Zen paperworkThis year, Today Show’s Natalie Morales said her 2014 resolution is to live in the present.  She said it so fast, that I’m not sure she even took it seriously.

Living in the present sounds like such a simple goal – unless you’ve tried to achieve it.  If you have, you know how difficult fully experiencing NOW can be.   With the pace of life today, it’s a luxury to stop and think exclusively about what we’re doing now rather than always planning our next 10 moves in our head.  Often when engaged in activities that do allow our brains to slow down, in creeps all the stuff we forgot or suddenly we solve a problem that’s been plaguing us.  Then we’re off again, thinking about executing our solution rather than enjoying the moment.

I’ve done many of the things that are recommended to help focus more on the present.  Mindfulness stress reduction workshops.  Therapy.  Reading books about it.   Meditation tapes and classes.  Even Yoga.  As a matter of fact, while in Shavasana (Corpse Pose) I came up with the idea for this article.  See…it’s freakin’ hard!

Stopping short of moving to Colorado, where one can legally live in the present (wink wink), I have discovered a few tools that work.  Some are in the crunchy granola realm, others are rooted in time & self-management.  Here are a few.

Get your to-do list out of your head and on to paper.  Or on to an electronic to-do list if that suits you.  Keeping our to-do list(s) in our heads is often the reason we find it hard to quiet our “monkey mind.”  Fear of forgetting something important (FOFSI) can lead to us revisiting the same tasks over and over in our minds.  This contributes to our feeling overwhelmed because each time we think of said task, we repeatedly add it to our mental to-do list.  I often find that when I write down my to-do list, it’s shorter and less daunting than I expect.  I also shed the anxiety that comes with FOFSI.   Hmmmm…sounds like a great hashtag.  Oh wait, I digress.

FOFSI can also get in the way of a good night sleep.  Putting the important information somewhere you can trust yourself to follow up will help clear the way for the priority of resting.  It helped stop my sudden 3:37 am, panic-driven wake-ups where I started plotting out my day, never falling back to sleep before the alarm sounded.

Deal with the past and move on.  Events in the past can haunt us like those ghosts in stories who hang around until they resolve some wrong.  We rehash situations that we feel guilty about, replaying them in our heads, even retelling the story to others looking for someone to free us from our purgatory.  These are our life’s teaching moments that we can deal with by asking ourselves, “what will make me feel better?”  Should we apologize?  Determine how to avoid the situation in the future?  React differently if it happens again?  Once we glean our lesson learned and devise our plan for moving forward, let it go.

Living in the present means letting go of the past, especially a painful past.  The time we spend dwelling on such issues robs us of whatever good is right in front of us.  Every person on the planet screws up.  Successful people succeed inspite of circumstances.

 Identify a mantra that brings you back to now.  Something as simple as “relax,” “now” or “move on” accompanied by lowering your shoulders, taking in a few long, slow breaths and tuning into the stress you’re wearing on your face can bring you back to the present.  This can be done anywhere at any time for absolutely free.  The key is recognizing when we need to pull back in order to move ahead.

“OM” is a mantra that relies solely on sound and vibration to ground us.  Often times the simple things – like breathing and thinking positively – work the best.  Teaching Yoga made me aware that we often stop breathing when we need it the most.  Inhaling puts us in direct contact with the present.  Check in right now.  Are you breathing fully?  Is your breath expanding your stomach or is it stopping in your chest or throat?  Now is as good a time as any to take a deep cleansing breath, lower your shoulders and say something that will ground you.

Meditate.  This is different than a mantra, but the two are often used in combination.  Pure meditation is about becoming aware of our surroundings and how our body interacts with those surroundings.  This quick exercise will only take a minute.

Close your eyes (after you read this paragraph, of course) and experience the space you occupy right now.  How does the air around you smell or feel?  Is it warm or cool in your nostrils?  Is it fragrant?  What sounds do you hear?  If it seems quiet, do you hear anything off in the distance?  Rest your hands on your legs and notice how the contact feels.  Are your fingers relaying warmth or coolness onto you legs?  Are you relaxed or tense?  We each carry tension in different parts of our body, and therapy taught me that different situations show up in different places.  Where are you tense right now? Consciously take steps to relax the most tense areas.   Done.

I find doing this when I go to bed at night brings about better rest.  By releasing tension in my face and my body, I wake the next morning feeling more clear-headed and connected to the present.

Why is it important to live in the now?  Did you exclaim at any point this month “Wow, the [year/holidays] went by so fast!”  We all know that time did not shrink, just our perception of it did.  Today, as I put things on my calendar for 6-8 months from now, my mind has started to leapfrog everything in between.  I already feel like the year is half over and it has just begun.

Living in the present is important because if we don’t consciously choose to honor time moment by moment, we shortchange our own vast opportunities for joy and genuine appreciation.

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