How To Be More Present and Live in the Moment
One of the best things about taking time off work is that you are able to unplug for a bit. Even so, you may find yourself turning to your email, news, or social media simply out of habit. And if you’re like me, at least once you’ve thought to yourself: What am I doing, checking this app? I don’t feel joy or true interest, yet I’ve opened the app and find myself spending my free time consuming frivolous information that doesn’t make me feel good.
Many technology products are designed to get us hooked. In fact, in the book Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, author Nir Eyal details the process for which products are designed to make product usage a habit, using the principles of habit-building: trigger, action, reward.
For example, when we’re feeling lonely, we turn to social media to see our social connections because seeing our friends makes us feel connected, right? In theory, seeing digital images of our family and friends celebrating should make us feel more connected, but in reality, social media makes us lonelier and less likely to engage in real, meaningful connection. Do you truly feel fulfilled after seeing a highlight reel of everyone’s happiest moments (especially if you find out you weren’t included in them)?
Consider How It Makes You Feel
The first step in breaking free from a screen dependency is bringing awareness to how it truly makes you feel. One excellent way to do this is to set time limits on your device for apps that you turn to when bored, lonely, upset, etc. When the phone alerts you that you hit your limit, use that time to take a second to ask yourself: is this making me happy? And if the answer isn’t a resounding “YES!”, then close the app and put the phone somewhere out of sight. Once you are aware of the true feelings you have when using certain products, you’ll start associating the negative feelings with the product so that you are less likely to turn to it automatically.
Identify Your Triggers
Another helpful step in becoming more present in the moment and less dependent on your devices is to understand what underlies the habit in the first place. Boredom is a common culprit; it’s so easy just to open our phone and see if there’s an interesting email waiting for us. Similar to using a slot machine, it’s the unknown, the chance of a nice message from someone we’re excited to hear from, that keeps us coming back.
Once you understand the feeling that is causing your behavior, it’s important to really take an honest look at that feeling. Most likely, the feeling is uncomfortable. Rarely do people turn towards a phone when they’re having the time of their life. Picture a water-skier jumping waves one-handed, while in the other hand they’re scrolling through their news feed—it doesn’t happen!
So, when you encounter uncomfortable feelings, how do you handle them?
Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
When you face uncomfortable feelings, there are a few ways to deal with them. At risk of sounding cliché, it must be said that it’s important to feel your feelings. Think about why you might be feeling a certain way, and rather than stuffing that feeling down and immediately trying to resolve it, work on accepting it.
Here’s an example. Have you ever sat behind someone at the movie theater who, mid-movie, opens their phone and starts browsing around out of boredom? Don’t be that person. That person probably felt bored for a brief moment during the movie, and rather than sticking it out patiently, they filled that slight discomfort with their phone in hopes of finding something more entertaining to occupy their mind for 30 seconds. In that moment, they could have missed a key clue to the plot, or a hilarious line that the characters were building up to. And of course, the true tragedy is that the light from their device distracted at least 20 people who paid money to see the film. STOP IT.
Embrace boredom. Boredom encourages grit. The ability to stick with boredom is what makes people able to become the best in their craft, allowing them to persevere through the monotonous daily practice that’s required to achieve at a high level.
How might you grow by mastering the art of sitting with your uncomfortable feelings?
Take Real Action
Once you’re aware of the feelings that trigger your habit of information consumption, you can begin to think creatively about actions you can take to prevent that feeling in the future. Does looking at images of your friends having fun without you truly make you feel less lonely? Watching such images actually makes you less likely to take the action that WOULD, in fact, address your loneliness: calling a friend, making plans to visit someone in person, going to a coffee shop just to be around people.
The saddest image is seeing a group of people together, no one talking, each on their phone. Try making eye contact, and actually be together, in person.
Focus On One Thing
It’s tempting to multi-task. Again, our devices have made this easier. I’m very guilty of task-pairing, such as making phone calls while going for a walk, or listening to a podcast while doing laundry. I stand by these behaviors, however, because time is limited, or in the case of laundry, I need something to look forward to in order to find the motivation to do the task.
But to truly be present, you need to jump in with both feet on an activity. It’s painting with no distractions. It’s making dinner with family. It’s being engaged in a conversation without thinking about other things.
How can you incorporate being present into each day? You can start by having time midday to check in with yourself: how are you feeling? How do you want to spend the rest of your time? Are you truly in the moment, or are your thoughts consumed with something else? Take a second to slow down and show up.
For a lot of us, being able to focus on the present moment means setting strict boundaries around our attention. You know the saying, “out of sight, out of mind”? Make it harder to get distracted by hiding your phone or putting your most commonly-used apps a few screens back to make them harder to get to. Turn off notifications, use Do-Not-Disturb settings, and set time limits.
Setting boundaries with your attention means truly not checking work email while on vacation. In order to make that happen (and keep your job), that may require you to do some work up-front: set up an out-of-office autoreply, or manage expectations of your coworkers. But that doesn’t mean you have to go AWOL. You can make rules for yourself to only check work email after the kids have gone to bed, or only when you’re in a certain room of the house by yourself. It depends on your job, but some boundaries are necessary.
I’ve found that charging my phone overnight in the kitchen helps me avoid checking my phone first thing when I wake up in the morning, and not at all during the night. It’s helped me sleep restfully through the night.
Once you’ve removed distractions and boundaries, it’s time to train your brain to enjoy the present moment.
Be In The Now
The mind is a funny thing. If you learn of upsetting news or there’s something to be worried about in the past or future, it can take control of your thoughts.
Many people find meditation to be helpful because it helps you focus on the present moment, often by starting with the breath and doing a body scan. This gets the mind refocused on your physical state rather than the thoughts running through your head.
If meditation’s not your thing, try taking a moment each day to stop and smell the roses. If you’re outside, take in the sights, sounds, and smells. Enjoy the touch of a warm blanket while curled up with a good book. Spending time with loved ones? Practice a moment of gratitude and count your blessings. All of these can foster the reward of being present, making you more likely to build the habit of being in the moment.
You can start being more present by setting small goals for yourself. Pick one thing that you’re confident you can do each day, such as creating space/time boundaries around your phone usage, or a setting a daily “presence” check in with yourself. Little by little, you can build the skills that will keep your mind in the moment.