By Bill Reeb
Have you ever caught yourself daydreaming and realized a significant amount of time has passed while you were on autopilot and you can’t remember any details in between?
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In the beginning, when I was driving back and forth between Austin and Arlington when Michaelle was earning her Ph.D., I found that there were times when my mind would get immersed in a topic and when I came back to the present, I might have driven between 50 and 100 miles. I couldn’t remember passing through cities. I did make the drive often, so the road was familiar, but what a scary thought that I was driving a death machine at 70 miles an hour on a crowded freeway and had no recollection of my navigation for such a long distance.
It is hard to stay in the present. Our minds like to drift. As a matter of fact, I don’t believe we can stop them from starting to drift. But I do know we can stop them from continuing to drift.
We start thinking about what could be, or what is, or what went wrong and before you know it, we are like sleepwalkers only partially aware. You would think this mental wandering would occur only in a relaxed festive environment (like floating in the water with a cold beer in your hands), but I can find myself drifting playing sports, engaged in a conversation, in the heat of a conflict or doing almost anything. While I usually won’t migrate for long in very active circumstances, I certainly might drift for seconds or even a minute or two. Staying in the present means that all of your attention, not just part of it, is tuned in to right now.
By staying in the now as much as possible, you will reap many benefits. Consider minor benefits like remembering someone’s name after an introduction. Why do we forget so often? Because most of us aren’t in the now. We are thinking about what we are going to say, or admiring the way that person is dressed, or considering any number of ideas. We don’t remember that person’s name because, technically, our mind was not present at the time of the introduction.
Where I see people experience immediate negative results for separating from the moment is when they get mad at themselves for something they just did. I struggle with this. The rational part of my brain can be quickly overwhelmed by the emotional part of it. But for every second my head is wrapped around my current failure, I stand a greater chance of compounding that with another failure because I am no longer operating in the now. In golf, I try to let the bad shot go and focus only on what I am doing right now with my next one. In martial arts, I have to forget that I just poorly executed a big-air break fall and get my head back into the present or I will likely really hurt myself with my next attempt. As a facilitator (consultant), I have to stay in the present all meeting long because I know that anytime I slip away, I not only have an excellent chance of missing important information, but that wandering might prohibit me from being able to find a solution for my client.
Tune into your life as it is happening right now and you will find joy and pleasure all around you. By the way, if you decide to use “now” to do something special for yourself – like relax, play a sport, read – don’t diminish that experience by beating yourself up the whole time because you feel like you should be actively pursuing some item on your to-do list. The more and the longer you can stay in the present, the easier it will be for you to find ways to work better, work smarter, and avoid defaulting to working longer and harder.
List a few situations where you know you are having a hard time staying in the present.
What signals can you monitor that will alert you that you are starting to drift?