Simple Tips For Learning To Live In The Present
By: Julia Thomas
Updated October 21, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Lauren Fawley
Living in the present moment is hard for most people. Without intentionally practicing bringing total awareness to the moment, there is too much internal chatter in our brain that competes for attention. It is impossible to live “at the moment” constantly, but it is healthy to practice spending part of your day everyday living in the present. The past is where we learned everything we know, it is where our memories reside, it is a place we know well, full of happiness, sorrow, grief, and all the other emotions that make us who we are. Unfortunately, that learning and growth we have acquired make up our experience with life and can sometimes create a bias that limits the way we experience the present. Much learning can happen at the moment too. When we think about the past too much, it can keep us from being open and aware of living life at the moment. Fortunately, there are simple tips for learning to live in the present that can help us navigate the here and now without dragging our past negative experiences around with us.
Why We Often Live in the Past
Picking through our past experiences and choosing only good and productive experiences is not how the brain works. Our psyche, our subconscious, is where these experiences are stored and when we encounter a situation or event that is like the one we have experienced before, we automatically draw on our past to work through the present. We also know that we have an attention bias for negative emotions and events, so, unfortunately, when we think about the past we tend to over-remember negative feelings and thoughts about ourselves and what happened. This can create some unrealistic fears and worries about the present that are not based on what is happening at the moment.
It is perfectly normal to draw on our past experiences as we navigate through the present. Problems arise when we assume a particular outcome to present situations or assign personality traits and flaws to individuals we are dealing with in the present. This is called bias, and it is based on how our brain tries to understand the world based on our own personal experiences.
Although it can be difficult, it is important to live in the present. Our power to make decisions and choices does not lie in the past, the past is done. Our ability to influence our lives and futures depends on what we do from moment to moment. We will always have memories and learning experiences in the past that will be a part of us, but we must learn to separate the past from the present.
Grievers often spend more time reliving past memories and events related to lost loved ones. This is a normal and healthy part of the healing process, and it is important to acknowledge thoughts and feelings related to the person who is gone. However, if significant time has passed, and it feels like you are not moving forward with life, you could be experiencing complicated grief.
It can be particularly difficult to move on from experiences that have caused trauma. Trauma can affect the way the brain processes information in complex ways. A therapist can provide much-needed guidance and support on how to move forward when trauma and pain are the reason for living in the past.
Be Mindful of the Present
The past will always be a part of who we are, and it will always have influence on our decisions. Everything we know, all our knowledge and wisdom is based on learning we accumulated in the past. The trick is to recognize negative experiences buried in our past as learning experiences, not a roadmap to controlling our future. You are who you are as a result of your past, but past experiences do not define who you are in the moment. There are opportunity and possibility in the present to do things differently so that mistakes or less-than-healthy behaviors from the past do not continue.
Living in the present does not mean cutting all ties to the past, that is an impossible reality. Living in the present means we are mindful of present events, situations, and people as unique and a new chance to create memories, and gain knowledge and wisdom. The present is an opportunity to fine-tune our understanding of life, it is not a repeat of the past.
Simple Tips for Learning to Live in the Present
Simple tips for learning to live in the present are not going to teach you how to forget the past, and they are not going to eliminate all your thoughts about the future. Learning to live in the present is about stepping out of your mind and interact with the world in real time. The following tips will help you separate your conscious mind from the thoughts, memories, and intrusions your subconscious creates.
It may seem odd, but your subconscious does not need your conscious attention to do what it does. The subconscious will continue to do everything it has always done, but your conscious mind will be in the present, at the moment, enjoying life as it happens; that is the goal these simple tips will help you achieve.
- Be mindful – pick up a book or search the internet for information on mindfulness and practice exercises daily. Research shows that by being more mindful, you can reduce levels of stress and worry, boost your working memory and ability to focus, react to strong emotions with more control, and other positive benefits.
- Experience your environment – look around you, take time to appreciate your environment. Use all five of your senses to note what you currently feel, smell, see, hear, and taste.
- Treat people as individuals – each person must be treated as a unique individual, with unique life. Try not to make assumptions about someone based on prior experiences.
- Listen when others talk – do not think about what others mean, do not think about similar conversations, or what you are going to say next, just listen. Be spontaneous with responses instead of planning them.
- Be present – when you are engaged in a task, think about what you are doing, not what you want to be doing, or what you did yesterday. Try not to multi-task, or give part of your attention to many things at once. Try focusing attention on doing one thing at a time. When the mind naturally wanders away, just notice what happened and bring your focus back to what you are doing at the moment. Be a curious observer of the moment, like you are studying an exotic animal in the wild. Notice.
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