You may have noticed that “mindfulness” is everywhere these days. It seems like everyone is reading about it, talking about it, and doing it. At the same time, many people are very confused about what “being in the present moment” actually is, and how to stay mindful. With so much going on in the world, and so many demands, how is it possible and why is it important?
The answers are: It IS possible, and it IS important to your well-being and your productivity. Let’s dive in and take a closer look.
Definition of Mindfulness
The terms mindfulness and being in the present moment are essentially the same thing. Here is an easy-to-understand definition from Jon Kabat-Zinn, Professor of Medicine Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and mindfulness expert:
Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally.
When you are focused on what is happening right now, you are intentional about it. You have the ability to notice more details. You are more able to solve problems, generate new ideas, and appreciate things because you are not caught up in the past or the future. You do better work because you are fully engaged with your present task and you do not allow distractions to steer you off course. Part of being in the present moment is that you allow it to happen as it happens. That means you get rid ofexpecting things to be a certain way; you RESPOND instead of REACT.
Put succinctly, mindfulness includes both focus and acceptance.
Often we assign judgments about the way things “should” be, and we get angry or frustrated when reality does not match our expectations. Judgment blocks our ability to see clearly with focus; when we release that judgment, we are more open to what is actually happening and we have more options to learn and take action. Here’s an example:
Joe has just finished a work project, and he takes his finished report to his supervisor. Joe has worked very hard on the project and is proud of his efforts. However, when his supervisor reads the report, she tells Joe that he has miscalculated the cost of materials and he will have to re-write the report. If Joe is like most people, he might judge his boss negatively for her input and judge himself as a poor employee. His fear and anger get in the way, and he might react by defending his position in an angry tone.
If Joe stays in the present moment, he acknowledges his emotions and acknowledges what his supervisor is saying. He stays with the present moment and asks himself what he can learn from this. He engages with the supervisor to learn her perspective, to share his, and to talk about what is needed next. He listens to his supervisor carefully and pays attention to when he gets distracted. At the end of the meeting, Joe knows where his report is solid and what is needed next — without blaming or judging.
Staying present is about paying attention, noticing, and responding to what is happening right now.
Research on the Benefits of Mindfulness
- increases resilience
- gives a greater sense of stability and clarity
- boosts mental and physical health
- lowers stress
- increases the sense of gratitude
- improves focus and concentration
The Present Moment is a Gift
One of the most profound shifts in awareness is seeing every moment as a gift. Each day, each hour, even each moment is a precious space. Once it is gone, we cannot get it back. Additionally, in any given moment we have the capability to respond to what has just happened. Those are two very powerful gifts (“presents”) that we have in our lives! When we stay present to what is happening, we develop a deeper sense of gratitude; we don’t take anything for granted.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” — Viktor Frankl
If you are paying attention to the present moment, you have greater power to experience what happens, and greater power to choose how you want to respond. Does the situation call for a few slow breaths? Laughter? Listening? Simply appreciating?
You will have clarity to know what is needed in that moment.
Bringing It All Together
Begin to pay closer attention to what is happening inside you and around you. Give yourself a sense of space in that moment, to see and appreciate and notice without assigning judgment of any kind. Acknowledge the gift of the present.
It’s your life and your choice in how you respond. Take this precious gift, open it, and use it!
For more information on HOW to live in the present moment, take a look at my book that goes is filled with present moment strategies, and gives many examples of how you can stop worrying about the future or stressing out about the past, in order to simply be present. Click here to see it on Amazon.