We’re always on our way somewhere else. We hustle to get to work. Once we’re at work, we make mental to-do lists for chores we have to get done at home. When we make it back home, we’re often too exhausted to spend much time finishing up that to-do list. Instead, we mull over all the big projects coming up at work. The habit of constantly looking ahead to the next thing becomes a cycle of worry and stress that prevents us from appreciating the only thing we really have control over: the present moment.
Focusing on the present moment is the key for letting go of stress you’ve been carrying around. Instead of worrying about everything in your life, you can zone in on the task at hand. And often that task is a lot simpler than you may have thought. Once you get absorbed in what you’re doing, work can feel so much more satisfying. Instead of resisting and struggling, you become engaged, alert and involved.
Here are a few simple tips to help you find that sense of focus and increase your present moment awareness.
Take It One Day at a Time
In the book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, self-help guru Dale Carnegie encourages people to live in “day-tight compartments.” He uses the analogy of a ship to illustrate his idea. Ships are designed to have separate compartments that can be closed off in case of emergency, making the risk of sinking much smaller. If one part of the ship fills with water, you can simply lock off that compartment and continue on your way.
So often, we function like poorly designed ships. We allow one problem (or several) to fill up our whole minds and take over our lives. After awhile, we become immobilized with worry. Dale Carnegie’s solution is to take life one day at a time. Everyone can get through one day. When we take on more than that, we eventually run into trouble.
So try not to worry about your entire life. Don’t even worry about tomorrow. Just live today. Letting go of the need to manage your whole future can free you to live your life and enjoy the journey.
Focus on What’s Working
Your thoughts are powerful. Whatever you focus on tends to increase. If you focus on potential problems, they will become bigger and bigger. If you focus on the good things in your life, extraordinary blessings will start popping up everywhere you look. Your life may not be any different, but the way you look at your life changes the way you experience it. Plus, the whole self-fulfilling prophesy effect can play a role as well.
Helen Keller put it this way, “Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow.” What a beautiful reminder. Face the sunshine and start paying attention to what’s working. Celebrate the good things in your life whether it’s a new job prospect, a friendly co-worker or a steady paycheck.
A simple way to focus on the positive is to write out a list of everything you’re grateful for. While you’re at work, you can type it out into a word document. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate, but taking the time to notice and appreciate all the things that are going right will make you realize how lucky you really are. Your worries will fade into the background.
This may seem obvious, but saying “thank you” is another great way to practice gratitude. When a co-worker successfully completes a tough project, say thanks. When the baristas at the local coffee shop make you a delicious drink, let them know you appreciate it. Building positive connections with the people around you reinforces your sense of well being. It makes everyone else feel better, too.
Don’t Buy into the Grass-Is-Greener Myth
You’ve heard the saying, “The grass is always greener on the other side.” We know that once we get over there, it isn’t really greener. It just looks that way from a distance. The grass-is-greener myth prevents us from recognizing how good we’ve got it. Instead, we spend our time wishing for something better.
When you were in high school, you might have fantasized about how great it would be to be living on your own. You longed to experience more freedom and independence. But once you were on your own, you couldn’t help but think about how amazing high school was. No worries. No responsibility. No bills. If only you could go back!
That might not be your personal experience, but there may be other phases of life you tend to idealize. Maybe you think your life will really take off when you get married or get promoted or have a baby. While those goals are certainly worthwhile, don’t let them prevent you from appreciating the here and now.
Narrow down your focus to this day, this moment, this place. Then act. Get involved. Find what works. Give thanks. And be present.
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