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How To Stay Present

Updated: Mar 27

An interesting mental exercise is dividing your mental energy and focus into the three buckets below. Then ask yourself how much time you spend in each bucket:

  • Bucket 1: Time spent thinking about the past

  • Bucket 2: Time spent thinking about the present

  • Bucket 3: Time spent thinking about the future

Do it for a couple of days, and it will give you some deeper insight into "what's really on your mind?"

The next more profound question is harder. Why is it on your mind? Or even harder than that, why is it still on your mind?

How to stay present
How to stay present

Living In The Past

Is time spent thinking about the past? The question is, why are you spending time here when it is technically in the past? Yet, you cannot seem to shake it? That's odd. It's over, but it's still on your mind. William Falkner has a famous quote.

The past is never dead. It's not even past.....

What's that all about? Unresolved injustices, the if-only-I-had-saids, the what if I had said or done something different, the woulda coulda shoulda's, etc. We've all had them all. If you're human, you are subject to the human condition's constraints, which means you are not alone in these struggles. Just because you don't tell anyone doesn't mean they don't exist, either. :)

Living in the Present

Is time spent thinking about the "right now," the what-s-going-on-now time? Of the three categories, it's what is real and genuine. The past is over, sayonara, and the future hasn't happened yet. But the present... well, it's "right here waiting for you," to quote the 1980s Richard Marx song, waiting on you to give it the attention it deserves as being the only "real" time bucket of the three time allocation buckets.

Living in the Future

Is time spent thinking (or maybe worrying?) about the future? It's where the infamous "what-if" monster lives. The what-if this happens, or the what-if that happens. Scenario planning is good for managing uncertainty; however, if too much time is spent in this bucket, a person can live ten thousand lives or plan for a thousand scenarios that never stand the chance of actually happening. Meanwhile, the present-time bucket is being ignored. You know... the one that's real.

Time Allocation - Some Questions

  • If you look back on the mental exercise outlined at the beginning of this post, what do you gain from the time spent in your buckets? There's a reason—a benefit—you are spending the time the way you are, so what is it for you? Be honest with yourself.

  • Are you satisfied with your time allocation? If not, why not?

  • Have you ever been satisfied with it? If so, what were the conditions that made it so?

  • What would you gain/lose if you changed your time allocation? To reduce the time spent in the past bucket, would you need to let go of a past hurt? Would you need to learn to accept more uncertainty to minimize time spent in the future bucket? To let go of some perceived control that probably isn't real anyway?

Present - How do you stay present and live in the moment?

Since the present moment is the only one of the three time buckets that is real, it would seem to behoove us to focus there. How do we live in the moment? The present moment.

Everyone's circumstances are unique, but here are some general tips.

Some Tips:

  • Mindfulness Meditation: This is the entire concept of mindfulness. How do you train your mind to focus on the present because that's what's real? Returning to the breath is another way of saying come back to the present. The breath is merely a present object to focus on. It could just as quickly be "come back to your shoes," although that's slightly less elegant. To what's real today. To what's real right now. To focus less and less on the past and the future and to focus more and more on the present.

  • Awareness: Notice how your mind jumps from topic to topic and then categorize those topics as past, present, or future. Count them. What's the allocation?

  • Observe: One way to stay present is to purposefully observe what is happening around you, in your life, and your relationships. Accept that what's happening right now may not be what's happening one day, week, year, or five years from now. It's a moment of time. That's it.

  • Don't Judge: Keeping in the present is hard work, especially if you've never done it before. Go easy on yourself. The mind can be a tricky bugger who likes to think about a lot of things.

Here are some benefits to developing the ability to stay present - The Why

  • More time spent on what's real: Since the past is over - it's not real, and the future hasn't happened yet - it's not real either. Focusing most of your time on the present means focusing on what is real.

  • Reduced stress and anxiety. Ruminating on the past or worrying about the future can damage mental and emotional health. But when you're present, you can let go of those worries and focus on the here and now, significantly reducing stress and anxiety.

  • Improved focus and concentration. When you're present, you can focus on the task at hand without getting distracted. This can lead to improved performance at work, school, and other life areas.

  • Enhanced creativity and problem-solving skills.  You're more open to new ideas and perspectives when you're present. This can lead to improved creativity and problem-solving skills.

  • Stronger relationships. When you're present with others, you can listen more attentively and build stronger connections. This can lead to more fulfilling relationships in your personal and professional life.

  • Greater enjoyment of life. When you're present, you're more likely to appreciate the simple things in life and savor the moments. This can lead to greater overall happiness and well-being.

Thought Provocateur Social Media Series

The inspiration for the Thought Provocateur Social Media Series is that I love it when I encounter questions or bits of wisdom that stop me in my tracks. These are the insights that tend to stay in your head for more than five minutes and may come back later to revisit you.

In times of information overload, these are the tidbits that stand out. It’s when the signal outweighs the noise.

You tend to remember them because they touch something deep inside of us.

About The Nexus Initiative

The Nexus Initiative is a boutique Executive Coaching and Advisory firm based on real-world operating experience. If you know someone looking for a trusted confidant with real-world operating experience to be their coach, please refer them to our website to set up a discovery call.

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