I don’t think anyone can argue that living in the present is a bad thing. Time slows down, your mind is focused, and often you have a good time.
But it is also one of the hardest things on the planet to do.
The Downside of Life Either Side Of The Present
Brace for the sciency bit… Humans have a thing called negativity bias. That means that our brains, when left to their own devices, naturally think of the bad things (as a way to protect itself, the brain needs to be ready and prepared for anything that can possibly go wrong). It takes effort and intention for the brain to focus on good things. We have to seek them out.
Thanks to negativity bias, when we are thinking back to the past, it isn’t always with joy. A bunch of the time, it’s with guilt, regret, embarrassment, irritation, bitterness. The very things that kick off low mood and even depression.
When we are thinking into the future (which, rationally, we all know we can’t predict, but we attempt to anyways), it is often with fear and foreboding, which kicks off anxiety and therefore desperation for control.
When we are living in the present, we are not bemoaning the past, or worrying about the future, and that’s one nice place to be, and why everyone wants to get there.
The World’s Leading Recommendation For Being Present
One of the first recommendations you’ll hear everywhere for learning how to be present, is to meditate.
I cannot, I repeat, cannot, meditate. Can’t do it. I admire people who can sit, switch off and simply listen to their breath, in and out, for minutes at a time. I honestly can’t fathom how they do it. Still, much respect to them.
And I know a lot of people who say that, as many times and as hard as they have tried, they just cannot meditate either.
So what is the average overthinking, over-analytical, past-dwelling, future-obsessed person to do when the best recommendation for chilling out seems near impossible?
I believe strongly in getting into any activity that requires so much focus that the mind cannot simply drift off into other less helpful things.
For me, that’s anything involving maths, numbers, ordering or logic (shout-out to all my right-brained creatives!) So sudoku puzzles, building something from a set of instructions, or learning to play a new tune on my piano keep me very much in the here and now.
And in my mind, those are forms of meditation. Just not the most recognisable, traditional kind.
For you, it could be following a new recipe and cooking a fancy meal. Or playing a sport. Or doing some creative writing. Or playing with a child. Or going for a drive along a route you don’t usually take. Or sketching. Or journalling. Or taking a walk in a new neighbourhood. Or running. Or planting flowers. Or taking photographs. Or having a really in-depth conversation with a friend. Or doing a crossword. Or attempting to stay within the lines in an adult colouring book.
If there is any activity whatsoever that keeps us involved and our minds absolutely and completely in the present moment, I’d argue that that is also a form of meditation, and worth making a regular part of each day.