Hello everybody, welcome to episode 182 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take any questions you might have about the many struggles of life and get them answered for you here on the show. Today's question is on how to be fully mindful in the present.
I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino reminding you before we begin that if you have a question you would like help with on the show, we welcome you to email it to us at advice AT oldpodcast.com
It’s great to be with you folks today. You know a lot of us who enjoy self-development hear a lot about being more present. It’s a widely encompassing concept. Everybody wants a piece of it. And our asker today is no exception. She’s been working a lot on becoming as present as possible, but still finds that certain thoughts get in her way. Let’s see if we can help her approach this journey differently and speed up the process. Here’s her question…
QUESTION: “I'm working on staying focused, not letting my mind wander to unfavorable events from the past or what can happen in the future. I'm improving a bit with the recommendations from OLD and my goal is being present 100%.”
Is Living in The Present 100% Possible?
100% presence is no joke! My goodness. Thank you for sending this question in.
You’ve chosen to embark on quite a journey I see. And I’m sure glad to hear that OLD recommendations are helping you out. A lot of people seek to become completely present, and I’ve had the pleasure of supporting many who have asked me for some help with it.
So I’ll let you in on what almost everyone does wrong when trying to be 100% present: they’re too black and white about it.
They see it as either never-ending bliss, gliding smoothly from moment to moment …or bust. This mentality makes presence a goal that’s way too lofty, and frankly, a battle that won’t be won.
There are simply too many stimuli at any given moment – we can’t expect to be in tune with every one of them.
Cultivating Mindfulness and Patience
Those who achieve the greatest levels of stasis aren’t walking on clouds all the time, but they’re aware and patient with the times they’re not. I’ve always believed presence looks different for everyone, and those differences are based on their own distractions and mental gymnastics.
With that being said, all of the things that you’re trying to avoid thinking about right now are not your enemies, but your friends. They are what you have to work with right now, and thus a necessary first step towards presence rather than something to be leapfrogged.
When we seek presence, we seek to become one with each present moment. We seek to take in every little experience as they come to us and fully experience them.
But our experiences are not limited to a butterfly that lands on our shoulder or the way the grass feels between our toes when we’re walking barefoot. We also experience our thoughts and feelings, and they aren’t always so pleasant.
Where Does Your Mind Naturally Go To?
Therefore, acquiring more presence is not about shunning bad thoughts or absorbing only outer experiences. Instead, you must become one with your thoughts as you seek to become one with everything else.
Presence is not about picking and choosing. If your current thoughts take you back to bad times, future projections or anything else that’s not ideal, then that’s what you have to work with right now.
So how can you work with them? I think it starts by dissecting these places that your mind naturally goes to.
Say you’re working and you get distracted. No need to slap yourself on the wrist and get back to breathing. You can return to the breath after you explore the thought.
Where did your mind want to go to? Why might it be going there? What purpose is that thought trying to serve?
Don’t judge such thoughts; ask questions of them.
Dealing with Past Memories
Maybe you find that your thoughts are going to those particularly unfavorable places – bad memories from the past.
These might be the most important to pay attention to. Don’t ignore them. Seek out what unfinished business you might have because of them, what lessons they’ve taught you, or what perspectives other people involved might have had.
And if these kinds of thoughts come up when you’re doing something time sensitive, simply schedule a time for later to think about them more deeply. I know planning to think doesn’t sound much like presence, but if you’re making an effort to be more awake and open to these types of things, you’re absolutely moving in the right direction.
I talked about this in an episode the other day (maybe in episode 175 or 176): just like anything else in life, you can’t make up for lost time or pretend the past didn’t happen. You have to start with what you have on your plate right now.
The deep breathing techniques, yoga, meditation and other popular strategies people deploy to gain presence are all nice additives that can help, but they’re only fluff if they’re not done in conjunction with dissecting your troubles and bad tendencies.
Again, presence is not the avoidance of turmoil, it’s approaching it and assessing it with composure.
Living in the Present: Conclusion
The more you do this, the more presence will come, because you’ll be in the habit of approaching every present thought mindfully.
You’ll get more and more aware of them as they come up, you’ll catch yourself trying to avoid them and because you know better, you’ll become more accepting of them.
And if you’re in a rhythm of accepting the stuff that troubles you. It’ll be that much easier to accept and recognize the stuff that doesn’t – like the fairytale stuff I mentioned earlier about a butterfly landing on your shoulder. You’ll not only become more vigilant of these things, but more appreciative of their grace.
So just focus on making progress in this way. Don’t worry about being Buddha.
Sometimes this process will be uncomfortable and you’ll find yourself being stressed out by those bad thoughts, but being present isn’t about not being stressed. It’s about realizing and leaning in when you are. It’s a long journey with a lot small steps and setbacks.
Let it be.
Thank you again to the asker for submitting this question. When it comes to any big goal, whether or not we define it the right way, or whether or not we accurately gauge just how sizable it is, it always helps to break it down into tiny pieces and not do it all at once.
With presence, I think that starts with exploring the thoughts that one feels impedes their sense of presence. All we tend to need is a feeling of progress, and feeling that can be more than enough to get us by if we’re in pursuit of something huge.
So if you have something you’re chasing after that seems a little intimidating, just break off one chunk at a time. Even if it’s something as small as getting up and going to the gym. First stand up. You can do that. Then go to put on your gym clothes. You can do that. Then start your car. You can do that. And so on.
This slow and steady approach is much healthier and more manageable.
And that’s all for today everybody. Thanks so much for being here. I hope you all took something from this episode and that our asker finds herself on a better path towards presence. Signing off for now. I’ll talk all you guys again soon. Until then.