Stay in the moment. We’ve all heard the saying, but what does that even mean? We’re not time travelers; of course, we are in the moment.
But the reality is, we all do a lot of time travel. In our heads. We dwell on the past and worry about the future. That past can grow and morph into a much worse reality than it actually was. And by reliving that past over and over, it takes on a life of its own.
How often have you heard someone talk about an experience that you shared? And as they tell the story, you’re thinking, that’s not the way it happened. That person has fixated on details that bothered them and made them into something worse than it was. And in each subsequent telling, it gets worse and worse.
And the future? What future? Whose future? Most of the time, we worry about a future that may not even happen. Or if it is inevitable, blow it up way out of proportion. How many times have you dwelled upon and dreaded a meeting the next day, and it turned out to not be such a big deal? Or worse than that, you stay awake all night thinking about something that might happen tomorrow. And it never does.
Every minute of that time, reliving the past or worrying about the future is not only a complete waste of time, it’s detrimental to your peace of mind. It replaces the happiness and serenity you could be experiencing with dread and remorse. And it’s all in your head.
Just stop it.
I know, I’ve been there thousands of times. And what I finally figured out is, just like any other skill, it can be mastered with practice. Any time you feel yourself slipping into the past or future, just follow these simple steps. It won’t be easy. The mind is a terrible thing. It will want to drag you back into that dark place. You need to be persistent and practice these things again and again until they become second nature.
Just like a misbehaving toddler, you need to be firm with your inner self. When you realize you are getting out of the moment, physically tell yourself to stop it. Not out loud. You don’t want to scare everyone on the bus. To yourself, say, “Stop!” That action alone will take you out of your head and into the present, at least for a second.
Yeah, I know, you’re already breathing. Or maybe not. How often do you get so deep in your thoughts, you realize you’ve been holding your breath? As soon as you’ve told yourself to stop, take ten deep breaths. Stare at some object in front of you and empty your mind and just breathe.
You need to get back to the present. Look around. Where are you right now? Just like waking up from a bad dream, you need to shake the cobwebs from your mind and get back to the present. What’s the first thing you say to yourself when you wake up from a horrible nightmare? It wasn’t real.
Well, neither were those thoughts that were just banging around in your head. The future certainly isn’t real. It hasn’t happened yet, and may not. It certainly won’t happen the way you were dreading it; it never does. And the past? I’ll bet if someone else were there, they don’t remember it the same way as you do. And even if they do, it’s gone. It’s over. Let it go. Sing that silly-assed Disney song if you have to. Just let it go.
Write in Your Journal
First, write a brief paragraph about what you were just dwelling on. But don’t go back there. This is just a narrative of what just happened. Follow that up with a paragraph on why those thoughts were wrong; the past wasn’t that bad, and the future hasn’t happened yet. You need to keep reinforcing what is terrible about those thoughts.
Then work on your gratitude list. What is good and right about today. About now. What things are happening in your life at this moment that makes you happy. Spend some time on this. As much as I hate the term, it’s fitting, so I’m going to say it anyway. Get to your happy place. It’s your mind; use it. Go somewhere good and write about that.
If you are the type that worries a lot, then this will take a lot of practice. I used to have to practice this as I was driving into or away from work. Either I was dreading the day ahead of me or reliving the day that just finished. Fortunately, I was alone, so if need be, I could yell, “Stop!” to myself. It’s an iterative thing. I would say stop and turn up the music and look at the scenery around me. For about five seconds, then I’d be right back in my head. But the next time, I could stay in the moment for fifteen seconds. With time and practice, I was able to turn it off like a faucet and remain in the now.
When you find yourself worrying about tomorrow or rehashing yesterday, just stop. Try these things out, they worked for me, and they will work for you with time. Listen to some music. Read another incredible and inspiring article. (Probably not as inspiring as this one, but do your best.)
Stay in the moment. It’s where you are. It’s when you are.