4 Simple Practices to Help Train You to Really, Truly Live in the Moment
Being present takes practice. But if you spend some time training yourself to do it, you — and your family — will reap some incredible benefits.
Just be present. Live in the moment. It’s advice you hear and see everywhere. And you probably say it to yourself often, too, as it helps you focus on what’s happening in real time. You don’t deny the mindfulness approach or its upside. It’s no-tech. It slows you down. And, when you follow it, it keeps you calm — or at least calmer — with your spouse, kids, and work. But, maybe you resist taking steps to make it a regular part of your life because you’re busy and this is just another thing that requires time and energy you don’t really have. So, you wonder, “Do I have to be in the moment all the time?”
No, you don’t. More to the point? You can’t. Sometimes you have to think about the past or future, and doing so doesn’t mean you’re not being present. But there is a lot merit for consciously trying to live in the moment every once in a while — for yourself and your family.
In its simplest form, living in the moment is about being aware of yourself and surroundings. It’s about giving attention to your thoughts, and really, it’s about fighting the drift where your head gets taken away and you have no clue about the last five, 10, 15 minutes.
Here’s the thing about living in the moment: It’s not as complicated as you might think. You’re not looking to eliminate distractions because, well, you can’t. You’re just recognizing when you’re pulled away and then re-gathering without judgment or self-criticism. And when you do that, whether you’re enjoying a cup of coffee or playing a game with your kids, you’re getting the entire experience because you’re focused on that very thing. It’s more fulfilling. You feel more unified, and you’re not missing anything.
“Being in the moment is a great source of information,” says Sharon Salzberg, co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society and author of Real Change.
But like with many simple things, it can be hard. Interruptions are always coming from the outside world and from your inside voice.
“We’re thinking about the next resource to get,” says Diana Hill, clinical psychologist is Santa Barbara and co-author of ACT Daily Journal. “We have a drive system built in. It helps us survive.”
But it also keeps us on-call. It’s the ethos that we always have to be productive and moving forward. It doesn’t allow us to be satisfied over any accomplishment. All combined, this leads to anxiety and the mindset that, “I just can’t enjoy the present,” Hill says.
Here’s the thing: Mindfulness shouldn’t be a chore and it doesn’t have to be. Like any habit, it needs to be built through consistency, and like any muscle, it will get stronger with more use and be easier to call upon. But it can happen through small actions throughout the day, stuff that you already do and might enjoy — and may even enjoy more because you’re out of your head and experiencing what’s in front of you in a fresh way. Here are a few ways to do just that.
Practice Living in the Moment When Drinking Your Morning Coffee
It’s good to practice living in the moment with habits you’re already doing. If you like them, even better. Coffee is easy because there are specific steps to focus on. The goal, per Salzberg, is to experience all the components without any added distractions — no texts, no emails, no phone calls, no mindless scrolling through Instagram reels.
Smell the ingredients. Feel the cup. Actually taste the coffee as it goes down. (This can also be done with your morning oatmeal.) You might find one of a few things: You really like it. You don’t, or you’ve had enough well before you finish, says Hill, who also suggests using your opposite hand, different utensils, or another mug. “Anything that gets you off autopilot.”
It might feel weird at first. Your mind might wander. Scratch that, your mind will wander, but you just come back to the coffee, and the more you do it, you’ll wander less. “It’s a nice way to train the muscles to be present,” Salzberg says.
Practice Living in the Moment in the Shower
Taking a shower is another ideal practice venue for living in the moment. It’s another daily ritual that puts you in an isolated space, usually without any interruptions. And it involves multiple senses. The more you can recruit, the more likely you can stay present. You want to look at and feel the water. Smell the soap and shampoo. Listen to how the water hits the tile and your voice reverberates. You can take the same structured approach with brushing your teeth, and switching hands is another way to enhance that.
One benefit here is this is a low-stimuli setting that helps you get the feel of it. So, when a chaotic situation, like a tantrum, hits, you’re warmed up. “You can stay with your kid. You’re less likely to lose your mind,” says Inna Khazan, clinical psychologist in Boston, Massachusetts. Again, it won’t happen immediately, but that’s not the point. “It’s not a race. It’s not a test. It’s just practice.”
Practice Living in the Moment When Walking
Often, we’re somewhere else during a walk. The earbuds are in. We’re on the phone or we’re just thinking about getting to our destination. “We don’t pay much attention,” Salzberg says. “It’s a transition.” Instead, feel your body move through space. Think about your feet on the ground, always a good way to yes, ground yourself. Notice the houses, the flowers, the trees, and look up to finally notice second floors and roofs. In this connected state, insights and creativity can come in. “It emerges out of the space,” she says.
Practice Living in the Moment When Meditating
The classic recommendation can be off-putting because it sounds like it’s sitting for a long period. Well, you do have to be still, but Salzberg says that while 12 minutes a day is good, five or 10 can work as well. You can use a word as a focus, but your breath is simpler – it’s always with you. Just pay attention to it going in and out and when you drift off, remind yourself to go back to it. What you’re doing is starting over, which is ultimately what you’re looking to become good at.
“It’s exercising the letting go muscle,” she says. “You’re practicing the very skill you want to bring into your life.”