Be present: What does it mean to live in the moment?

Dudes say it all the time. 

“You gotta live in the moment.”

“If you’re having a bad day, just be present.” 

These cliche statements are easy to say. And for those who proudly declare them, it probably makes them feel cool, or like they know something you don’t. 

But what do these sayings actually mean? 

No, you’re not a fool for not knowing. 

And I think if you asked the majority of people, “What does it mean to be present?” they’d be lost for words. 

As a dude who’s been meditating for 17+ years, I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned over my nearly 2 decades of practice, and some examples of how to be present.

What does it mean to be present? A simple definition

Man sitting on doc and being present in nature

While living in the moment can actually be quite difficult, defining it is pretty simple. 

So I’d like to give you an easy definition, one that I lay out in my book An Ordinary Dude’s Guide to Enlightenment. It reads as follows:

The present moment is experienced when you get out of your head, when you stop focusing on thoughts like what to eat for dinner or how you did on your performance review.

When you ignore your thoughts and focus on your senses, only then are you in the present moment. Only then do negative emotions—such as anxiety, depression and even headaches—start to fade.

So being present essentially means to be in touch with your 5 senses. 

Again, saying this is easy. 

But actually living it is a whole nother matter. And I believe there are a few reasons for why this is.

2 reasons being present is so damn difficult

If you want to live in the moment, your 5 senses play an integral role in that process. But just like telling people to “be present” is easy, so is telling people to be more in touch with their 5 senses. And I bet if you try to be in touch with your 5 senses for the next hour, you’ll likely fail. 

This doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. 

Instead, it means there are critical roadblocks that prevent the vast majority of dudes from being in touch with their 5 senses. These roadblocks suck you out of the moment, and most people are completely unaware of their existence. 

Let me break a few of them down for you.

1. Overwhelming emotion knocks you out of the moment

Dude overwhelmed at computer

If you read my recent post, How to Vote like a Zen Master, you know emotion can be used to persuade people and suppress rational thinking. 

Emotion is an incredibly powerful force that is often underestimated. And if you’ve ever seen a zen master—whether in real life, the movies or in a YouTube video—you’ll notice how incredibly calm and composed they are. 

This isn’t by accident. 

Being calm and level-headed enables you to see the world clearly. 

The opposite of that is being in a highly emotional state, like anger or frustration. When you feel these strong emotions, are you really in control? Or are you in a reactive state? 

Plain and simple, strong emotions clouds your mind. Don’t believe me? Let me ask you this…

When you feel a strong emotion (be it joy or frustration) can you turn it off in seconds? Can you suddenly stop feeling the emotion at will, in an instant? 

If you look at your own experience, I think you’ll discover you can’t. And this is why many dudes say and do things they don’t mean when they’re agitated or upset. You are not in control—you are reacting to the strong emotion you’re feeling. 

The key is to prevent yourself from falling into these highly emotional states because you can’t be fully present in them. If you do get sucked in and realize it, know that you’re not thinking clearly, and be extra cautious about the things you say and actions you take. Until the drug-like high of your emotions wears off, you will not be thinking clearly.  

Meditation can help you become more aware of your emotional states, which is why I highly recommend the practice. 

That said, realize that when you remain composed, you’re more likely to be present.

2. End-gaining focuses your attention on the end result

Woman focusing on the end result, instead of living in the moment.

End-gaining may sound like a funny term. It’s not something I invented, but instead is a core principle of the Alexander Technique—a 100+ year old system that helps practitioners stay in the moment. 

I won’t get too much into the Alexander Technique here as it can’t be summed up quickly. But essentially, it’s a practice that teaches you how to be more present, mindful and composed through a series of postural adjustments.

End-gaining is essentially focusing on the end result. So if you’re trying to get something done and not focusing on the quality of your actions, you are end-gaining. 

In other words, you are focusing on the future, instead of the moment happening right now. When you do that, the result is usually poor performance, poor posture and sometimes the experience of emotions like frustration and agitation. 

So how do you stop end-gaining and shift your attention to the present? 

It can actually be quite difficult to do because our society emphasizes the end result: getting things done and living some “happily ever after” that hasn’t yet come. 

So let me share with you a little secret to help that virtually no one talks about.

Find your how—What it means to live in the moment

Woman confidently living in the moment, being present

In Simon Sinek’s popular book Find Your Why, he talks about, well, finding your why

A why is essentially your reason for doing a task or trying to achieve a goal. Having a why is important because it provides you fuel, or a reason, to keep pushing forward when the going gets tough (and when you’re trying to accomplish big goals, it will get tough at some point). 

I totally agree that a why is important, and I even talk it about extensively in my book An Ordinary Dude’s Guide to Habit. But as society places so much emphasis on having a why (as well as the end result) the how or means to achieve the goal gets lost in the process. 

So what does it mean to have a how?

A how is pretty much what it sounds like. It is how you do things, how you go about achieving your goals: it is the way you act, your behavior, the process you follow on the way to your end result. 

A how takes the emphasis off the end result and keeps the focus on the present moment. Because when you focus on how (or the way) you do things, there’s no other place you can be besides the present. 

To clarify the meaning a bit. Think about when you try to complete a task, how do you do it? Do you try to rush through your work, leading your actions to be sloppy or careless? Or do you complete the job with a smile, enjoying the process? 

For example, let’s say someone in your office or home broke a drinking glass and you’re asked to clean it up. You didn’t break the glass and may feel like it shouldn’t be your duty, so you clean it up in a resentful angry manner, stomping your feet and slamming your fists against the floor. Alternatively, you could decide that it doesn’t matter who broke the glass, you want to help any way you can. So you clean it up in a peaceful manner, trying to ensure you get every last scrap of glass off the floor so no one accidentally steps on it and hurts themselves. 

These are examples of your howthe way you do things. 

I’m not gonna sit here and tell you what your how should be. But to give you some ideas and further clarify what a how is, I’d like to give you some examples.

What your how can look like: 3 real-life examples

You’re probably familiar with at least one of these dudes below, as they’re all public figures in one way or another.

1. The leisure how: Somebody Feed Phil

If you’ve a travel lover who’s ever seen the awesome Netflix series Somebody Feed Phil, you probably enjoy Phil’s antics and playful way. 

Part of the reason Phil is so fun to watch is because he has a great how. You could say it is a leisure how. The guy is on holiday all the time, and he is just focused on having a good time and enjoying life. The way he lives his life (at least on TV) is in a leisurely way and you can see this expressed in all his actions, from the continual smile on his face to his jaunty stroll. 

If you’re not familiar with Phil, you can see his how in action in the trailer for Somebody Feed Phil, season 4:

2. The fun how: By rockstar entrepreneur Richard Branson

When it comes to entrepreneurs, Branson is the living embodiment of the word “fun.”

In his fantastic autobiography Losing my Virginity, Branson even mentions that one of his criteria for choosing whether to move forward with a venture is for it to be fun. 

And in that book, you can really see how Branson lives his life in a fun way. 

Through his sex exploits, interactions with real life rockstars and adventerous world-record setting balloon travel, Branson shows readers how you can be ambitious while making sure life is a ride to be enjoyed—which is not something you can say for many entrepreneurs. 

To see Branson’s fun how in action, you can check out one of his many online interviews, like the one below.

The above interview subtly shows how Branson has a fun way about him. You can see it in the contrast of his outfit (jeans, t-shirt and no shoes) to Bensinger’s suit and loafers. And you can also see a continual twinkle in Branson’s eyes and a mischievous smile as he speaks. Not to mention the photo of him in a tank, at the video’s 50 second mark, gleefully crushing Coke cans in New York’s time square as he promotes Virgin Cola.

3. The peaceful how: The monk who walks with peace every step

Thich Naht Hahn is a legend in the mindfulness world. And for good reason. The dude…ahem…monk has written dozens of books on the topic of mindfulness and has an incredibly peaceful way about him. 

You can see Hahn’s peaceful demeanor in action below.

It’s worth noting a few things about Hahn’s behavior. 

If you look at his face, you’ll see he always has a very gentle expression. 

Also, did you notice the quality of his voice? He has a peaceful, soft and gentle tone to his voice. This isn’t an accident. Part of the practice of mindfulness is consciously directing your actions. I can guarantee you that Hahn’s peaceful nature is a deliberate choice.

Being present will transform your life


Remaining calm, saying “no” to end-gaining and discovering your how can dramatically change your life. 

When you focus on how you respond to everyday events, you no longer are at the mercy of things that happen to you. If you lose your job, encounter an angry person, or miss your flight at the airport, you can choose how to respond.

You free yourself from a reactive state. 

What’s more, your how will begin to shape your entire life—improving all areas. Because you’re focusing on the process (or way you live your life), your relationships with family, friends and colleagues will be smoother. And you’ll create more quality work in your job. 

Most importantly, you’ll find more enjoyment in each day. 

Life will stop being a series of ups and downs, and instead become more stable as you realize that the only place life exists is right here and right now. 

So start today. 

Find your how and discover the peace, happiness and satisfaction available in each and every moment. You have no other place to look but right here.

2 thoughts on “Be present: What does it mean to live in the moment?”

  1. This is accessible yet provided some key take a ways I can try to integrate into my life now- thanks for sharing this!

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