Living in the moment.
It sounds so easy. Especially when a celebrity or pro athlete casually mentions it on TV.
You just live in the moment. You just be. You’re just present.
Sounds simple enough.
But how do you know if you’re actually present? I mean, you’re here right now, right? So that should mean you’re present. But everything doesn’t seem perfect, so doesn’t that mean you’re not present?
It can be frustrating and confusing to figure it out, which is why you could probably use some signals to clue you in. But before we get to those, why is it so damn difficult to tell whether you’re living in the moment?
Why is being present difficult?
Have you ever seen one of those pictures that can show two images? You know, like the popular one where you can see either a young lady or an old lady? Or like the one here below:
When you look at this image, you may see the butterfly, the two faces or both. If you didn’t see both immediately, you may wonder why. And the reason is because our minds do not actually see reality as it is.
Your mind is essentially a filter. Everyone’s filters have been shaped differently by their experiences in life, the information they consume and their genetics. So the world you see is not the actual world—it’s the world filtered through your experiences, genetics and information you’ve absorbed.
Don’t believe me?
Check out this Ted Talk by neuroscientist Anil Seth: Your Brain Hallucinates Your Conscious Reality:
I highly encourage you to watch the whole video as it’s incredibly enlightening. But to give you a summary, Anil explains that the brain is stuck in your skull, which is dark and silent. Therefore, your brain has to use signals from your ears, eyes and other senses to guess what’s going on in the world outside. It combines these signals with your past experiences and biology to show you what you actually experience in the world.
The point is, your mind is an unreliable source to ask whether or not you’re present. And by mind I basically mean your thoughts.
To be present is to look for it in a place much more concrete, outside of your thought process. And that’s what the following signs point towards. So without further ado, let’s dig in.
5 signs you're present
1. You are calm (even if you're angry, upset or depressed)
When you are present, you are calm. You feel more at ease, you breathe a little slower and life becomes a bit more effortless.
If you aren’t calm, your perception may be distorted by strong emotions or racing thoughts. You start missing the natural peace that exists in every moment and instead get sucked into your thinking or emotions. Your attention narrows, and you no longer notice all the things happening around you.
Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t feel anger or other emotions when you’re present. But their effect on you will not totally consume your thinking or feelings. You can still notice a sense of calm in the midst of your anger, sadness or other emotion.
So if you’re wondering if you’re present, observe how calm you are.
2. You are clear headed and can recognize your emotional state
Clear headedness goes hand in hand with calm. When you’re calm, it’s easier to see the world clearly. You’re not wrapped up in emotion or thoughts. You’re not zoned in on one thing. You can notice many things at once—sounds, smells, sensations in your body and objects.
Again, you can still be angry or upset and have a clear head. Just because a moment doesn’t seem perfect doesn’t mean you aren’t present. Presence isn’t about perfection. It’s about being more aware of yourself, the world around you and not being consumed by thoughts or emotions.
So if you ask yourself, “How am I feeling?”, if you can acknowledge your emotional state (whether anger, happiness or joy) then you’re clear headed enough to know you are emotional right now. When that happens, you can recognize that the emotion is not who you are, but is just a temporary state that will pass if you allow it.
And when you can recognize that, you are in fact present.
3. You ask yourself if you're present
Just like you can ask yourself, “How am I feeling?” you can also ask, “Am I present? Is my attention here and now?” By doing this, you refocus on the moment. What does that mean?
It means you stop completely focusing on your thoughts or emotional state, and instead look around you. You give some attention to your senses—your hearing, sight, smell or sense of touch or taste.
If you read my recent article Be Present: What does it mean to live in the moment? you know that being present is to be in touch with your senses. Remember, your mind is like a filter and when you focus on things in the concrete world, perception is less distorted. Emotion and thoughts can’t consume you.
For example, if you notice your feet are on a hard floor or hear the sound of a woodpecker pecking a tree, those are concrete things directly tied to your senses, devoid of emotion. You don’t tell yourself a story about them. And when you observe them, you are in the present: not focusing on a story, but on the concrete world around you.
4. You notice your breathing
You’ve probably heard this one before. Breathing is often touted as one of the primary ways to be mindful. The reason is simple. When you’re present, you begin to notice your breathing more. It happens almost naturally, without you having to concentrate on it.
Also, your breathing starts to become more at ease. Your breath will move effortlessly in and out and you will feel that sense of calm talked about in sign 1 on this list.
5. You consciously choose your actions
If your thoughts or emotions seem out of control, then your mind is not present. When you’re in the moment, you feel in command of your actions, your thoughts and even your emotional state. Reading this post so far, you may think I am a hater of thinking—that thoughts and thinking are bad and you should avoid them.
But that’s not true at all.
Thinking is fine and can be good. But most of the time dudes are not thinking intentionally. Their thoughts go on non-stop, like some rambling person who can’t shut up. That’s what the mind likes to do. But what I’m talking about here is being very conscious of your thinking process. Thinking on purpose, so to speak.
If you’ve read my book An Ordinary Dude’s Guide to Enlightenment, you know that the mind is a tool. And that tool can be used to accomplish great things: building a skyscraper, planning a vacation or even ordering a pizza.
But when the tool tries to apply itself to all situations, (especially ones that don’t need it) like enjoying a sunset on your porch or driving on a long road trip, then it can cause problems. Just like if you use a hammer to build a house, you don’t bring the hammer home to your dinner table and use it as a utensil to eat. You leave it at the workplace and only use it when needed. The same is true for your thought process.
Take control of it. Use it when you need it, otherwise drop it. When you can consciously control your thoughts and actions, you are present.
But one last thing...it's impossible to not be present
While the five signs above will clue you into whether or not you are present, know that it’s really impossible for you to not be present. Think about it. How could you not be?
You are always right here. Even if you’re daydreaming about something 10 years ago or are belligerently screaming at the pizza delivery guy for bringing you Mountain Dew instead of Coke (not that that’s happened to me, ahem).
You are always right here.
The key is, do you recognize it? That’s what the five signs above are really about. Bringing your attention to the present moment because that is where peace, calm and joy truly exist.
So start to shift your attention to the present moment today.
Pay attention to the concrete world around you, notice your breathing and emotional state, and you’ll slowly train yourself to live in the present moment every day. Once you do that, you’ll certainly find a sense of calm, ease and happiness that led you to this blog in the first place.