where we want to be instead of where we currently are. While it’s not bad to keep an eye toward future goals and direction, don’t lose sight of the here and now because that’s where all the action is.
“Life is a journey, not a destination.”Ralph Waldo Emerson
- Savor your food and drink: Don’t necessarily grow to “love” food because that’s when lust, gluttony and potential eating disorders will settle in. But God provides nourishment for our bodies, so it’s okay to savor the taste while eating. From the perspective of living in the moment, slow down your rate of eating and take time to enjoy the moment.
- Cook and clean with enjoyment: Some people might actually enjoy cooking and cleaning, but for the rest of us, we see it as a necessary responsibility of life. There’s no reason it has to be an unpleasant chore, though. Take the opportunity to enjoy the moment by listening to music, putting on a comedy on the living room TV and laughing along with it, or engaging in a meaningful conversation with a loved one.
“I got the blues thinking of the future, so I left off and made some marmalade. It’s amazing how it cheers one up to shred oranges and scrub the floor.”D.H. Lawrence
- Smile more and laugh frequently: Laughter is medicine for the soul. Try laughing without feeling good. I dare you. It can’t be done. And the same goes with smiling. A genuine smile is a reflection of a good mood. So make a point to do both more often.
- Move toward the problem; don’t run the other way: When we avoid our problems, two things happen. First, we’re not solving the problem and thus are living with a burden. Second, we are avoiding reality and thus not living in the moment. Go at your problems and resolve to amend them.
- Take deeper, slower breaths: It has been said that controlling your breathing can help you focus and relax more. I can personally vouch for this method as I spend most of my days huffing and puffing at work. Try working on your breathing techniques.
“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.”Amit Ray
- Don’t worry, be happy: In 1988, musician Bobby McFerrin released his notable song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” It became widely popular at the time and the song title has been a catchphrase ever since. If there is one thing that worrying does, it’s that it makes you lose focus on what’s right in front of you. Shed the worries and you’ll be able to better focus on the moment at hand.
- Do more of what you love: In conjunction with my suggestion of better budgeting your time, why not find a way to slip in some more time to do what you enjoy? You already know you’ll be actively engaged because it’s something you enjoy.
- Embrace the mundane: I think we all can agree that not every hour of every day will be filled with fun and exciting circumstances. This should not deter you from enjoying the moment, though. Do you ever read a book or watch a movie where every moment is climactic? Of course not. Just as in stories, our lives need those moments of down time where we build our stories. Use these mundane moments to do your reflection and planning.
- Put your heart in a gated community: We have to be careful to differentiate between boundaries and seclusion. Locking yourself away from the world is not healthy, but putting up a boundary to keep out the riffraff is actually a healthy idea. While we don’t have control over bad things that happen around us, we do have the ability to keep the gate locked and not let that stuff affect our hearts or our minds.
“I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.”Groucho Marx
- Go for a wellness walk: Taking a walk can have added benefits besides improving physical health. When it’s just you and the open road, your brain is free to cleanse itself. Use this to your advantage to help you refocus your energies on the present.
- Give thanks for everything: Learning to appreciate what you have in your life is one of the best ways to gain a more positive perspective. When you understand that everything in this world is God’s and he gives to you what he thinks you can handle, you’ll learn to appreciate even the smallest that you have.
“Be present in all things and thankful for all things.”Maya Angelou
- Be grateful for breaks: We live in a go-go-go society where we feel like we’re not doing something right if we’re not doing anything at all. But look at breaks as the ability to rest after hard work. Even God rested on the seventh day after six days of busy work. Did God really need rest? Of course not. He’s God. But he showed us an example of what it means to work hard then rest.
- Understand that every moment is a gift: When you’re right in the middle of what you consider to be a crisis, it can be difficult to appreciate that moment as a “gift.” But as Paul writes in Romans 5:3-4: “…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Learn something from your struggles and you will persevere.
“Nothing is worth more than this day.”Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
- Do more for others: Acts of service is one of the best things we can do with our time. To live with a sense of submissiveness or servitude is to allow you to live in the moment and focus on one particular task at a time.
- Perform random acts of kindness: This one is closely related to the last one, with one important difference: we should be more random with our generosity and kindness. Spread the wealth, so to speak. Give our time to various volunteer efforts, leave bigger tips for waiters and waitresses, hold open doors and let others cut in line ahead of us. It helps us understand we’re part of something bigger and breaks us out of our own little worlds.
- Lose regrets: Regret is something we experience when we feel as though we have lost something, whether it be time, money, relationships, etc. It’s hard to live emotionally free when regret has us locked up in its chains. Learn to lose regrets and instead appreciate that you had those experiences to begin with.
“You can’t go back to how things were. How you thought they were. All you really have is … now.”Jay Asher
- Forgive the past: When we hold on to hurts from the past, we’re not living in the moment. We can’t move forward when something from the past is dragging us backward. Forgive and let go and you’ll find so much more freedom for the moment.
“Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”Charles Dederich
- Pray more: God listens to our every prayer and he hungers for communication with us. But are we taking full advantage of this opportunity to converse with the creator of the world? Pray to God when you need something, when you want to thank him for something, or simply just to talk.
- Accept failure and adapt: We as a society seem to think that failure is some sign of weakness that will force others to lose respect for us. We need to drop that pride and understand that failure is a learning experience. We are not perfect, all-knowing beings, which means we have much room for growth. Let your failures be your guides and instead of settling with the hand you’ve been dealt, adapt and keep moving forward.
“These are the days that must happen to you.”Walt Whitman
- Embrace differences: One big problem with humans is our inability to understand differences. All too often, if someone disagrees with you, you are inclined to be upset, frustrated, angry, hurt, confused, or any other emotion besides happy and content, right? Differences are what makes the world go ‘round. Embrace the flavors of the world and you’ll never have a reason not to be in the moment.
- Practice gratitude for life: Are you grateful for what you have? Do you enjoy getting up every morning and appreciating another chance at life? When we are actively grateful for the blessings in our life, we’re actively living in the moment, because it takes a mindful person to appreciate what they have.
“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”Eleanor Roosevelt
- Accept that you don’t know everything: The great philosopher Socrates once said, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” When we are able to admit to ourselves that we don’t have all the answers, it fuels us to go out and find them. And when you’re actively seeking truth and wisdom, I can’t think of any greater use of one’s time while living in the moment.