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It’s difficult to stay in the present. I struggle with this a lot. I’m either living in the past, feeling regret or sadness about things that have already happened. Or I’m living in the future, feeling anxiety or fear about things that haven’t occurred yet.

Living Out of the Present

Living out of the present is a bad deal for three reasons. First, it robs me of my joy. When I’m not living in the present, I can’t experience all the everyday joys and pleasures of my normal life, such as enjoying a good meal or taking in a beautiful sunset. Second, it hurts my connection with others. When I’m not living in the present, I can’t connect as well with the people I love the most. Third, it’s not an effective way to live. Life is full of difficulties and problems to overcome. But the best way to overcome your challenges is to solve problems in the moment, and do the next right thing. Living in the past or the future doesn’t help me do that.

How Do We Live in the Present?

Okay, so we know it’s good to live in the present. But how do we do it? Sometimes living in the present can seem impossible. In general, the best activities help you to connect with your present experience, and get you out of your head. When you are in your head, the tendency is to focus on the past—regret or future—anxiety. Here are 5 activities that help me stay present:

5 Activities to Help Stay in the Present

  1. Meditation. Meditation has been tough for me to do regularly, but it’s a practice that has helped millions of people stay present. In meditation, you basically sit and focus on your breath, or a calming mantra that you repeat over and over again. When a thought enters your mind, you notice it non-judgmentally, and then return to your breath or mantra. I recommend the book 10% Happier, and there are also apps on your phone (e.g., Headspace, Calm) that can help you get started with a meditation practice.
  2. Play with children. Children naturally stay in the present moment. When they are happy, they smile, laugh, and jump for joy. When they are angry, they yell and stomp their feet. When they are sad, they cry. This habit of living in regret and anxiety comes later in life. But kids can help us! To connect well with children, you have to be present. You have to be curious. You have to get down on their level and track where they are at and where they are going.
  3. Strenuous exercise. Exercise has been a game-changer for me. Not only does it improve your physical and mental health, it helps you stay connected to the present moment. For that 30-60-minute time period, you are completely engrossed in the moment and focused on what you are trying to do. My exercise of choice is CrossFit, but the type of exercise doesn’t matter. Pick something you enjoy and do it regularly.
  4. Sex. Sex is a great way to stay in the present moment. In fact, getting distracted will likely hurt your connection with your partner and your sexual performance, so it can be a good training ground for staying with the present moment. Plus, it’s fun and helps you connect with your partner.
  5. Get a dog. I don’t have a dog right now because of my travel schedule, but I love dogs. Part of the reason I love dogs is they help me stay present. Dogs are always living in the present moment—playing, running, jumping, fetching, resting, connecting. When you play with your dog, it draws you into the present moment. It can also help you get outside and connect with people at the dog park—all good things!

Discussion: What is your most effective strategy for staying present?

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