Be There

15 Simple Ways To Be More Present With Family — And Yourself

Being in the moment is more difficult than it seems. But these simple exercises can help you get there.

by Adam Bulger
Originally Published: 
Father laying on ground and laughing while toddler pinches his cheeks

How can you be more present? That is, really, truly present? How can you be more engaged and grounded in the moment? It feels like an impossible question to answer, especially as a parent. The duty basically requires you to keep, at minimum, 1,001 things in your head, all of which may tug you away from the here and now. Then there’s the modern world, which is always pawing at you. Apps. Email notifications. News updates. Screens. All of these vie for your attention. For hours, we’re physically present but in many important ways, just not there.

It's easy to find yourself in the past, in the future, or simply focusing on something else besides the present moment. Who isn’t guilty of this? Hell, we can’t be present all the time. But if you’re constantly being pulled away, you’ll feel increasingly alienated from loved ones and even yourself. If you can’t, say, play with your kids without always thinking about what needs to happen this weekend, or make dinner without running through a checklist, that’s not good for anyone. When you’re checked out, you’re not taking full advantage of the here and now, and missing out on the happiness, fulfillment, and instruction the moment can offer.

"Being present is not a superpower,” says New York City-based psychiatrist Jeff Ditzell. “It's a skill that can be developed with practice.” That practice doesn’t have to be a disruptive chore. Small steps can make a big difference, and there is a wealth of quick and simple, yet effective, ways to be more present. Here are 15 snack-sized ways of pulling yourself into the moment as offered by a variety of experts.

1. Ask Why You’re Doing What You’re Doing

We often move from task to task on autopilot, staying busy without really accomplishing anything or deriving satisfaction from our actions. Life coach Tom O’Leary says one of the best ways to be present is to make a regular habit of asking yourself: Why am I doing what I’m doing? Whether you’re performing a household task or watching your kid at the playground, this per O’Leary, is a profound way of being in the world, and “runs wholly counter to the idea of multi-tasking and stuffing as much as possible into each moment.”

2. Schedule Moments Of Self-Reflection

Portland, OR therapist and yoga teacher Halle Thomas recommends scheduling a specific time to check-in with yourself once or twice a day can be a helpful tool for busy people. “During these check-ins, you can ask yourself how you are feeling both physically and emotionally,” she says.

3. Tune Into Natural Sounds

Go for a walk and focus on the many noises of nature happening around you and allow yourself to be present. “The sounds you hear in nature can be so soothing and are just the perfect place to turn your attention away from all of your problems, worries, and even responsibilities,” Ditzell says. And the best part is, those sounds are out there, just waiting for you.

4. Be An Engaged, Active Listener

By making an effort to pay attention to what a person is saying without allowing your mind to wander (or simply waiting to speak), you’ll not only be more present but also more engaged with whoever is speaking. “When you're actively listening, you should make eye contact, nod your head, and provide feedback occasionally to show that you're engaged,” says Flora Sadri-Azarbayejani, a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine at Psyclarity Health in Boston.

5. Set Boundaries For Electronic Devices

Create app limits. Use an analog alarm. Delete attention-stealing software. Consider instituting the occasional ‘No phones at the table’ policy at dinner or when out with friends. We can wrest control of our lives back from our electronic devices with conscious effort and simple actions says Becca Smith, Chief Clinical Officer of Basepoint Academy in Dallas.

6. Take Screen Time Breaks

Obvious but crucial. Even during times that are within the boundaries you’ve set for your devices, you need to put the phone down for short intervals throughout the day. “Use this opportunity to take a walk, stretch, or engage in a calming activity,” Smith says. “This can help break patterns of constant distraction and improve overall well-being.”

7. Clean

The simple act of putting something where it’s supposed to go can spur us into active thinking and, per Smith, help us be more present in the moment.

8. Pay Attention to Your Body

When you want to feel more available, leadership coach and mediator Chuck Wisner says to take a breath and turn your attention to your hands, feet, belly, or back. “Feel into that body part and let it ground you into the present moment,” he says. “Our bodies are always in the present moment.”

9. Feel Your Feet When You’re on the Move

Rushing from place to place but want to connect with where you are right now? Minnesota therapist and coach Lindsey Konchar recommends this quick grounding activity to engage yourself with the present. To do it, take a few moments to notice everything about how your feet are feeling as you walk. What are they touching? How are they pressing into the ground as you walk? How are they lifting off?

10. Eat Consciously

Chances are, you eat too quickly. The next time you sit down for a meal practice slowing down and paying attention to all the components. “Focus on taking one bite at a time, putting your fork down in between bites to experience what the food feels like being chewed, savor the complex tastes and the temperatures of the food,” suggests Victoria Murray, LSCW.

11. Say Not To Multitasking

We think multitasking saves time but that’s often simply not true, as Stefan Allen-Hickey, therapist with Downtown Somatic Therapy, notes. Moreover, juggling two or more actions sends our minds reeling and prevents us from being in the moment. “Researchers say that multitasking distracts you and you can end up having more stress, less efficiency, and poor emotional stability,” he says. “To be more present, keep your focus on one task at a time.”

12. Use Everyday Routines To Connect To Your Senses

It’s good to remind ourselves of the tools we use to experience the world and that even moments that seem mundane can be opportunities to do so, says Portland, OR therapist Courtney Burns says. For instance, taking a few moments during a shower to smell the soap, focus on the sound and feel of the rushing water, and be grateful for having hot water.

13. Reconsider Your Phrasing

The way we frame our thoughts with language makes a big difference to our ability to tune into the moment, says Konchar. Luckily, it’s something we can change. “Instead of using phrases like, ‘I have to x, y, z,’ start saying, ‘I get to x, y, z,’” she says. “Shifting your vocabulary will shift your thinking. You'll start feeling more at ease with the things you have in your life.”

14. Write Out Self Criticism

We’re often our own worst critics. If a little voice in your head is sapping your confidence and making it impossible to be present for your job and home life, Wisner says writing down negative judgments can make them more manageable. ”Writing gets it out of your head where you can read it, feel it, and bring it into the light of day,” he says.

15. Take A Deep Breath

Finding mindfulness in the most hectic moments — when your toddler is going berserk or you have a mile-long to-do list that needs to be done now — can feel impossible. But, as Andy Pudicombe, mindfulness expert and founder of Headspace told us, there’s a simple practice that can help: One, take a deep breath. Two, focus your mind on drawing that breath in and releasing it slowly. Three, Acknowledge your fear/anxiety/annoyance but don’t let it overwhelm you. Four, be excellent to each other.

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