The idea of living in the now seems so contrary to what we learn about life. Our parents and teachers taught us to “plan ahead,” “think of your future,” and “predict future consequences of your actions.” Alternatively, we are also advised: “learn from your past,” “don’t repeat past mistakes,” and “remember where you came from.” So what does ‘stay in the now’ actually mean?
In a nutshell, it means don’t give in to your base instincts by chronically living in the past or stressing about the future. Staying in the now is about seeing things as they are right this second, minute, or hour. It’s about learning to enjoy, relax, and to know the truth of where things are in your life. While that may be a struggle for yourself and many others, here are five ways to stay in the now.
Release your past to be you now
Our brain is designed to keep us safe and to find answers to any problem that potentially threatens that safety. When we continually think back to events in our pasts, we are conjuring up old emotions, possibly even exaggerating how they felt at the time. The more frequently we do that, the more we program our brain to find a solution to what happened in the past. This cycle creates an endless loop because the past is done. There is no physical action on your part that can undo what happened in your past.
By reliving events from your past, you fail to see how your present isn’t the same. You have programmed your brain only to recognize events that are similar to your history. For example, if in your childhood, you felt alone, sad, not good enough and unloved, then you will only see things in your present that reflect that. One stranger having a bad day and telling you something negative about yourself will affect you more than the coworker who complimented you on a job well done.
Children initially feel emotions in the old brain, the portion that is all about survival. We need to be able to move them to our advanced brain and be able to cognitively recognize where we are reacting out of a sense of survival from fear that no longer applies. We need to be able to realize that the current situation is not the same as the past one. In the present, we have power, control, and the ability to make choices that better reflect who we are now.
How to move past your past
Sorting your emotions of the past is essential and a necessary part of pulling up that anchor so you can move forward. It is not intended to be a lifestyle. Life is going on all around you and is happening to you, with, or without, your active participation. Learning to put your past in perspective is essential to your growth and to who you become moving forward.
Getting to that point may require therapy, journaling, talking with close friends or family, or even addressing things with the individual who hurt you. The sooner you can accept your past and let it be where it belongs, the sooner you can see how your life truly is now.
Make plans for the future while living today.
Remember being told in high school to plan your future? Where are you going to college? What degree do you want to get? What type of job or career do you want? Make sure and save 25% of your income for your first house, your children’s education, and your retirement.
From as early as grade school, we are taught to think future-forward. Always focus on getting to the next milestone you were expected to be excited about. After that, then it was to plan promotions and raises, marriage, children, and so much more. We work so hard to get to future achievements that we can’t even see the joy and happiness in the now. We have taught ourselves that satisfaction is always the next milestone.
Focusing on the future and making it the time you will be happy is as pointless as living in the past. Time operating as a continual flow works against you. When you have achieved a milestone, you are in the now, not in the future. When you are still only focused on the next benchmark in the future, then technically nothing worth happiness ever happens because the future is always one step ahead of you. You have created the same tunnel vision associated with living in the past, but the spotlight is ahead of you to a time that you will never catch up to.
Making plans or goals is a good thing. It is what keeps us moving forward in progression and growth. Yet, those plans or goals still require action now that we must take. That action needs to be recognized in the now to take the next step.
Staying in the now
Staying in the now doesn’t mean you don’t make plans for the future or reflect on what has happened in the past. It means you see what is happening in your life at this very moment, this very hour and this very day. It allows you to see your life more clearly and with more focus. The spotlight isn’t shining behind you or in front but right on the events occurring.
What is happening in your life now may result from past choices. But how you react to them is now. Being conscious of that is vital so that you respond accordingly. This awareness can help prevent you from making past mistakes where maybe you reacted based on past experiences or projected into the future based on assumed variables that didn’t happen. When you have a flat tire, do you return to the place you ran over the nail? No. Do you sit and hope that the gas station you were headed toward is going to show up to fix it miraculously? No.
You assess what has happened and make choices now to alleviate the situation. Maybe that is changing the tire yourself or calling a service to fix it for you. That is how we need to address most things that happen in our lives as individual events occurring at this one moment in time. The past or future has little relevance other than experience to know what to do and making a choice that won’t affect us poorly in the future.
How do we stay in the now? We need to train our brains to focus and be attentive in the now. That requires us to be in the now. Here are five ways to stay in the now:
5 Easy Ways to Stay in the Now
Meditation trains us just to let thought flow in and flow out like our very breath. Most of the time, our thoughts are not there to stay. They are momentary feelings, memories, lists, ponderings, dreams, or fantasies that we are creating. Most have little to do with what we are doing at the time. Meditation teaches us to understand that and just to let them flow while we instead focus on each breath we take as they occur now.
Acknowledge your emotions
Improve your ability to acknowledge how you feel now. Often, we try to push aside tricky emotions. We may deny them, lessen them, or tell ourselves we’ll deal with it later. Take that moment to accept that you feel frustrated right now. Once you have identified it, acknowledged its existence and the source, and then you can move on. Feeling a certain way doesn’t mean you need to stay there.
Be aware of events happening now.
Most of our day is spent being mindless or on autopilot. We have driven to the grocery store a million times. We have heard the endless chatter of our children at play for a few years. Make yourself find something new in the old.
Seek it out. Maybe on the way to the grocery store, you suddenly notice a new bench with an ad for a new store you didn’t know about. Perhaps you overhear your children mimicking you in one of their dolls or toys. Nothing in life is a replica of each time we performed it. Be aware of that.
Take a walk outdoors.
Being in nature tends to put us in the now moment automatically. Focus on the breeze as it brushes against your skin. Feel the wet grass as it sweeps across your ankle. Listen to the rustling of the leaves racing along the ground. Paying attention to sights, sounds, smells, and textures will keep your mind attentive to the very moment.
Practice mindful breathing.
Many different breathing exercises are great tools for you, depending upon your preference. It can take just a minute or 10 minutes. Most breathing exercises do incorporate breathing through your nose and out through your mouth. Usually, you inhale for a count and then exhale for a count or two more than you inhaled. It is even better if you hold your hand on your stomach near your diaphragm so you can feel how deep you are breathing. This breathing calms anxiety, worries, and focuses your mind on just your breath. You are only in this moment of breathing.
Choosing to stay in the now is not about being impulsive, without plan or logic. It’s about the exact opposite. It’s about seeing events and people in your life just as they are right now. This provides you with a focus and clarity not blurred by past or future thinking. There are more than five ways to stay in the now, but doing any one of these is a step toward being present now.