Our daily operating mode can be a monotonous, automatic pattern of actions. It stems from what we believe about ourselves and the world around us. If we're always concerned about "what's next," we're not concerned with what's going on right now.
We can choose a more intentional mode that allows us to be developing of others, caring of ourselves and others. It allows us to be confident and compassionate. Those two values aren't polar opposites!
When we're driving to work, I bet you could articulate how many turns it takes, how long you need to be on a certain road before you turn, where to anticipate traffic, and so on.
While your car might not be on cruise control, I bet your mind is. How many other decisions are made on cruise control?
How often, when someone asks, "how are you?" do you respond with a quick "good" followed by the requisite, "and you?"
What if we slow things down a bit?
Here are my top four tips for moving out of "cruise" control and stepping back into the driver's seat of your every day experiences. If you want to call it "being present," go ahead!
1. Wiggle your fingers
Wiggle your fingers and toes! Really, it helps you stay focused on the wiggling activity! When you're wiggling both your fingers and toes, you really can't focus on anything else. This mindfulness activity can be associated with any other task. Maybe you set up a goal that every time you take a wiggle break, you also take notice of one thing to appreciate from the morning. You've activated your fingers and toes, so why not activate your gratitude mindset too!
2. Take Ten
One way to de-escalate an intense emotion is to take ten seconds to check-in with yourself. Why am I feeling this way? What steps do I take to change the feeling? Or change my surroundings? If I'm feeling bored and disconnected, I sometimes will use Take Ten to ask myself "What needs to get done? What can I do to accomplish a small goal and re-direct my energy?"
Talking to myself is the easiest way to connect myself back to reality.
3. Give yourself a quiz
If you're driving to work, try to stay present by reading the signs or advertisements along the way. If you're listening to the radio, don't just sing along (studies show that humans recall lyrics in almost a miraculous way--and they trigger emotions too!). Think about where you might have been when you heard that song for the first time, or what that song reminds you of.
If you're going for a walk, make a goal to count how many squirrels you see, how many times your dog stops to pee, or anything that you might typically observe without consciously thinking about it.
4. Ask "What should I be paying attention to?"
Perhaps you're on your way to a meeting and someone stops to talk with you on the sidewalk or in the hallway. Ask your self, "what should I be paying attention to?" This allows me to re-focus on the conversation and connect more authentically with what my conversation partner is saying. If I'm just thinking about my response or paying attention to how late I might be, I'm losing an opportunity to be present in a conversation. Chances are your non verbals are giving away that you're not paying attention. The next time you do have ample time to connect with that person, they might think you're standoffish and not give you the opportunity.
Mindfulness might sound like yoga and mediation (also..good things!!), but it's really about stopping to think about what you're thinking about (how meta!).
So, what's your tactic for staying present with yourself and others?