What percentage of your waking day do you spend being present in the moment? As in actually being where you are, as opposed to replaying past events, or internally preparing for the future. 50%? 20%? 10%?
When someone asked me that question a month ago, my best guess was 5%. That’s not good. There’s a whole wealth of research into the benefits of mindfulness, or having your conscious awareness on the present moment on your mental health. But even putting that to one side, I didn’t like the idea that I was spending 95% of my life not actually mentally being there. I set out on a one month challenge to increase this percentage. Here’s the advice I’ve been trying to follow…
Increase the time you spend doing mindful activities
I already practised yoga every day – this is the only reason my percentage was as high as 5%! But the most obvious next port of call was meditation. When I make myself do it, I love the way I feel after meditation. But I am terrible at prioritising it. So this month I actively sought out opportunities to meditate. Living at yoga retreats I’ve taken advantage of meditation sessions run by others. I’ve also tried really hard to meditate for a couple of minutes at the end of my yoga practice each day. I’ve found this does make a difference. This time gives your body and your mind chance to absorb the benefits of the practice, and leaves you in a much better place to continue the day.
Reduce contact with things that pull you away from the present
For me a major distraction from the present moment is my phone. It is horrible to admit, but sometimes I barely notice the people around me because I am messaging someone, on Facebook or scrolling through random strangers’ images on Instagram. So I resolved to leave my phone behind as much as possible. I allocated times for messaging people in the day, then during the times I was with people I dedicated myself to that. It’s been a revelation. It turns out that when you give the people around you your full attention and really listen to what they are saying, they are far more interesting than the holiday photos of strangers. When you let yourself be fascinated by what someone has to say, they become fascinating.
Notice the times you zone out
One of them is while I eat. It’s fairly common for me to enjoy the first taste of my food, and then get lost in thoughts, conversation or my phone (again!) and the next thing I know, I’ve cleared my plate. Trying to stay present while eating proved a really big challenge. Although I enjoy food, I don’t really notice eating it very much. My mind drifts so quickly. I had to really slow down, to deliberately put down my knife and fork between mouthfuls and actively try to notice what I was doing. This is still a struggle. It is true though that when you manage it, you find that you enjoy the food more, and can also notice better when you feel full.
Make the menial tasks into mindful ones
I’ve tried tuning in with the same mindful awareness to all the tasks I do in my day in the same way I focus during yoga. I was worried I’d find this boring. How would I cope with doing the dishes without mentally planning my next trip abroad? But when I tuned into the sensory experience of what I was doing, the way I moved and the noises around me, even the most boring of jobs became really quite absorbing. Just like with people, when you give tasks your full attention, they become far more interesting. You give yourself permission to enjoy them.
Where am I now percentage-wise? At best I’d give myself 15%. Which is good and bad. On the positive side I’ve increased my mindfulness maybe three times over. On the less good side, there’s still 85% of my day that I am mentally not there. But at least the numbers are creeping in the right direction. And I do feel better for it. Definitely calmer, and more aware of the great things that happen all the time.
I think I’m going to make it my next goal to eat a whole piece of cake without getting distracted. Let’s face it, if I can’t get it straight away, at least I’ll have fun practising…