Simple Tips For Learning To Live In The Present

Updated November 3, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

In today’s busy world, living in the present can seem like a tall order. With so much going on in our day-to-day lives, it can be easy to focus all our attention on what happened in the past or what’s coming in the future. While thinking this way is sometimes necessary, living in the present moment when possible can provide a wealth of benefits.

What It Means To Live In The Present

You may have heard of the term “mindfulness” before, the dictionary definition of which is “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.” Mindfulness is most often used as a tool to cultivate nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment. It’s something humans have the capacity to do—it just takes practice. It typically involves noticing and calmly accepting the way things are right now without getting carried away by our thoughts. It’s when we feel centered, present, and calmly aware of what’s going on around us. Bringing yourself back to that feeling at different times throughout the day can have real benefits for your health and wellbeing.

Is The Past Affecting Your Ability To Live In The Present?

The Benefits Of Living In The Present

Mindfulness of the present moment has been studied quite extensively, and several benefits have been identified, including:

  • Stress reduction. A 2016 study found that practicing present-moment awareness made people better able to respond to stressful events that day, the next day, and on average.
  • Lower levels of depression and anxiety. A study done in 2019 found that mindfulness is both directly and indirectly related to lower levels of depression and anxiety. It found that mindfulness can improve emotional regulation because it can help you become more aware of your thoughts, thereby contributing to a reduction in symptoms like worry and rumination.
  • Better memory. Still other research has found that practicing mindfulness is linked to improvements in working memory and attention. Since these are the foundations of long-term memory formation, the overall effects of this practice on memory can be significant.
  • Improved relationship dynamics. Because mindfulness can enhance a person’s awareness of their automatic responses and increase emotion regulation and empathy, another study states, it can even help improve interpersonal relationships—especially for people with anxious or avoidant attachment styles.
  • Positive physical-health outcomes. A study of women with fibromyalgia found that their practicing mindfulness “reduced perceived stress, sleep disturbance, and symptom severity,” and may be used in the future as a complementary treatment method. It’s also been found to improve pain-management outcomes for people with chronic illnesses and can also decrease “stress-related disease outcomes” in patients with conditions like psoriasis, IBS, PTSD, and HIV.

How To Live In The Present

If you’re looking to practice mindfulness of the present moment, there are several techniques you can try. Remember that as with most any skill, cultivating mindfulness usually takes some time and commitment, but the potential rewards may be worth the effort.

1. Notice The Details Around You

One way to bring yourself into the present moment through mindfulness is to take note of your surroundings—especially the little things. To do this, you can try tuning into what your senses are picking up.

Remember that a key component of mindfulness is awareness without judgment, so see if you can notice the details but refrain from labeling them as good or bad. You might challenge yourself to notice things like:

  • The color of the walls, or the shape of the leaves on a tree
  • Any smells around you, perhaps from a candle, laundry detergent, cooking food, or the breeze
  • Any physical sensations you may be experiencing, from the contact of your feet with the floor to the feel of the fabric of your clothes against your skin
  • The sounds you may be able to hear, from the chatter of conversation to birdsong to passing cars

You can practice mindfulness this way virtually anywhere, at any time. You might try it while on the bus, laying in bed, on your lunch break, or even while exercising.

Even just a moment or two of intentional noticing can be enough to bring your attention into the present moment.

If you’re having trouble staying focused on this practice of noticing, you might find it easier to get a pen and paper and make a physical list.

2. Practice Gratitude

When you’re more aware of things in the present moment, it’s reasonable to imagine that you may be better able to notice and appreciate the positive things. This inference has been studied, with researchers noting a “significant association between mindfulness and gratitude.” They found that living in the present moment can contribute to “the expression of heightened gratitude,” which can also influence a heightened sense of perceived support.

There are many different ways to practice gratitude. You could keep a journal for this purpose, for example. You might jot down three things you’re grateful for each morning or evening, or take time each weekend to reflect on the week and highlight a few from that time. You could try cultivating an awareness of every time you say “thank you” to someone throughout your day, and challenge yourself to truly feel and connect with true gratitude for that person. You might even consider directing your gratitude outward by telling the people in your life that you appreciate them, whether verbally or by sending them a note. The more you practice gratitude, the more aware you’re likely to become of just how much there is to be grateful for in your life—in other words, the more able you may be to live in the present moment.

3. Start A Physical Exercise Routine

There’s a wealth of research out there that has found strong links between regular physical activity and a whole host of benefits. It may not come as a surprise, then, that it can help you live in the present moment, too. A 2014 study conducted in Germany followed three cohorts of physically inactive men: one group that was put on a 12-week exercise program, one that was put on a relaxation training program, and a control group. By the end, researchers found that “increases in dispositional mindfulness” occurred only in the exercise group.

You can also use your exercise routine to practice living in the present moment directly. Next time you take a walk in the park, take in your surroundings and practice gratitude for what you see. If you go for a run, notice how your lungs feel as they provide your body with oxygen, and marvel at how your joints allow your arms and legs to move smoothly. If you practice yoga, visualize your muscles expanding and stretching with each pose.

4. Consider Working With A Therapist

If you’ve experienced past trauma, leaving it in the past long enough to truly live in the moment can be difficult. Mindfulness can also be a challenge for some people who have mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety, or cognitive variations like ADHD. A trained mental health professional can help you develop strategies for managing the symptoms or effects of these, or work with you on processing and moving through trauma you may have experienced. They may also be able to help you develop other methods for cultivating mindfulness, which can have positive impacts on people who are facing all types of challenges. In fact, research shows that mindfulness-based therapy seems to be a promising treatment for depression and anxiety.

Therapy is now available in different formats to accommodate the needs of different clients. If online therapy makes you more comfortable or is more convenient for your schedule or location, virtual therapy services like BetterHelp can connect you with a licensed counselor. Research suggests that forming a personal connection with a therapist may be even easier for clients in a virtual setting rather than in person. If you prefer in-person sessions, you can seek available treatment in your area. Your objective should be to connect with a mental health professional in the way that works best for you.

Takeaway

Living in the present, also known as cultivating mindfulness, is a skill that you can develop with practice. Try some of the tips on this list to learn to live in the moment and reap the associated benefits.

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