After the holidays, it is easy to feel as though time flew by before you got the chance to stop and soak it all up. You might blame a brutal work schedule that dominated your holiday season or an insurmountable pile of stressors that stole away any chance of feeling truly present for the festivities. In reality, however, being present is something that is easier said than done, regardless of your schedule or stress level.
So why is something that sounds easy to do actually so difficult? Isn’t living in the moment supposed to happen organically? The truth is, not exactly.
Feeling present during daily life is something that many would consider synonymous with being mindful. Wherever You Go, There You Are, a book authored by Jon Kabat-Zinn, defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” This definition of mindfulness is widely used in research, and it highlights exactly what makes being present so difficult. Being present requires a purposeful, yet unforced, recognition of the moment for what it is, not for what we wish it were or what we think it can be. And, quite frankly, that’s a difficult balance to strike.
There are endless reasons why this perfect blend of mindfulness and mindlessness is so hard to find, but you can likely relate to at least one of these reasons:
- You’re not used to slowing down and allowing your mind a break from productivity or planning ahead
- You let small things feel bigger than they are and allow them to consume more mental energy than they deserve
- You anticipate the end of a “good” moment before it is over and are letting the anticipation of the end interfere with your appreciation for the present moment.
Controlling the emotions that lead to any or all of the reasons listed above is where the purposeful part of being mindful comes in. Contrary to popular belief, being purposeful about mindfulness doesn’t equate to clearing your schedule or only doing things you enjoy; in fact, a study found that increased stress can actually boost mindfulness because of the level of awareness that stressful events require (Nezlek et al., 2016).
Rather, being purposefully present is a not matter of seeking out the perfect time to appreciate the current moment, such as during a holiday or on a vacation, but instead seeking out the imperfect times and acknowledging those too. It takes practice, but any good habit does.
There are many ways to help yourself feel more present through practices that boost mindfulness. Research shows that activities such as meditation, journaling, exercise, and talking with a psychologist can help you feel more mindful and learn to feel present in the moment (Xia et al., 2019), regardless of whether it is exciting or ordinary.