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Being present means being fully conscious of and engaged with our experience, even if that experience is difficult. When we are lost in thought, reliving the past, or going through the motions, it interferes with how we act in the present.

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Spending an excessive amount of time worrying about the future or resentful about things that have happened in the past – to the extent where it interferes with how an individual functions in the present – can be clinically problematic.

It is important to remember that the here and now is where behavior happens. The present is the only place where we actually do our living and can make changes that are in keeping with what matters to us.If you are completely present, the external forces are no longer a problem, because there is only you and that external force, in this moment, and not a million other things you need to worry about.

But it’s not always easy. Not only is it natural for our minds to wander, but we also tend to have inaccurate memories of our past and visions of our future that get in the way of engaging with the present as it is. There is a lot of uncertainty involved with being present that makes people anxious and inclined to avoid doing the work.

Stress, anxiety, and regret can also make it difficult to focus on the present moment. But living in the moment, although difficult, can benefit your relationships, productivity, and, most importantly, overall wellness.

A significant body of evidence in mental health research shows that being present can help individuals who are struggling deal with their pain more effectively, reduce their stress and decrease its impact on their wellbeing, as well as improve their ability to cope with negative emotions like fear and anger.

Practice, practice, and being present will become natural.

Here’s how to do it: whatever you’re doing, right now, learn to focus completely on doing that one thing. Pay attention: to every aspect of what you’re doing, to your body, to the sensations, to your thoughts. You will notice your thoughts, if you’re paying attention, jump to other things. That’s OK — you are not trying to force all other thoughts from your mind. But by becoming aware of that jumping around in your thoughts, you have found the tool for gently bringing yourself back to your present task. Just notice the jumping thoughts, and lovingly come back.

You can build up skills for contacting the present moment through a series of mindfulness exercises. Here are some examples that anyone can use outside of therapy:

  • Tune in to the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations of this very moment.
  • Focus on balancing the time spent thinking about the future, past and present. Work on being aware enough of what is going on in your mind to intentionally think about the past and the future in small doses and devote most of your time to the present.
  • Help declutter your mind through journaling. By getting everything out on paper that is distracting, you can clear your mind to focus on the present.
  • Make the distinction between “noticing” and “thinking.” (i.e., practice cognitive defusion exercises.)
  • Practice breathing exercises, meditation or yoga.
  • Take a walk outside, in nature and appreciate your surroundings.
  • Remind yourself to be present when interacting with the people you care about – really listen and attend to what they are saying.
  • Engage in a routine, everyday activity with full mindfulness – be fully present and notice all aspects of this “regular” activity in a new way.

You might be good at staying present in your personal life but struggle at your workplace. Learning how to be present in the moment at work can allow you to be more productive and create better work. One study found that training yourself to be mindful of the present helps reduce your fight-or-flight and knee-jerk reactions. It teaches you to take a breath, take in your surroundings and events, and then react. You'll think before the words come out, positively changing how you engage with yourself, others, and your work.

Here are four mindfulness practices to keep in mind to bring with you to work:

  1. Make sure you use your break times mindfully
  2. Process your tasks with some rest before starting something new
  3. Check in with yourself when you're feeling stuck
  4. Learn to save tasks for another day after working too hard