Want less stress and anxiety? Or to simply feel more in control of your own life, rather than the prisoner to the ho-hum momentum: wake, commute, work, eat, sleep… we’ve all been there. Learning how to be present and stilling your mind is a great way to slow things down, so that you actually get to enjoy the moment and choose how you feel.
What does it mean to be present?
You might know the term presence as mindfulness or as something that you experience during meditation. There are many gurus and scientists out there with different ways of breaking down presence, but for the most part, when you’re present you’re not thinking – you’re just connected to the moment.
So trying to express presence in words – a form of thinking – is always going to be tricky. I’ll try to break down how I see it, as it’s certainly made me more resilient to weak and neurotic thoughts and allowed me to take on big responsibilities – from personal coaching and public speaking to managing teams and running workshops.
First, it’s not about blinking out of consciousness. In fact, being present is as it sounds – being connected to the moment – it’s a form of deliberate focus.
However, in a digital world, we often interpret focus as being able to ‘multitask’ on many different things at once, including our instant text messages and e-mails. In these states, however, our attention is actually split.
Scientifically speaking, humans have ancient and newer parts to their brains. The reptile and limbic parts control more automated impulses such as breathing and fight or flight reactions. Largely, what we’re doing when we’re becoming present is tapping into the newer part – the neocortex, which is responsible for higher-order functions such as impulse control. [Read: 20 positive ways to live in the moment and enjoy the now]
Why is being present good for effectiveness?
Say you’re struggling to get an essay assignment done for university at the last minute. You’re working like a crazy person, filled with an ever-increasing dread and panic – imagining all the bad things that could happen if you don’t get the essay done on time:
– ‘I’ll get a zero’
– ‘I’ll have to retake the module’
– ‘I’ll fail the course’
– ‘I’ll be unemployed’
– ‘Everyone will think I’m a loser’
Being present, on the other hand, would allow you to view the situation as it is – without attaching meaning to it – all of the additional monkey-mind thought chatterings that humans are programmed to produce when faced with uncertain situations.
Instead of 15 multilayered problems, being present would allow you to detach from your panic, and see You and the Task more clearly. Think of it as stilling chaotic waters – from this stiller vantage point, you’d be more likely to see what the situation needed, for you to achieve a desirable outcome. You might even conclude that there is no problem at all, but that your panicked thinking has made it so. [Read: How to find peace and make it a real state of mind]
Here’s how to be present AND effective in the real world
Who wouldn’t want to carry around a sense of peace and self-control, rather than panic and fear? But perhaps the bigger question is – if you want to know how to present, how do you do this without becoming unconcerned with achieving external success?
Here’s how be present but still KILL IT in important areas of your life.
#1 Reverse how you see comfort and focus. Cal Newport – author of the book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, suggests taking a break from deep focus, and not the other way around.
Boredom, repetition, focused attention, discipline, discomfort. These words may all seem like bottomless pits of misery, but if you can learn to recognize them, you can then take the next step – to completely accept sinking into the feelings you are trying to run away from.
On the other side of pain is something else. Get comfortable with discomfort – over time, facing discomfort will become a different feeling – of sinking into the satisfying richness of deep focus. Make focus the norm and distraction a deliberate break from focus. This ability is closely associated with presence and success. [Read: 16 powerful secrets of self-improvement you can’t ignore]
#2 Think of presence as a gym workout. Meditation can be challenging at first, particularly if you have a noisy mind full of to-do lists. There’s a good reason why it’s hard, however. Focusing on one thing, and therefore cutting out other stimuli, can increase the size of the part of your brain known as the neocortex.
This is roughly the same thing as strengthening your degree of self-control. So, when learning how to be present, treat your presence sessions like mental training. As you get better at finding that space of presence, you’ll find your gym sessions often turn out into an inner spa treatment.
#3 Use guided meditation when learning how to be present. Check out meditation apps like Headspace or the many guided meditation videos out there on YouTube for a quick presence session.
#4 Learn how to be present from more experienced people. Read audio books from mindfulness practitioners and see what style suits you best – so that you get a solid understanding of how to be present. You might be a super-rationalist or believe in Chi – from Sam Harris to Eckhart Tolle; there’ll be someone out there you resonate with.
#5 Use routine slots for mindfulness. You don’t build muscle overnight and the same goes for mental muscle. So give it time. Have 20 mins in the morning and evening or both, during which you meditate or practice mindfulness uninterrupted.
This way, you’ll know you’ll always get a session in each day – either when you wake up or before you go to sleep. Begin with 5 minutes, if 20 minutes is too long, and increase over time. [Read: 17 ways to focus on yourself and create your own sunshine]
#6 Use a phone alarm. Eliminate the annoyance of checking how long you’ve been meditating for – set a countdown timer for however long you plan on meditating for. Then sink into a present state knowing that your alarm will notify you when the session is over.
#7 Remove the need for a great outcome. This is all about localizing the significance of meditation in terms of your lifestyle. You don’t need to attain nirvana or spiritual enlightenment. You don’t even need to achieve the feeling of presence every time you try.
Sometimes, if you end up chasing the feeling, it’ll escape you more stubbornly. I’ve found that the lower you set the bar, the better. If you head in with small expectations, you’ll often be surprised.
#8 Know your why. Knowing your why for learning how to be present will make you more likely to stick to your commitment to being present. So ask yourself:
– Why do you want to learn how to be present? Who will be affected: your spouse, your children, your friends?
– Mindfulness can skyrocket the richness of your relationships. Do you want to increase how much you truly ‘see’ others, your listening skills, your patience?
– If you’re very ambitious and industrious, taking time out to still your mind can help to bring clarity on the most important goals at hand. Do you want to be more sharply focus on the relevant details in any situation?
– Perhaps you have acute anxiety, which can cause you to age faster. Being present brings with it a deep sense of peace.
#9 Don’t tell yourself you don’t have time. This advice comes from the Russell Simmons, a very successful author and entrepreneur. It’s not what you might expect to hear from somebody so busy, however, Russell is adamant that the more you train your mind to be still, the more effective you become in all areas of your life.
He says if you don’t have 20 minutes to meditate each day, then you need three hours. In other words, your mind is your worst enemy in a fast-paced society full of stimulus overload – and so the small amount of time you spent investing in stilling your mind each day only makes your efforts that much more effective. [Read: How to succeed in life – All you ever need to know]
#10 Keep your targets and deadlines. Know your objectives in each area of your life and measure your progress towards them. Knowing how to be present doesn’t magically make money trees appear or work get done. If you are not using presence to help achieve your goals, you may be using it as an excuse to procrastinate.
#11 Get accountability. Join a mastermind group where you can seek blunt feedback and get held accountable. My mastermind group meets weekly, and I know that if I don’t do what I said I’d do, I’ll be challenged. Such accountability does not allow for excessive rationalizations for long.
#12 View presence as a two-sided coin. On one side, you have: peace, rest, stillness, order. On the other, you have: MAJOR hustle, chaos, movement.
Allow for periods of hard grind and use presence as a way of detaching yourself from intense and controlling thoughts and feelings – in this way you improve your ability to focus intensely while being in a calm state.
Go for a walk in the park and focus on the smells or the sights or sounds. This is also a great way to make being mindful or present something that you do during the day. You’ll find that you take a piece of that stillness into your conversations and general interactions with others.
#13 Think long-term. Be diligent and trust the process. Keep your eye on your why. If you fall off of your practice for a week that’s fine, get back on!
[Read: Your guide to taking the next step to success]
Learning how to be present and effective is about having your cake and letting it go at the same time. When you’re in the moment, everything will feel more alive, peaceful and still – yet through that calmness, you’ll find the extra clarity to be more effective in your worldly actions.
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