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Life is WAY simpler than you think

acorn in hand

It probably doesn’t occur to most people that their lives have only ever happened one moment at time. Being in more than one place at once is obviously impossible, yet most of us have difficulty fully allowing ourselves to be only in the one place where we really are: here.

We often talk about having a dozen things to do at once, when in fact we seldom do more than one thing at once, or need to. Your to-do list only gets done one moment at a time, whether your moment-to-moment experience is a frantic and complex one, or a calm and simple one.

We would do very well to simply look at the present moment, ask ourselves what it requires, then calmly do that. It’s hard to imagine an instance in life where this wouldn’t be the best thing to do. Yet life usually seems so much more complicated than that.

Any moment you experience can be broken down into three simple qualities:

1) Your immediate physical surroundings right now

2) The physical feelings in your body right now

3) What you’re thinking about right now

Your whole life is just a gradual turnover of these three aspects of experience. It seems more complicated than that because the third part (your thoughts) can create the appearance all kinds of content that isn’t actually happening. You can lose track of what’s real quite easily when you don’t notice that you’re only thinking.

You can be walking down a quiet street, with a cool breeze and a nice sunset as your backdrop, and be completely consumed by thoughts about something that happened earlier. On the way home from work, a driver in a pickup truck honked at you and gave you the finger, and you don’t think you did anything wrong.

Without deciding to, you imagine a confrontation with this person. You start to get mad about society’s entitlement issues around big vehicles and fossil fuels, and you think about how your car doesn’t use that much gas compared to a truck, but one day you want to quit the long commute altogether. But you know that to do that you’d have to move closer to work, which probably means moving into a high-rise, which you think you could get used to if it meant no more traffic jams, but your spouse would never go for it, and they probably don’t allow dogs…

This happens all the time. We get completely overcome by our thoughts, and the content of the thoughts seems nearer and more relevant than what’s actually happening — the quiet street is almost gone from your experience, even though it’s right there. Usually we solve nothing with this kind of haphazard rumination. 

It is easy to forget that those thoughts are simply another feature of the present moment, and that they’re happening right here on this quiet street, between your ears. But you probably experienced those thoughts without even noticing that they’re only thoughts. It seems like the moment really does contain this other driver, your spouse, your dog, your commute, and maybe a copy of the local Renter’s Guide.

None of those things are here. All that’s here is a quiet street scene, your body, and some thoughts. When we lose sight of the fact that we’re only thinking, the content of those thoughts seems to be a real feature of the moment.

Whenever we can recognize the apparent “craziness” of our lives for what it really is — unconscious thinking happening right here, right now — we have a chance to notice how simple life actually is in any given moment. It’s such a relief to wake up from a whirlwhind of heated thoughts to realize that you’re just here, in yet another simple, concrete scene in your life, noticing that you’ve just been thinking about something.

Getting used to waking up

Getting lost in thought is something that will probably happen every day for the rest of your life. You can learn to do it less often, but it will remain something to manage.

Thought has a tendency to snowball, and when it does you will forget you’re thinking, and the fantasies, dialogues and disaster scenarios contained in the thoughts become your experience of the world. You wouldn’t be so easily overwhelmed by life if you could, on a frequent basis, recognize that it is only made of those three lightweight components: your body, your surroundings and your thoughts.

This is a powerful gain in perspective, this understanding that everything happens here and only here, including your thoughts.

Any time it occurs to you, and particularly when you catch yourself getting caught up in thinking, you can re-establish this perspective by taking stock of what’s really happening. You simply notice that you’re in a single moment — as you always are, any time you check — and take note of what’s actually here, in terms of these three real-life components.

Do it like this:

1) Take a look at what’s here physically — the physical scene you’re in. You don’t need to verbalize it: “picnic table, sign, parking lot…” Just get a sense of what here is like in terms of its real, concrete features — the space, the colors and textures, the mood and motif of the place. Just look, don’t analyze.

2) Notice that there are currently feelings in your body. Just notice the general feeling in your body. Is it warm, clear, stiff? A bit buzzy or tingly? Again, just look at the texture of the sensations themselves and don’t worry about naming them.

3) Notice that you’ve been thinking while in this physical space. But simply note the kinds of thoughts you’ve been having — I’ve been having nervous thoughts about my career. I’ve been having jealous thoughts about my partner. I’ve been having excited thoughts about this weekend. This “generalizing” is important, otherwise you’re prone to slip right back into thinking, and you’ll quickly forget that you’re here.

That’s it. That’s your entire experience on this earth, at any given time. Put your attention back into some physical part of the moment, so you don’t start ruminating again right away. And then carry on.

This technique may seem a bit cumbersome when you read it, but in practice it’s extremely simple. You’re just noticing what’s physically present, and recognizing that anything else is just a present-moment thought. You’re returning to the hard facts of the moment, instead of staying lost in needless editorializing. Soon you’ll be able to do it in a matter of seconds. I do this many times a day.

This little practice is really a nonverbal way of answering the question: “Okay, so what’s really here?” The answer is always going to be a physical space, your body, and (probably) some thoughts.

***

[I cover this “taking stock” practice, and a number of others, in You Are Here: A Modern Person’s Guide to Living in the Present.]

 

Photo by Alex

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Pedro July 14, 2014 at 12:42 am

Great article. I wonder why is it so difficult for me to turn all this into a habit, even when I am 100% convinced of all good this can make in my life. I’ve advanced some steps but still my mind flies away too often and the present moment becomes less intense. Good thing in the last years I’ve seen some improvement, and that’s what counts. Another small step has been to avoid awaiting for the perfect moment to meditate. Doing it only for some minutes regardless of the situation makes a big difference in the long run. Still trying to make it a real routine

Adam July 14, 2014 at 7:16 am

It’s difficult for everyone I believe. I’ve personally found it helpful to make “presence” or “mindfulness” my top priority. It’s the only thing that I have to do. Everything else can work out however it likes so long as I’m “here”. Also, I’ve found it helpful to accept mind wandering and to not judge myself for it. See it as just the momentum of my past habits. It’s only a problem when I view it as a failure.

Steven July 14, 2014 at 8:02 am

Beautiful! I will remember your words.

David Cain July 14, 2014 at 8:29 am

This is great Adam. That’s a major theme in the book: recognizing that your wandering mind is a fact of life, and noticing that it’s wandered is an indication of success, not failure. It’s not reasonable to expect to eliminate the wandering; it’s just not going to happen. There’s a huge amount to gain from being mindful even a small fraction of your day.

David Cain July 14, 2014 at 8:06 am

It’s hard because our survival doesn’t depend much on our ability to be mindful of what’s happening physically in the moment any more. Almost everything in our culture makes it worse: the way we work, the way we educate children, the way we’re marketed to — and the endless free entertainment we have on tap at all times to soak up any remaining attention.

ilknur July 14, 2014 at 1:22 am

Great article again. Just on time!
Lately I forgot all this and start to worrying, thinking unnecessarily, and seeing the problems everywhere. Since few months I am trying to go all my goals at once, forcing to see nothing else than results, be disappointed about everything… This is a nice wake up call. I am awake again, and I am changing this NOW. Thank you

David Cain July 14, 2014 at 8:08 am

Even long term goals only come to fruition through present-moment effort. Remind yourself to pay attention to the physical process in front of you whenever you catch yourself daydreaming about results.

Mani July 14, 2014 at 1:33 am

Good Article! Point 3. conscious thinking is my favorite to get rid of worries and get back to home! Thanks for sharing and keep up the good work!

David Cain July 14, 2014 at 8:08 am

Thanks Mani

Anna bardon July 14, 2014 at 3:06 am

I read a book called….women who think too much…and the hardest thing for me to accept was that overthinking is not my friend. I am not sorting out my problems when over thinking. For me I say to myself…..I can of my own self do nothing… This usually calms me down and I realise that the universe is working its purpose out and that everything is always ok… I’ve noticed that you are trying to write your articles without mentioning …the universe, the divine creator, good forces( whatever you want to call it) … I don’t know how you are going to keep it out forever . I tried but it all seems to come back to that. Xx loved reading the article though. It made me think of a friend of mine that was in the toilets of a gay club crying her eyes out about her rubbish boyfriend. A huge drag queen came in and asked her what was up. She started to go on about how badly her guy had been treating her and the drag queen stopped her short and said( in his very camp voice) ” hey darling, don’t believe your own dramas!” Xx

David Cain July 14, 2014 at 8:13 am

and the hardest thing for me to accept was that overthinking is not my friend. I am not sorting out my problems when over thinking.

This is a super important insight and I talk about it in the book. We have this idea that if we’re thinking, there must be a purpose behind it. But most thought is not leading to a decision, or an action, or an important insight. It’s just idle busywork of the mind, soaking up our attention.

As for a divine creator, I don’t want to write in those terms because then it becomes incompatible with many people’s beliefs. I want to write about universal principles here that are accessible to anyone.

Great advice from the drag queen :)

George July 14, 2014 at 10:06 am

That’s great, “don’t believe the dramas”!

It took me ages to truly realise and accept that (despite having Richard Carlson’s book Stop Thinking, Start Living which makes exactly this point), actually, you don’t need to deliberately think at all. All you’re doing is splashing and rippling the otherwise-clear water of your mind.

Appropriate thoughts and ideas will occur to you as needed, spontaneously from the situation as reactions, without you having to ‘prepare’ for them. Your job is mainly to listen / pay attention to things inside and outside, not ‘do’.

It takes quite a bit of trust / faith though. Faith that the ‘universe can work itself, and you’ and is benevolent?

Kirsten July 15, 2014 at 8:47 am

I loved the advice from the drag queen! It reminds me of a poster I refer to during my craziest mind moments …”The spell can be broken just by asking yourself, ‘Is what I am believing true?'” ~ Byron Katie.

barbs55 July 14, 2014 at 3:43 am

Great article, really helpful, have linked to it from the Everyday-Mindfulness Facebook page, a very concise beautifully expressed guide to everyday mindfulness! Thank you.

David Cain July 14, 2014 at 8:14 am

I appreciate you sharing it. Thank you!

Sandra Pawula July 14, 2014 at 3:53 am

Very insightful: “It seems more complicated than that because the third part (your thoughts) can create the appearance all kinds of content that isn’t actually happening. You can lose track of what’s real quite easily when you don’t notice that you’re only thinking.” And the simple truth of reality as it is. If we could only realize this, it would make such a difference in our lives and in the world.

David Cain July 14, 2014 at 8:15 am

If we could only realize this, it would make such a difference in our lives and in the world.

That’s the plan!

Mike July 14, 2014 at 4:26 am

David you write beautifully. I’m deeply pleased that you have turned your skill into your profession. I sincerely wish you great success for your upcoming book. You deserve it.

Although I do not wish to divert from the topic of this most recent post, I am anxious to know whether you ever struggle with writing (e.g. writers block). Given that you post an eloquent article time after time, it appears on the face that writers block isn’t an issue for you. I’m interested to know whether practicing mindfulness helps to keep your creative instincts unblocked, or whether you in fact agonise more deeply about your writing than it appears.

Thanks
Mike

David Cain July 14, 2014 at 8:20 am

Thanks Mike.

Writer’s block has definitely been an issue, but not so much recently.

I am never out of ideas to write about and I never will be, but if I don’t find an angle I like right away, it can be hard to get anywhere on a given topic at a particular time. I still have days where I hum and haw over an idea for a day, then end up throwing it out and starting again. Just about every week I have some kind of battle with what I’m writing for that week. It’s really just a willingness to grind through the moments when I want to quit and ditch the article. Sometimes I never get it together and there’s no article that week.

So yes, it’s more of a struggle than it probably appears. Mindfulness really does help. When I get really frustrated or “in my head” about an article, I bring my attention into the body and notice that I’m feeling a very familiar feeling of frustration, and that’s fine. I’ve finished articles many times after starting out like this. If I get stuck in my head I start to take my melodramatic emotional thoughts for the truth (such as “I’ll never finish this!”) and then I just reinforce the problem by taking a break or throwing up my hands.

I wrote a bit about my experiences (and how to work with it) here:

http://www.raptitude.com/2013/11/the-four-horsemen-of-writers-block-and-how-to-defeat-them/

LunaJune July 14, 2014 at 8:38 am

great idea David…I’m amazed at how much the animals
I’ve worked with over the past 32 years have taught me,
sorry it took me years to truly understand and put it into practise LOL
but to truly , ‘be here now’ , I’ve let got all the should’s

can’t wait to read the book

David Cain July 14, 2014 at 4:35 pm

Animals are a great inspiration to be mindful, because they always are. Some of our best role models for living in the moment are cats.

Celia July 14, 2014 at 9:35 am

This is a great summary of mindfulness. Take an 8-week class in “mindfulness-based stress reduction” or do this! It’s hard to overstate how powerful this technique is, given how simple and obvious it seems. The only real trick is *actually DOING it* — when you really need it AND just for practice. The more you practice, the better you become at it, and the more likely it is that you will be able to help yourself — in a variety of ways and when your well-being depends on it.

Small points I would add are that by “thoughts” aren’t you’re really saying “anything in your head” — be it memories, worries, emotional reactions, feelings, moods, images … usually nothing so rational, logical, or identifiable as “thoughts” in my case! I would also generalize more in the three steps — “Take stock of your place” could be the sounds and smells, as well as sights around you; the feeling of contact of your with chair, floor, bed–or even just noticing that you aren’t feeling anything in particular. My mindfulness teacher suggested generalizing even more when noticing where your mind is–just “labeling”: “worried thoughts, planning thoughts, mental picture …” rather than noticing the specific content of the thought. Great post!

David Cain July 14, 2014 at 4:46 pm

Yes, the generalizing is what makes this useful. If we get too detailed with looking at what’s here, we end up lost in thinking again immediately. The labeling, or “noting” lets us see the thought aspect of the present moment collectively, at a bit of a distance so that it doesn’t just trigger more unconscious thinking.

You could also divide the contents of the present moment simply into thoughts and “sensory experience,” which includes both every aspect of your environment and your body and all its sensations. The goal is just to recognize that everything is happening here and only here, and that even thoughts about the future or far-off places are confined to the present moment.

Ed Herzog July 14, 2014 at 9:54 am

Great post David and I absolutely agree with the title. I know that I am often guilty of making life way more complicated than it needs to be.

I often think of the Gandhi quote: “Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen, and ask yourself if the steps you contemplate are going to be of any use to him.”

I have my own version, however, in which I think about whether I could explain my “problem” to that person without feeling like a complete idiot. If I can’t, then I know that I’m making life too complicated.

David Cain July 14, 2014 at 4:47 pm

I have my own version, however, in which I think about whether I could explain my “problem” to that person without feeling like a complete idiot.

This is excellent Ed. I hope I remember to try it.

George July 14, 2014 at 9:56 am

I enjoyed that. I was just reading a this article at learningmethods (an Alexander-Technique-like approach to things), which talks about ‘coming home’ like this by choosing to stop interfering, to strop striving:

We’ve all had these moments. No one has to tell us that they are wonderful. We’d like to live more of them. But it’s relatively rare because, while we’ve certainly had the experience, we’ve usually missed the meaning of the experience. To jargonize it, we’ve failed to reliably appreciate the sensory experience we just had.

. . .

That means choosing to be present in the moment as it actually is (for the simple reason that it is, whether you like the present moment or not) and fully and willingly accept it RIGHT NOW.

The ultimate learning is not that you will have finally figured out how to get back in touch with your system and use it well, but you’ll realize that it was YOU who were lost, and your system was trying to contact you and let you know how to find your way back.

Less like re-directing your attention to wake up, so much as stopping attending to the wrong place and letting things open out and settle.

George July 14, 2014 at 9:58 am

Um, I meant stop striving, rather than strop – that would be whinging while fighting things, not what we’re after at all! :-)

David Cain July 14, 2014 at 4:48 pm

Strop it George!

David Cain July 14, 2014 at 4:52 pm

This looks great, will read it when I’m done work today.

Dan July 14, 2014 at 7:32 pm

There’s another great long-read article on that particular site called “The Bearable Lightness of Being” (by Nick Drengenberg).

George July 15, 2014 at 3:01 am

And his article “Confessions of a Do-er” is worth a read also, covers the attention / letting go thing really well. (His own blog is rarely updated now, but it has great stuff on loads of topics and is well worth scrolling through.)

Dan July 15, 2014 at 1:20 pm

@George

That one’s great too! There was another one on there by that David Gorman called “The Rounder We Go, The Stucker We Get” that’s excellent, as well.

Thanks for the heads up on the blog, will definitely check it out!

John July 14, 2014 at 10:02 am

Refreshing reminders as always David! I have “The Power of Now” next on my reading list. Looking forward to adding yours after that!

David Cain July 14, 2014 at 4:55 pm

Good to hear John! Let me know what you think of TPON

Dan July 14, 2014 at 10:56 am

And right on cue, a recently uploaded/expertly edited Alan Watts clip that compliments the article’s point:

The Mind – Alan Watts
http://youtu.be/emHAoQGoQic

Watts begins:

“So then let’s consider first of all what is a mind in the grip of vicious circles. Well, one of the most obvious instances that we all know is the phenomenon of worry. The doctor tells you that you have to have an operation. And that has been set up so that automatically everybody worries about it. But since worrying takes away your appetite and your sleep, it’s not good for you. But you can’t stop worrying and therefore you get additionally worried that you are worrying. And then furthermore because that is quite absurd and you’re mad at yourself because you do it, you are worried because you are worried you are worried. That is a vicious circle…”

Would also like to add/recommend a book you (and your readers) might enjoy, David. It’s called”Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” and is available here:

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: The Definitive, 4th Edition
http://amzn.to/1mOCjXl

It is very much a participative experience (you are meant to follow the exercises in the book) to help you better “see” moreso than draw (but, you soon discover that proper drawing comes from proper seeing). In fact, the exercises are meant to help you achieve that sort of nonverbal, immediate-sensing, intuitive-mode cognitive shift (and allow you to consciously access it more readily). I’m only about 100 pages deep, with a few exercises under my belt, but it has already been pretty amazing (and informative). The author – Betty Edwards – covers much of the same territory as the stuff on here, but she adds plenty of other startling insights (along with fantastic quotes in the margins). Plus, as an added bonus along the way, you’ll discover how to draw (regardless of how fervently you believe you can’t).

David Cain July 16, 2014 at 5:10 pm

I am never disappointed in Alan Watts. Thanks Dan.

dude July 14, 2014 at 11:10 am

“It’s hard because our survival doesn’t depend much on our ability to be mindful of what’s happening physically in the moment any more. Almost everything in our culture makes it worse: the way we work, the way we educate children, the way we’re marketed to — and the endless free entertainment we have on tap at all times to soak up any remaining attention.”

This is why I am so drawn to rock/ice climbing and mountaineering — every moment is critical to safety and survival, so your focus is laser-like on the task at hand (getting a good swing on your ice tool, placing a piece of rock protection that is going to keep you from slamming onto the ledge below you if you fall, negotiating a crevassed glacier, etc) that all other thoughts vanish. It is so very easy to live in the moment when doing these things. Yet I’ve never found a quite as effective way to refocus my attention on the present when I find my thoughts drifting in everyday life, though very often I will snap myself out of it by looking at a natural object, like a beautiful tree or a hawk perched on a streetlight, and remind myself that there is only NOW. But it doesn’t take long for stupid thought trains to begin anew and start headlong down the tracks . . .

David Cain July 14, 2014 at 5:18 pm

A lot of things we do for recreation or adventure are activities that force us to be in the moment. Presence is a state we can’t help but seek.

Duška Woods July 14, 2014 at 11:33 am

David, those of us who have been ‘on the path’ have read, heard and been told that ‘we are not our thoughts’, that it is not our thoughts that are the problem but ‘harboring them’ that is. Some of us have known this through our various spiritual practices, and yet it takes everyday commitment to become aware when the thoughts start running like a stream in our heads.
One of the things I do when I catch myself lost in thoughts is telling myself ‘here and now’ and that brings me back right back to a present moment. It’s a practice and will not to be our thoughts, but oh what a freedom to live in the present moment and here and now…thank you for yet another great post.

Ana July 14, 2014 at 11:41 am

Duška Woods pretty much took the words right out of my mouth. Simplifying one’s life begins with simplifying your thought processes in general. Seems to be getting a little harder for people nowadays when all your electronic necessities are combined into one device.:/ Never getting one of those.

Chris Fuller July 14, 2014 at 2:14 pm

Hey David,

I just wanted to be yet another person to tell you that I really appreciate your writing. Your articles are always a great read, and I am looking forward to your book. Mindfulness has transformed my life, and your down-to-earth angle without the mysticism that often accompanies this topic is a breath of fresh air.

I offered up a mini-rant to my readers about your writing here that I thought you’d like to know about! :-)
[I don’t mean to link spam though, so feel free to delete this last paragraph if you’d like to keep the link out!]
http://lifewithabrain.com/i-want-to-change-your-world/

kory July 14, 2014 at 3:31 pm

Super Great~Keep Writing!
:)

Meg Evans July 14, 2014 at 10:41 pm

Great description of how random thoughts snowball into giant complicated dramas! I often catch myself doing that and remind myself “Hey, this isn’t really here! It’s just a story.” Without that pause for reflection and perspective, even the most ridiculous imaginary things can start to feel like they’re really happening.

Kirsten July 15, 2014 at 9:04 am

As I read this article I took a moment, as suggested, to ‘check in’. To my horror I realized that I was somewhere else, having a fight with a person who wasn’t even there, and my body was poised in ‘fight or flight’ mode. What was real was that I was standing in my kitchen, all alone, in the sunshine, reading an article (insert deep breath here).
So, I immediately signed up for your book.
What we haven’t talked about is that this constant mind turmoil, that demented squirrel running around in our brains, is so hard on our bodies. Chronic low-grade anxiety is epidemic and anxiety disorders are skyrocketing. And, almost all of this anxiety comes from stories we are telling ourselves. This takes a tremendous toll on our health. So, by living in our heads we are robbing ourselves not only of the present moment but of a lot of future moments as well.
It’s hard to remember to check in when you’re down in the mental weeds. I’ve set a timer on my phone now to alert me to ’check in’ regularly until it becomes habit.
Thanks, David.

David Cain July 16, 2014 at 5:13 pm

It’s scary how our bodies react to these mental events as if they are real-life, in-the-room threats. You can give yourself a pounding heart by arguing in your head with someone who’s been dead for ten years! The fantasies aren’t real, but the stress reaction happening in the body absolutely is, and it can’t be good for us.

George July 15, 2014 at 12:34 pm

When people notice they’re “not here” and then return to themselves, is there a pattern to where they “are”?

Often, I’m not really “in my head”; I’m absent in a different way. For instance, I often find myself rushing along the street on the way somewhere, and I realise that my attention is a few metres in front of me, narrowed down; I’m not “in my body” at all.

So there are perhaps also behavioural habits that we have like this. Over and above just being lost in thought, there’s also bad attentional habits we have when doing things.

David Cain July 16, 2014 at 5:20 pm

Right… you can be “absent” without necessarily being lost in thought. In Buddhist groups they talk about different states and hindrances to presence, and there are more than just “here” and “not here”. Sloth and torpor is one of the so-called five hindrances, and it’s just a general dullness that isn’t necessarily being lost in thought, but isn’t active attending either.

A good question to ask is “Where is my mind right now?” If I don’t really know, then I put it somewhere useful. If I can’t think of what’s useful, I put it on my breath or on the background din.

George July 17, 2014 at 7:17 am

That’s a good tip.

When I notice, I’ve taken to “expanding” myself to fill my whole body, then expanding out; it’s kind of energising and awakening, and shakes my awareness from whatever location it might have ‘settled’ in – usually a spot of tension or discomfort. (Like running on the spot to kick yourself into motion, but mentally.)

And if I’ve slipped into inactivity, asking the question “What needs doing now?” always returns an answer that could provide some movement, even if I don’t really feel like following it. (Because the answer is probably “wash the dishes” or “clear the flowerpots on the balcony”. Which I still haven’t done, actually…)

George July 17, 2014 at 7:51 am

I’ll try that link again: What needs doing now?

kate July 17, 2014 at 11:54 pm

the best trick i know of for bringing one’s self back to what’s real is to look outside, at a tree, or a bird. it works every time. so simple.

George July 19, 2014 at 10:00 am

Or pause and pay attention to background noise for a moment – air conditioning, car noise, distance voices – that really loosens your focus. (If you’re lacking a nearby window.)

Randy Hendrix July 15, 2014 at 2:54 pm

“We would do very well to simply look at the present moment, ask ourselves what it requires, then calmly do that.”

Damn, David…that is good.

Jason July 16, 2014 at 6:05 am

This is just awesome David. I tried this out today a couple of times after reading this, and it was just fantastic. Starting your focus on the physical really makes it easier to work back to your body, then your mind – I love it.

Admittedly, I do find these things much easier to do when I’m feeling positive or happy. Now the only challenge is to remind myself to do this when things get stressful, and life starts to feel overwhelming – this is where it can all spiral away and I just plain forget to do it to bring me back. Seeing posts like this from you as a reminder is a good start :)

David Cain July 16, 2014 at 5:27 pm

I’m glad you’re actually trying this, and I hope others do too. I do this all the time and it always puts the moment into perspective.

A big part of You Are Here is making habits out of these practices by doing them when it is easy to do so, so that it’s already a familiar reflex when you are stressed out and wouldn’t be so easy to try something new.

Free To Pursue July 16, 2014 at 1:46 pm

Great piece, and the resources everyone has offered above are much appreciated complements.

I’m getting better at realizing I’m performing this ruminating activity at inappropriate times and am learning to pull back runaway thoughts and “save” them for a time where I can mull things over and not lose opportunities to soak in day-to-day experiences.

My struggle with runaway thoughts only worsened in business school. We were taught to contingency plan, to think through all possible scenarios to devise the best plan possible for some required course of action. Five years of that and I have trouble not thinking about next steps for various projects or interactions regardless of where I am. TV shows are also culprits, presenting this ability as a virtue (such as when one character anticipated another’s moves many steps ahead, like a real-life chess match of sorts). The real world does not work that way nor should we try to make it so. We devise or play out scenarios in our heads when it would be much simpler to just ask another party what they meant by a remark, an action or what they want or are thinking at any given moment. Incessant scenario planning can be an asset but it is more likely to be an indication there is less trust in the world and in ourselves than we would like to admit.

David Cain July 16, 2014 at 5:29 pm

Yes, culture really trains us to live anywhere but in the moment as it already is. This is the great uphill battle of Western spiritual development. So much of our society seem almost designed to keep us from being happy where we are. It’s great at making us look forward to things though.

Tony July 16, 2014 at 11:14 pm

Wonderful article and it is all so true. People have to live in the moment.

Cindy July 16, 2014 at 11:26 pm

Thank you. I am very excited about the book. Your writings help guide me to quiet my mind. So happy to have found your site.

Gavin July 17, 2014 at 5:35 pm

I like to reference this unmindful thought as “the voice in your head” or “the filter.” When I recognize the voice for what it truly is – a place or situation that does not actually exist in that moment, or that I am judging something by my past experience – it goes away. I appreciate the reminder to remain present David. It makes all the drives to and from work, the times standing in line at the grocery store, the disagreements with my significant other, and the trying tantrums of my two-year-old just situations that I am so much better equipped to deal with when I am in a present state of mind. Thank you as always for your insights.

Vishal July 18, 2014 at 3:39 am

Amazing article.
Being present to the moment was always one of my fav topics. Always nice to read newer perspectives on it.

Brenda July 19, 2014 at 11:33 pm

I find that by doing something I enjoy everyday, this quietens my mind and helps me focus on the important things in my life. Simply by going for a walk or spending time in my garden makes all the difference. i also meditate for 10-15 minutes either morning or night (sometimes both)

Great article – thanks

Andy July 20, 2014 at 10:09 am

I use a similar technique although it is certainly not a habit for me, yet. I simply think about the five senses like we learned in elementary school. What do I see? hear? smell? taste? feel? It can be quite a powerful experience and always helps bring me back to the present. Thanks for sharing your tips…I would like to incorporate those, too.

Kabamba July 23, 2014 at 6:11 am

This is what it comes down to.

Nathan July 27, 2014 at 8:17 pm

May I suggest a step #4? “What am I doing?”

I mixed this with the advice in Peter Bregman’s book “18 Minutes” to set an hourly chime to pause, reflect, and refocus. When my watch chimes, or spontaneously, I pause, take a breath, and notice my surroundings, my feelings, my thoughts, and my current actions. It’s been a good mindfulness exercise and a way to keep from spending too much time on some distraction.

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