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Enjoying the Present Moment 

Social media tends to be full of various photos of lotus blossoms & other peaceful or serene scenes with some variation of accompanying text that relays the sentiment that it is important to be “present.” But what exactly does that mean? How can you not be “present” when you are physically occupying a space and participating in what is going on around you? It may seem confusing: what does it really mean to be present?

When it comes to mental health and enjoying yourself, being present has much more to do with your mental “space” than with your physical one, but certainly being aware of bodily sensations is part of it.

You’ve likely experienced being in one place, but your mind is completely somewhere else. Maybe you’re at lunch with a friend, but you can’t stop thinking about the work that you have to do and planning for it. Maybe you’re out on a walk and you can’t stop thinking about a phone call you have to make. Or, maybe you are out on a first date, and your mind keeps drifting back to past relationships. The various scenarios that could happen play out in your head as well as your responses to the conversations that haven’t even happened yet. You may be so wrapped up in your own inner world that you don’t get much enjoyment from the scenery and activities that normally calms you. These are good examples of not being fully present. Add to that our obsession with smart phones, it can become increasingly difficult to give our full attention to what’s in front of us at the moment. 

So What Does It Mean To Be Present? 

Generally, it means that you aren’t “up in your head.” You’re not on autopilot, and you are fully aware and engaged with your surroundings, which might or might not include people. This also includes being “embodied,” meaning that you are aware of your own bodily sensations, try to accept them without judgment, and don’t feel dissociated and disconnected with any part of yourself.  

Being fully present doesn’t mean that everything is perfect, but it does mean that you are in a mental state of acceptance of what currently “is.” In this state, you can find peace and contentment even if the world around you seems chaotic. With practice, this emotional and physical state can always be accessible to you, no matter what is going on in your life.

Tips on becoming fully present to increase
enjoyment in your life
  • Recognize things that you can’t control
  • Let go of anger, even temporarily
  • Notice your breath. Overwhelmed? Ask yourself internally or out loud: am I breathing? Yes? Slow it down, I will be ok.
  • Limit your phone/screen time involving mindless scrolling
  • Don’t be distracted when talking to someone, PUT YOUR PHONE AWAY.
  • If going on a walk, put away your headphones and focus in on the sounds of nature. Zone in to the sounds of the birds, the leaves blowing in the wind, water near by, the sound of your feet on the ground. 
  • Try not to multitask, if you have a lot to do, make a list and go through it one item at a time rather then trying to get through everything at once. You will be less overwhelmed and as a bonus you will make less mistakes. 
  • Practice affirmations (feel good sayings to yourself): I am enough, I belong, I am connected, I am accepted just as I am. Say them outloud when you can so that you can really digest hearing the words.
  • Redirect your attention to what is in front of you. Literally. Your desk, computer, pen in your hand, a tree outside… anything but your thoughts. Focus on picking out the subtle details in any object
  • Practice gratitude, meditate on being grateful for basic needs. Take time to find 3 things to be grateful for each day. Even if it is just the process of waking up and eating a meal.
  • Pay attention to your sensory input (what do you see, hear, smell, touch, taste)
  • Label and honor your current mood and what might be contributing to it without trying to force it to change
  • Allow yourself to do something that feels good to you (swim, walk, sing, dance)
  • Find a creative outlet that feels meaningful to you (writing, painting, building)

Planning and Dwelling

Being too focused on the past or future can rob you of enjoying your life, which is happening right now in the present moment. We can get so wrapped up with planning our todays, tomorrows, and even years on down the line. So much so, that we don’t even notice that our favorite song is playing on the radio on the drive to work. If you are future-focused, you might be planning in your head to the point of not really taking in and noticing what is going on around you.

On the other hand, if you noticed yourself dwelling on things that have already happened to you much of the time, you may be more over focused on the past. Sometimes our pesky brains review pasts evens over and over again in the hopes of trying to be helpful and perhaps prevent us from doing the same thing again. The problem with that is, if we’re so focused on our mistakes, or how others wronged us, we likely aren’t paying attention to the good things in our lives presently.

But Isn’t Planning a Good Thing? 

When used in moderation, yes. We are not suggesting that you go about your life in a chaotic fashion. However, we are suggesting that you can enjoy yourself during even the most mundane tasks of your day. When we are struggling, many of us tend to think that if we just keep our head down and trudge along that things will get better. Whenever a, b, c happens, THEN I will be happy. But the problem with that mode of thinking is that it makes it nearly impossible for you to enjoy yourself now. There are always little things that can be noticed and appreciated throughout the day, and you can give yourself permission to do so. You do not need someone else to validate those feelings either, if they have meaning to you, that’s all that matters.

Giving Yourself Permission

Oftentimes we are our own worst enemies in the sense that we block ourselves from present enjoyment. We can fall into patterns of operating out of fear, sadness, or anger, instead of approaching our lives with a sense of fascination, curiosity, or peace. Work to give yourself permission to enjoy things right NOW. Make a commitment to yourself to take better care of yourself and do things that bring you joy.

If you find that you are really struggling in this area, feel free to reach out and schedule an appointment with Angelus. Our therapists can help you to create a self-care and present-moment plan. Counselors can help you break your patterns of living in the future and in the past.

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Blog Credit: Natalie Drozda, MA, LPC is a PH.D student in Counseling Education and Supervision at Duquesne University & therapist at Angelus Therapeutic Services