Those who have practiced mindfulness meditation know how hard it can be to simply be present in the current moment, without ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. This article explains why this may be the case, and the importance of living in the moment even during the mundane or stressful parts of life.
Why We Struggle with Living in the Moment
Being present in the moment requires a perfect blend of mindfulness and mindlessness.
Being present in the moment is a purposeful mindset.
There are steps you can take to improve mindfulness and feel more present.
Focusing on being present in both enjoyable and mundane moments is important for mindfulness.
After the holidays, it is easy to feel as though time flew by before you got the chance to stop and soak it all up. You might blame a brutal work schedule that dominated your holiday season or an insurmountable pile of stressors that stole away any chance of feeling truly present for the festivities. In reality, however, being present is something that is easier said than done, regardless of your schedule or stress level.
So why is something that sounds easy to do actually so difficult? Isn’t living in the moment supposed to happen organically? The truth is, not exactly.
Feeling present during daily life is something that many would consider synonymous with being mindful. Wherever You Go, There You Are, a book authored by Jon Kabat-Zinn, defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” This definition of mindfulness is widely used in research, and it highlights exactly what makes being present so difficult. Being present requires a purposeful, yet unforced, recognition of the moment for what it is, not for what we wish it were or what we think it can be. And, quite frankly, that’s a difficult balance to strike.
There are endless reasons why this perfect blend of mindfulness and mindlessness is so hard to find, but you can likely relate to at least one of these reasons:
You’re not used to slowing down and allowing your mind a break from productivity or planning ahead
You let small things feel bigger than they are and allow them to consume more mental energy than they deserve
You anticipate the end of a “good” moment before it is over and are letting the anticipation of the end interfere with your appreciation for the present moment.
Controlling the emotions that lead to any or all of the reasons listed above is where the purposeful part of being mindful comes in. Contrary to popular belief, being purposeful about mindfulness doesn’t equate to clearing your schedule or only doing things you enjoy; in fact, a study found that increased stress can actually boost mindfulness because of the level of awareness that stressful events require (Nezlek et al., 2016).
Rather, being purposefully present is a not matter of seeking out the perfect time to appreciate the current moment, such as during a holiday or on a vacation, but instead seeking out the imperfect times and acknowledging those too. It takes practice, but any good habit does.
There are many ways to help yourself feel more present through practices that boost mindfulness. Research shows that activities such as meditation, journaling, exercise, and talking with a psychologist can help you feel more mindful and learn to feel present in the moment (Xia et al., 2019), regardless of whether it is exciting or ordinary.
The unpleasant fact that we all learn as we grow older is that much of life—perhaps even the majority of it—is taken up by mundane routines and confining responsibilities. Every day, we are faced with moments that we’d rather not encounter, with the good ones being sprinkled in so sparsely that we wish we could clutch to them rather than letting them speed by us like they tend to do.
So instead of letting our mindfulness grow rusty as we await a rare oasis of joy, try choosing to see each moment as an opportunity to be present in the life you get to call your own.
Waiting to live in the moment until timing seems perfect might be the reason that you find those “perfect moments” during the holidays flying by. Being present isn’t supposed to be the reward that comes arrives at the end of a busy week or when life’s responsibilities miraculously declutter themselves for a day.
Being present is the result of choosing a mindful state of mind, even when you’d rather have your head buried in the sand. It is the daily choice to look around and make your existence purposeful in whatever form it may take.
Kabat-Zinn, Jon. (2016) “Part One: The Bloom of the Present Moment.” Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation for Everyday Life. Piatkus, London.
Nezlek, J. B., Holas, P., Rusanowska, M., & Krejtz, I. (2016). Being present in the moment: Event-level relationships between mindfulness and stress, positivity, and importance. Personality and Individual Differences, 93, 1-5. Doi:10.1016
Xia, T., Hu, H., Seritan, A. L., & Eisendrath, S. (2019). The Many Roads to Mindfulness: A Review of Nonmindfulness-Based Interventions that Increase Mindfulness. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 25(9), 874-889. doi:10.1089