How to Be in the Present – Easy Yet Hard

“Be in the present” was a phrase I couldn’t quite grasp as I was growing up. Eventually I grasped the meaning. I came came to realize that I spent a lot of time thinking and worrying about the future and the past. As a result, I had not spent enough time simply enjoying the present moment. Of course, it is important to think of the future and to reflect on and process the past. However, it is not healthy to do so at the expense of the present moment.

Admire the sunset
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Obstacle to Being in the Present: Being Too Focused on the Future

American society is pretty future oriented. In the United States (US), you are encouraged to go after our dreams since an early age. This idea is truly remarkable. Not many people in the world have the privilege of being told that they can do anything they want.

While the idea of pursing your dreams is a good one, the truth is that, even in the US, going after your dreams usually involves a great amount of luck, resources, and dedicate enormous amounts of efforts. Even in the US, few people have the privilege to actually do everything they want to do without obstacle. Therefore, not everyone is able to achieve their dreams despite their best efforts.

The truth is you don’t have control over many things in life. For example, you have no control in terms of what socioeconomic status, culture, or belief system you are born into. And all of these can contribute to the challenge in achieving your dreams. If you focus too much on the future, you might become disillusioned and not enjoy the present moment.

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How to Be in the Present When You Struggle with Being Too Focused on the Future

Admittedly, it is necessary to think about the future. After all, all of your actions have consequences. Therefore, what you do today will affect what tomorrow and the future bring. Neglecting to think through the consequence of our actions can have disastrous consequences. However, if you are so worried about the future that we do not get to enjoy the present, your concern for the future might become unhealthy.

It is possible to put health at risk today by focusing solely on the future. For example, you might think it is okay to get only a few hours of sleep each day in order to be able to work another job to more quickly reach a financial goal. Alternately, you might choose unhealthy foods that are less expensive than more healthy foods in order to save money for the future. But over the long term, making these sorts of unhealthy decisions come at the expense of the present. Additionally, they put a tremendous amount of stress on the body that, ironically, will adversely affect in in the future. Following are some ways to avoid this.

Don't be so future focused
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Be Realistic and Flexible

Dreams without a plan will always be just a dream. Sadly, even if someone works very hard for their dreams and has a clear and realistic plan, life often comes with unexpected events that cause things to turn out very differently than planned. These obstacles that come often force you to make decisions that, over time, might make your dreams become more difficult to achieve.

As time goes by, you might find, due to a string of unexpected events, it’s not always worth sticking to your original dream. You might realize that the initial vision of our goal was based on a limited understanding and would not bring you true happiness. Or you might discover that there are other things to which you would prefer to dedicate your life to. Alternately, you might decide to defer your dream until you tend to which you need to give your immediate attention.

Abruptly quitting your job that provides for your family, or taking out a massive loan, in order to pursue not fully thought out “dreams” can be extremely risky. This is especially true if you don’t have a realistic back up plan. Such destabilizing decisions have a high chance of being a source of anxiety and unexpected problems that can derail not only your dream but also your happiness.

Therefore, take risks only if you are able to assume the consequences if things don’t work out as planned. Also, remain flexible and be prepare to take on roles that you did not anticipate but seem to be the right choice for the current moment.

Flexible as a Cat
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Enjoy the Process

Rather than focusing on the end goal, you should also place emphasis of enjoying the process of making your goal a reality. After all, there is no guarantee that achieving the end goal will bring you happiness. For instance, you might have picked your dream when you did not have all the information available, or did not fully understand what it entailed. After many years of working towards a dream, you might in fact realize that you are not happy. In fact, you might discover, that your dream was actually a nightmare.

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That is why it is important to enjoy life itself without focusing solely on the dream. This way, regardless of whether you attain what you thought of as your dream, you will still be happy and will be able to thrive at what life throws at you. Try to develop diverse interests and skills. Life is more exciting when you are able to appreciate a myriad of different things rather than if you find you in a very limited number of activities.

Some people become so obsessed in achieving their dream that, in the process, they become frustrated when things go wrong. Dreams are supposed to make your feel motivated. They are not meant take over your life in a negative way. Even when you are pursuing your dream, keep a holistic perspective in mind and strive to enjoy the work you put in towards your dream.

Enjoy Warm Coffee
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Focus on Your Mission Rather than a Goal

A dream does not necessarily have to be something grand or require an enormous change to your life. Simply being a decent human being in itself is an admirable goal to strive for. If you don’t like the person you are becoming while pursing your dream, it is definitely worth re-examining your dream. Perhaps you are envisioning your dream in a limited way. It is the mission of the dream that should be more important than the dream itself.

For example, if you have dreamt of being a teacher, you probably want to be able to impart knowledge onto future generations. While you might not become a teacher, you might tutor your kids and fulfill your dream in that way. Or if your goal was to become a physician, you are probably motivated by the desire of helping people live healthier lives. You can achieve these things even without being a physician–perhaps by working in another healthcare-related role, or educating people about healthy living.

I have learned that oftentimes life does not give us exactly what we wanted. Many times, we get something much better than what we originally envisioned. We learn things that we would not have learned about ourselves if things had worked perfectly as we planned.

But you need to maintain an open mind in order to appreciate how lucky you truly are. If you are too focused on your vision of your dream, you might miss out at appreciating the wonder life throws at you and instead be disappointed.

Focus on the Mission
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Be Thankful for What Life Throws at You

Resolve to do your best with whatever life gives you. Rather than resent when things don’t work your way, try to find an outlook that keeps you going. Make the best out of every opportunity and to learn as much as possible from all situations. This should be true even if they seem unrelated to your dream.

It’s normal to always want more. But it is be more satisfying to be happy with what you have accomplished and what you have. Above all, make sure that your dreams are a source of awe and happiness rather than frustration. Life is too short to be made miserable pursuing something abstract.

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Obstacle to Being in the Present: Being Too Focused on the Past

As you might have heard, our childhood had a tremendous impact on who we grow up to be. While we might blame our parents for certain things, once you become an adult the only person you have to blame is yourself. As an adult, you are in charge of the person you are.  You have full control of your emotions and actions. Likewise, you have the power to be who you want to be.

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How to Be in the Present When You Struggle with Being Too Focused on the Past

Admittedly, it is necessary to think about the past sometimes. One of the reasons is that the past is filled with episodes from which you can learn. So, if you don’t reflect on the past, you will fail to become aware of the lessons life was trying to teach you.

The past is likely also filled with a lot of emotions. Emotions are an essential part of being human and experiencing life to its fullest. If we don’t become aware of our emotions and their effects on us, this could take a toll on our life.

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But while it is important to reflect on and process the past, it is important that we able to do so in a way that does not interfere with the present. The past might be relevant to the present. Nonetheless, the past is not the present. So it is important to take seriously our current situation in order to create better memories for the future. Following are some tips to do this.

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Own Your Actions

What happened in the past has already happened. You cannot change that fact and can only control what happens going forward. Simply realizing this fact when you find yourself thinking of the past will hopefully help you take action.

It’s okay to acknowledge that you had things difficult. It’s even okay to feel sorry for the fact that happened to you. However, you will gain nothing by blaming others or circumstances indefinitely.

Takings responsibility for your life by taking the steps necessary to create a better today and tomorrow would be time better spent. Action, after all, is the only way to achieve results.

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Get Rid of Things You No Longer Need

It is easy to accumulate items from our past. This is especially true if you have the tendency to keep things around because of their sentimental value. Fortunately, we live in an era where you can scan documents or take picture of objects to keep keepsake memory without it taking up space. Alternately, you might keep things from your past because you believe you will eventually use something again. However, the years could pass and that day never arrives.

Evaluate your possessions every once in a while. If something no longer has had relevance to you, make space for something that is more useful to you today. Our interests and tastes change with time. So it is only realistic to surround yourself with things that align with your current interests.

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Reconsider Your Friendships

Your life consists of a limited amount of time. You have to decide how to spend it. Furthermore, you get to choose who you want to be involved in your live. So, choose wisely. If you don’t enjoy activities, or they activities do not contribute toward the patient you want to be, you might be better of being by yourself or only with people who support your goals.  

Just because you had shared experiences in the past does not mean that you need to maintain their company. Everyone evolves with time, and a friendship that might have made sense in the past might no longer make sense.

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Seek Professional Help

It is important to work through the past in order to understand your present. Not thinking about you past might actually not be healthy because it might lead you to act out and not even be aware of it. Become aware of your thoughts and thought processes its actually key to learning how to be in the present.

Therefore, to put rest to the past, you might need to indulge yourself in them in a therapeutic manner. This can be done through psychotherapy. Reflecting on the past is hurtful only when it interferes with your current ability to function in the present. Otherwise, it is actually healthy.

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How to Be in the Present: Tips

You will inevitably need to have thoughts about the past and the future. Hopefully, when you think about the past and the future, you should do so deliberately. The intent of your thoughts should be specific and time limited so you can return your attention to the present.

However, there will inevitably times when you start thinking about the past the future when your intent is to be focused on the present. And that is okay. The first thing you need to do when these thoughts come up is to become aware of these thoughts. Don’t judge them. Simply reset you mind to shift focus to the present. You will be able to think more clearly and rationally, and hopefully take more appropriate actions.

The following are some general tips that will help you be more in the present:

  • Immerse yourself into activities, whether that be reading a book, cooking a mean, or your work.
  • Find joy in the simple things of life, such as your morning coffee or being able to go for a walk.
  • Disconnect form social media and the media as they can easily distract you from the things that matter most to you.
  • Meditate by focusing on your breathing.
  • Take care of and connect with your body via exercise.
  • Take actions to overcome challenges.
  • Actively listen to others.
  • Express gratitude frequently, whether in your mind or out loud.
  • Take things one day at a time, one hour at a time, or even one minute at a time.
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Conclusion

As easy as it might sound, being in the present can be quite challenging. This is especially the case because our minds so often refer to the past or the future even when the present is more relevant. While thinking about the past and the future are important, this should be done in a structured manner to prevent them from unexpectedly interfering with our reactions to the present moment.

If being too focused on the future is a problem for you, be realistic and flexible, enjoy the process, focus on your mission rather than the end goal, and practice gratitude.

If being too focused in the past is a problem for you, own your actions rather than placing blame on others, get rid of items you no longer need, reconsider your relationships, and seek psychotherapy.

In general, practices as being thankful, focusing on your breathing, and active listening are helpful to bringing you back to the present.

Again, the goal is not to not think of the past and future. It is actually very essential to do just this. The problem is when you are so focused on the past or future that you have no or very little time being in the present. Hopefully I have given you some ideas of how you can be more in the present.


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How to be in the present