How to Live in the Moment: 14 Tips for Staying Present
How do you get out of your head and start living more in the moment? Discover some strategies that can help you stay present and enjoy your life more.
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What Does It Mean to Live in the Moment?
When people talk about living in the moment they are often talking about mindfulness, or “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment” (Kabat‐Zinn, 2003). This type of mindful, present-focused living keeps you out of your head, stops you from ruminating on things that went wrong in the past, and lessens the amount of time you spend worrying about what could go wrong in the future. And engaging in rumination or worry have all sorts of negative impacts on our well-being. As a result, living in the moment can enable you to enjoy the moment more and feel like your life is more meaningful or fulfilling.
Why Is It Good to Live in the Moment?
Mindfulness interventions have been shown to have positive effects on both anxiety and depression (Khoury et al, 2013). That's in part because when we get stuck in our heads we might not be able to notice the good things that are right in front of us.
But learning how to be more present isn't always easy. If we are the kind of person whose mind wanders and we are always imagining or thinking about something, how do we pull ourselves back to the present moment? Here are some strategies and techniques to try.
1. Try Mindfulness Meditation
Guided mindfulness meditations can help you build the skills that make it easier to live in the present moment. They do this by teaching you to focus on your bodily sensation and your breathing. By practicing focusing on your breath, you are really practicing focusing on the present moment. Below is a mindfulness mediation you to try.
Video: Staying present in the moment meditation
2. Try Not to Let Your Mind Wander
When our minds wander we are less present in the moment. Maybe we are reviewing our ToDo list in our minds, thinking about what exactly a colleague meant when she said "You're cute." Or maybe we're just off somewhere because life in the present moment is boring, depressing, or bothersome.
Although we might think our mind wandering is helping us, the research shows mind wandering almost always makes us less happy. So next time you find yourself off somewhere, try to pull yourself back. We're actually better off being in the present, even if the present involves doing things we don't really want to be doing (Killingsworth & Gilbert, 2010).
3. Try the Raisin Exercise
The raisin exercise involves using all five senses to explore a raisin. First, observe its appearance, noticing each crevice. Then notice how it feels in your hand. Then put it up to your nose and notice its smell. Then put the raisin on your tongue and pay attention to how it feels. Then bite into it and notice how it tastes. Finally, chew and swallow it noticing how it feels going into your body. This exercise can help you become more aware of your senses and physical experiences. You can extend this skill to other things in your life to help yourself be more present.
4. Practice Gratitude
Gratitude is thought to be an orientation towards noticing and appreciating the positive things in the world. Gratitude is strongly related to well-being (Wood, Froh, & Geraghty, 2010), and it can't exist without first living in the present moment. That's because if we're not present, we won't notice all the things around us that we might be grateful for—things like the smell of fresh-cut grass, the feel of the wind on our cheeks, or the sight of a flower growing between sidewalk squares in the middle of a city. By working to practice gratitude, we'll help cultivate our "awareness" skills and remind ourselves of the positivity that can come from staying present.
5. Forgive Yourself and Others
Forgiveness is not an easy thing to do, but if we want to be more present, it can be helpful. All resentments do is keep us mentally trapped in the past instead of being able to be present now and move toward a better future.
In one study, a group of participants underwent a forgiveness intervention. The intervention focused on:
These practices resulted in significant decreases in anger (Luskin et al., 2001). This suggests that by forgiving, we can let go of anger that keeps us mentally stuck in the past and unhappy in the present.
6. Stop Rumination Cycles
Rumination is "a mode of responding to distress that involves repetitively and passively focusing on symptoms of distress and on the possible causes and consequences of these symptoms" (Nolen-Hoeksema, Wisco, & Lyubomirsky, 2008). When we ruminate, we stay fixated on our problems, our feelings, or our experiences, and we don't take action to resolve them. As a result, rumination is associated with greater levels of depression and anxiety.
When we live in the present, we may still have negative emotions about things that happen to us. But instead of turning them over and over again in our minds, we take actions to change those emotions in the moment. For example, if we're mad about something our romantic partner did, instead of thinking out about how rude they were and how mad we are at them, we go and talk to them, tell them how we feel, and request that they behave differently next time.
7. Tamp Down Worries
Just as rumination focuses our attention on the past, worries focus our attention on the future. Often we spend the present thinking about all the bad things that could happen. But when we do this we not only waste time worrying about bad things that might not even occur, we miss out on the good things happening in the present moment. That's why it can be helpful to explore scientifically tested anti-anxiety strategies if we want to be more present. Some helpful tools to check out come from Acceptance & Commitment Therapy.
8. Try Box Breathing
Box breathing is a type of controlled breathing that involves taking slow breaths in and out. Focusing on our breathing helps us practice focusing on something that is happening in the now while also calming down our physiology and reducing stress. If you want to try box breathing, check out the video below to be guided through it.
9. Try The Body Scan Meditation
The body scan exercise involves bringing attention to your body. Close your eyes and shift from one region of the body to the next, paying attention to any sensations you notice. For example, do you notice tightness in your back, a knot in your stomach, or an itch on your foot? By practicing paying attention to what's going on inside of you at this moment, you can build your skills and hopefully make it easier for yourself to stay present. Here's an audio version of this exercise if you'd like to be guided through it.
10. Get a "Living in the Moment" Journal
Taking a few moments each day to record what you notice can be another good way to stay present in the moment. You could keep these notes in your smartphone or grab a bullet journal to keep lists of the things you notice and appreciate once you start paying more attention.
11. Take Mindful Photos
Maybe you're someone who has a hard time keeping your mind from buzzing (I know I am!) Then maybe it'll help you to have a tool to use to stay present. Try snapping a few photos each day. Focus on taking pictures of things you never noticed before. Hmm, I never realized that house was red. I can't believe I never noticed that my dog has a spot that looks like Elvis. Or, wow, that candy has a quote on its wrapper that I never saw before. By taking photos we may be able to help remind ourselves to notice things more.
12. Read Some Books on Living in the Moment
Want to learn even more about living in the moment? Then grab a book to dive deeper into the science behind this important life skill. For example, check out How To Live In The Present Moment, Version 2.0 - Let Go Of The Past & Stop Worrying About The Future. This book will gently guide you through overcoming thought patterns that keep you stuck.
Another classic book on this topic is The Power of Now. This book helps you cultivate a "present focus" as a tool to reach enlightenment. You may also be interested in The Power of Now Journal, which can help you apply some of the teachings through writing practices.
13. Remind Yourself of Your Goal to Live in the Moment
Placing reminders in places you'll regularly see them is a good way to be sure you stick to your goals. If your goal is to live in the moment, write "live in the moment" on a sticky note to attach to your fridge or grab a nice "Live in the Moment" sign to place on your mantle. You can get "Live in the Moment" wall art to attach anywhere you'd like. Or you could even wear a "Live in the Moment" bracelet to keep this reminder with you in each moment of each day. Regardless of the strategy you choose, finding ways to remind yourself that living in the moment is important to you is an important step to sticking with it.
14. Make a Plan for Living in the Moment
Now that you have some ideas for how you can cultivate the skills that help you live in the moment, it can help you to create and write out a plan that you can stick to. Here are some tips:
Quotes to Inspire You to Live in the Moment
Feeling like you need some more inspiration. Here are a few quotes that might help.
“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”
― Eleanor Roosevelt
“Life is a journey, not a destination.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
“You can't go back to how things were. How you thought they were. All you really have is...now.”
― Jay Asher
"Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn't arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I'm going to be happy in it.”
― Groucho Marx
“The past is behind, learn from it. The future is ahead, prepare for it. The present is here, live it.”
― Thomas S. Monson
More Articles That Can Help You Live in the Moment
Here are some more things to read that can help you build this skill.
Living in the present moment is a great skill that can be extremely helpful for boosting mental health and well-being. Luckily, there are a number of ways to build and grow this skill. Hopefully, these tips here provided you with some activities that are a good fit and make a positive impact on your life.