How to be present: It’s something many of us wonder about, because there’s no question that the benefits of living in the moment are plentiful. Being truly present helps us live more fulfilling lives, lowers our levels of stress and anxiety, helps us eat more mindfully, and helps us enjoy every moment.
But for most people, living in the present moment is easier said than done. Our minds tend to wander — and often to negative thoughts, which can lead to negative emotions. Luckily, there’s a lot you can do to encourage your mind to stay fully present. Here are 11 tips to help you get started.
1. Practice deep breathing
Breathing is one of the most mindless things we do. No matter what, our lungs remember to breathe. But when you tune into your breath and deepen it, you’ll instantly enter a more mindful state, one where you’re focusing on the magic of your inhales and exhales. Deep breathing helps calm our entire nervous system, and brings us into the present.
2. Focus on the small things
Think about all the small tasks you do in your day-to-day life: Washing the dishes, making the bed, brewing a pot of coffee. Often when we’re in the midst of these tasks, we’re not really noticing them — maybe we’re listening to a podcast, or thinking about getting through them so we can move on to the next thing.
Instead, try focusing on exactly what you’re doing. Pay careful attention to each dish you wash, feeling the water and soap suds on your skin. Admire how they gleam when you’re done. This practice, while simple, will go a long way when it comes to helping you stay present.
3. Practice gratitude
Taking a moment to list what we’re grateful for, whether out loud or in a journal, can help calm the monkey mind. Instead of dwelling in the past or worrying about the future, a gratitude practice helps us realize what’s great about our lives right now, in this very moment.
4. Try meditation
Sitting down for a few minutes every day with the intention of quieting your mind is a powerful (if difficult!) practice. But over time, mindfulness meditation can be a useful tool for helping you stay present and get happier overall. Not sure where to start? Try these meditation apps.
5. Do your best to reduce stress in your day-to-day life
This might not seem like the most obvious practice to help you stay present, but by identifying needless areas of stress in your life and figuring out how to eliminate them to the best of your ability, you’ll find that you’re living this present more naturally.
Reducing stress in your day-to-day life can help you stay present.
6. Stay connected to the people you love
It’s no secret that the last few years haven’t exactly been great for our social lives, family ties, and our ability to connect with others. But making a purposeful effort to stay connected to the people you love can help you stay in the present moment and enhance your gratitude practice.
While technology isn’t always beneficial, there’s no question that it has increased the number of ways we can connect with others, so if you’re still uncomfortable seeing people in person, FaceTime or Zoom can be great alternatives to in-person hangouts.
7. Tune in to your five senses
We have five main senses: Sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. If you’re working on being more present, tuning into each of these can be a great way to help you stay present. Notice what you see, what you smell, what you hear, how your food tastes, and how it feels to touch ordinary, everyday objects that you usually wouldn’t think twice about.
8. Take a mental health day
While this is a fairly new concept, in our culture of burnout, many employers are getting more comfortable with the idea of their employees taking a mental health day. But if that’s not possible at your job, you can always dedicate a weekend day to your mental health. By spending a day slowing down and taking the best possible care of your mental health, you may find that it’s easier to stay in the present moment instead of always thinking about what’s coming next.
9. Practice letting go
Learning to let go takes practice — and a lot of it. But by practicing non-attachment and learning to let go of things that don’t serve you (these can include people and thoughts), you’ll move one step closer to living in the present moment.
10. Spend less time on social media (and your phone in general)
Nothing yanks us out of the present moment faster than our phones. Whether you’re dealing with the constant pings of new emails coming in or jealously scrolling through the tropical vacation pictures of someone you hardly know, if you want to be more present, one of the best steps you can take is to spend less time on your phone.
11. Try a body scan
Another mindfulness exercise, a body scan — which starts with you calling attention to the top or your head and ending at the tips of your toes — is a helpful way to stay present. It can help calm you down, too.
12. Let your mind wander
It may sound counterintuitive, but letting your mind wander is key to staying present, because it allows your thoughts to drift in a natural, often meditative way. And in case it's not obvious, your mind will have a very hard time wandering if your phone is present, so try focusing on something — the nature scene outside your bedroom window, for example — and let your mind wander to whatever it naturally wants to. Letting your mind wander can complement a meditation practice quite well, because meditation is about letting thoughts go, and mind wandering is about embracing them. You need a little bit of both for mindful living.
13. Try a simple "blue sky" visualization
Try visualizing your mind as a blue sky. Of course, clouds will show up—that’s how the weather works!–but we tend to trust that they will pass without thinking about it, knowing that the blue sky is underneath.
In the case of this visualization, the blue sky is your mind, and the clouds are your thoughts. When thoughts come in that yank you from the present moment (especially if those thoughts are negative) try imagining that they’re clouds. Acknowledge them, but don’t get too involved in them. Just let them quietly drift away.
14. Go for a hike
We know spending time in nature is amazing for our mental and physical health. And when it comes to staying present, being in nature can help remind us of the hugeness and glory of the world around us, which will get you out of your head quickly and bring you into the present moment. If hiking isn’t your thing, a walk around the neighborhood can help. Or, if you have easy access to a beach, try putting your toes in the sand, closing your eyes, and listening to the sound of the waves. Nature is so healing for the body and mind.
15. Do something that requires your full attention
When you’re doing something that requires your full focus, it’s really hard to leave the present moment. Think about a workout class that you’ve never taken before that has some complicated moves—it’s really hard to dwell on anything when you’re so caught up in trying to make sure you’ve got all that fancy footwork right. If workout classes aren’t your thing, try something that really engages your brain, like learning a new language or instrument, or cooking something you’ve never cooked before.
No matter how you go about it, finding a way to be as present as possible has endless benefits. Want to dive deeper into your personal growth journey? Read these 4 Tips for Intentional Living This Year.