Living in the moment with some form of anxiety or worry is easier said than done. It’s human nature to reflect on the past and look forward to the future. But it’s also worthwhile to practice mindfulness in the here-and-now.
Living in the moment can help you get the most out of every day and enjoy things as they happen. So how do you start living in the moment? Here are 18 simple strategies to help you live more mindfully.
1. Observe Your Breath
Perhaps the simplest way to increase mindfulness and your ability to live in the moment is through observing your breaths. This doesn’t mean changing your breathing pattern or breathing differently in any way. It just means focusing in on each breath--in and out.
We don’t often pay close attention to our breaths; after all, breathing is an autonomic process that happens without any effort on our part. But taking the time out to appreciate the process can be a worthwhile exercise.
2. Notice Sensory Details in Everyday Tasks
The most common times we tune out and daydream about the past or future is during everyday, mundane tasks. But you can live in the moment, even during these seemingly uninteresting tasks.
While you’re brushing your teeth, for example, pay attention to how the cold water feels on your teeth, gums, and tongue.
Count each second, and deliberately scrub each tooth, front to back. Listen to the way the brush sounds, and take in the scent of wintergreen (or peppermint, if that’s your thing). You can use your senses to make any everyday task feel like a new experience.
3. Start a Meditation Practice
In addition to changing the way you experience everyday chores, you can take up a new practice to improve your ability to live in the moment. If you’re just getting started with meditation, start with just five minutes per day. Then, slowly increase your time until you reach 20 or 30 minutes.
Find a peaceful place at home, sit in a comfortable position, and just observe your breaths, thoughts, and the world around you. Don’t focus on any one thought as it comes into your mind, but don’t try to force it out, either. Just let the thought enter, then exit smoothly and without worry. If you need some help, try a meditation app.
4. Look Around You
All of your senses are useful for living in the moment, but you can also home in on just one: your sense of sight. Whenever you want to improve your mindfulness, take a look around, and try to notice as many details as you can.
Then, choose one focal point (a glass vase, a book on the coffee table, or a shoe on the floor). Really look at that item, focusing on a single millimeter at a time.
You don’t have to worry about coming up with descriptive adjectives about the item; just let your thoughts about the thing flow as you really see it. Do this for a full two minutes.
5. Practice Minimalism
You can help yourself live in the moment more each day by cleaning up the space around you. Our homes get cluttered with things from our past that we don’t really use anymore. And you might find yourself “stocking up” on certain items in preparation for the future.
To live more in the moment, create a daily or weekly practice of removing items you’re not using. If you have a stockpile of bulk goods, find a place for those things that’s out-of-sight. This allows you to think less about the past and future, and more about the here and now.
6. Forgive Past Hurts
In addition to clearing out the clutter from your home or workspace, it can help to clear the “clutter” from your mind. Often, that clutter consists of hurts and conflicts from the past.
Forgiving past hurts doesn’t mean forgetting about those who’ve wronged you. Instead, it means accepting that those wrongs happened and moving past them as best you can.
At the same time, forgiving past hurts means forgiving yourself for wrongs against others, and against yourself. Again, this doesn’t mean forgetting those things ever happened; it just means allowing yourself to move past those hurts.
7. Pick a Mindfulness Cue
You can remind yourself to live in the moment by carrying with you a physical “cue.”
Your cue could be as permanent as a tattoo somewhere you’ll see it every day, or as simple as a piece of string tied around your wrist.
Each time you notice your “cue,” you’ll remember to appreciate the present moment.
8. Change Your Routine
Repeating the same routine, day after day, can create a rut. You might perform the same tasks every day, to the point where you don’t pay attention to each activity anymore.
Maybe you wake up in the morning, and the next thing you know, it’s time for dinner and bedtime.
You can break out of that kind of rut, and live more in the moment, by changing up your routine. Even a small change, like taking a different route to work, can help you appreciate each moment for the unique experience it is.
9. Appreciate Waiting Time
Another time we tend to let our minds wander away from the present is when we’re waiting for something to happen.
Waiting is inevitable in the modern world--waiting in traffic, standing in line at the pharmacy, or waiting for a business call are all-to-frequent activities. It’s easy to get impatient at those times and wish time would go by just a little bit faster.
Instead, you can live in the moment, even during those dull waiting periods. One way is by considering waiting time as “break time.” It’s time you get to spend away from the other stresses of everyday life. Take deep breaths, and pretend you’re on a mini-vacation.
10. Focus On a Single Task
Multitasking can cause the time to pass by even faster than usual. When you’re brain is running a million miles a minute, it’s hard to take a step back and slow down.
You can help yourself live in the moment by focusing on just one task at a time. While multitasking might be unavoidable at some points of your day, devoting yourself to a single activity as much as you can is a valuable strategy.
Try focusing only on eating dinner, for example (without watching TV or even having a conversation). Try dedicating your attention only to stretching, and notice how each tendon and ligament feels as you do so.
11. Absorb Your Breaks
Even when we get a full break from work, school, or other potential stressors, it can be hard to relax completely. Often, we might find ourselves counting down the minutes until we have to return to work. We might feel guilty for taking so much time away from the desk, causing us to spend our break worrying, rather than resting.
When you do get a break, make sure to soak it in. Dedicate your break time to taking a break, whether it’s mentally or physically, and dedicate your work-time to working.
12. Practice Gratitude
It’s easy to overlook the parts of everyday life that we rely on. But if those things were to suddenly disappear, we would miss them dearly. To improve your ability to live in the moment, it’s worthwhile to practice gratitude.
You can simply think about the things you’re most grateful for at the beginning or end of each day, or you can take the time to write in a gratitude journal.
13. Focus On One Sense at a Time
We already discussed using your sense to live in the moment when you’re performing mundane tasks throughout the day. But you can also improve your ability to live in the moment by homing in on just one sense at a time when you’re doing nothing at all.
Sit comfortably, with your eyes open, and just pay attention to what you can hear. Spend 30 seconds on your sense of hearing, noticing each detail. Then, move to your sense of touch. Don’t move your body; just notice how the air feels on your skin, or how the chair feels on your back. Focus on your sense of smell, taste, and sight next.
14. Push Your Body
You’re probably used to your body feeling about the same each and every day, with minor variations. You can live in the moment by noticing new sensations and within your muscles, bones, ligaments, and tendons.
Push yourself slightly beyond your comfort zone the next time you exercise. If you don’t already have a workout routine, it’s a good time to start. Pay attention to how the movements make each part of your body feel.
15. Stretch Your Mind
Just as pushing your body just beyond your comfort zone can bring you back to the present, stretching your mind can help you live in the moment, too.
Read a book with lots of words you have to look up, or take a class at your local college or online. Making your brain build new connections will let you notice new things as you go through your day.
16. Take Time for Self-Care
It’s important to push yourself mentally and physically, but it’s also crucial to take care of yourself.
Dedicate time each day to caring for your body and mind, whether it’s taking a bubble bath, painting your nails, or writing in a journal. Taking care of yourself helps you live in the moment by grounding you, body, and soul.
17. Count to Ten
If you have 20 or 30 seconds, you can practice living in the moment with a simple exercise. Each time you do this exercise, it’ll become easier and easier. You can even use this technique when you’re meditating.
All you do for the “count to 10” mindfulness exercise is, well, count to 10. Count each breath (one inhale and exhale is a “breath”) until you get to 10.
The challenge is that, once you reach 10, you have to start over at “one.” If you find yourself at 11, you’ll know you let your mind wander, and you’ve gone too far. When this happens, no big deal. Just try again.
18. Be Kind to Others
Finally, a great way to live in the moment is by showing kindness to others. When you do something kind for someone else, you make a human connection that grounds you to the present.
And showing kindness to others can help those other people live in the moment, too!
Benefits of Living in the Moment
Living in the moment may not be possible, or even preferable, all the time. Reflection on the past and planning for the future are important, too.
But if you have the strategies and tools to live in the moment, you can employ them any time you want. You can “turn on” your live-in-the-moment mode for special events, and you can make sure to get the most out of memorable moments.
And while planning and reflecting come naturally to most people, living in the moment might not. So if you can learn how to live in the moment, you’re well ahead of the curve.