How To Be Present

by Emily Thomas April 17, 2018 0 Comments

How To Be Present

At the most recent Making Things Happen Conference this spring, as I sat in the back listening to each of our attendees share over their two days at The Carolina Inn, I noticed something…

Over and over, a theme emerged: women want to be present in their lives. They want to be present for their spouses, present for their kids, perhaps present in their time with the Lord, or even simply present with the task at hand as they move throughout their day.

This sounds like such a twenty-first century problem, doesn’t it? And there’s shame there, like why can’t we just do this thing that sounds so simple?? While I’m sure this has always been a challenge to some degree, the fact is that it is uniquely a “right now” problem: there are more distractions, and more powerful distractions, tempting us than ever before in history. (Can you tell I’m reading The Tech-Wise Family and LOVING IT? :))

Photo by Rachel Coffey

But back to the MTH Conference: this deeply-seated desire to be present was so universal and so keenly felt, but by the same measure, attendees seemed at a loss for how they could create change in this area in their lives. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I wanted to share a few things that have worked for me and for other Cultivate team members. The catch? Very few of these will be surprises to you. We all know these things. The true challenge is doing them. I’m here to encourage you on that, too, as you’ll see below! :) Let’s go!

One final note: when we talk about being present, I don’t think most of us are talking about achieving a blissed-out state of zen. What we want is to live deeply in important moments, giving the people we care about the gift of our attention, and maximizing (in the most heart-centered sense) each moment we have. We want to live and remember each day as distinct and praiseworthy instead of just one more in an undifferentiated slog. Okay, now let’s go :)

1. Define what’s truly important to you and remind yourself of it often. We will never stop talking about the importance of a “why” at Cultivate – it is central to everything we do, and to the message of the PowerSheets! Without a strong and personally meaningful why, we’ll never stick with something that’s challenging or requires something of us. So why does being present matter to you? Define it, write it down, and perhaps picture it visually (I have a simple inspiration board on my fridge that reminds me of the kind of life I want to live — one that is very present).

As an example, part of my why was articulated beautifully in this opinion piece from the New York Times. The author writes that the quantity of “quality” (present) time is almost as important as the quality, that we delude ourselves when we think we can “plan instances of extraordinary candor, plot episodes of exquisite tenderness, and engineer intimacy in an appointed hour.” The truth is that we never know when those moments will show up, so I want to be present and ready for them as often as I possibly can be. “People tend not to operate on cue… We reach out for help at odd points; we bloom at unpredictable ones. The surest way to see the brightest colors, or the darkest ones, is to be watching and waiting and ready for them.”

2. Set a hard boundary. This is perhaps contradictory to my first point, but if being present is something you struggle with, start by setting a discrete time period when you commit to being fully present. It might be in the hour after your kiddos arrive home from school, the thirty minutes when you sit down to dinner or breakfast, or the ten minutes with your spouse before you go to bed. Making a commitment is the first step in keeping it.

3. Don’t just hope things will work out – make a plan. Identify your biggest barrier to being present and make a plan to defeat it. For most of us, I would venture to say it’s our phones. I have found that the very simple practice of putting my phone in the same place on the kitchen counter when I get home from work stops me from having to make a decision every day about whether I’ll have my phone in my pocket, in the bedroom, etc. When I place that phone down, it’s a physical reminder that I’m switching over into uninterrupted time with my daughter.

4. Find a way to quiet your mind. By definition, if we’re not “in the present,” our minds are in the past or future, right? Once my phone is put away, I focus on soaking in as much of the moment as I possibly can — the sights, the sounds, the smells — instead of focusing on what happened earlier that day or what’s to come. It can also be helpful to focus on your breath, especially if you feel a pull to grab that phone!

5. Learn how to be together. Sure, perhaps the best way to be present with someone is to sit by their side and simply listen to them. But, I think we can also be present with each other in ways where our whole world doesn’t need to come to a screeching halt. Some of my favorite moments each day are in the mornings when I’m getting ready for work and my two-year-old is sitting next to me in her high chair eating breakfast. Washing my face, doing my hair, and putting on makeup don’t require much brain power, but since my hands are busy, it’s easy to focus on her and whatever she’d like to talk to me about. If she’s playing independently in the afternoon, I also like to sit on the sofa nearby and read my own book – giving her the gift of my available, present self, even though we aren’t interacting constantly.

6. Make a system for capturing info. Aside from my phone, one of my biggest barriers to being present is all of the stuff constantly swirling in my head. You, too? To dos, worries, reminders, appointments to make, ideas to remember, birthday messages to send… the list goes on. Simply keeping a scratch pad out in our kitchen so I can jot those things down instead of juggling them in my mind goes a long way toward freeing me up mentally to remain “in the moment.”

7. Acknowledge the tension. Like I mentioned at the beginning, just the fact that we struggle with being present can be a source of guilt or shame. Shouldn’t being with our kids be the easiest thing in the world? Shouldn’t sitting with our spouses bring us the most joy? They very well might – but that doesn’t mean the pull of long-held habits is easy to break. You are learning a new way of being, so simply acknowledge the little by little steps you’re taking as well as the set-backs, and keep moving forward!

8. Listen to older people instead of resenting them. We’ve all heard about the frazzled mom at the grocery store who wants to strangle the grandma who says “you’re going to miss these days!” as she tries to wrangle her three screaming kids out the door. Well, my own grandma’s best parenting advice when I asked her was “I just tried to enjoy them.” What a simple, poignant, true thought. To me, that is what being present is about: simply enjoying the people and time I have been given. Keeping that as my focus instead of resenting it, even in the difficult moments of parenting or life, has been a game-changer for me.

Friends, I’d love to hear: is being present something you struggle with? What tactics have helped you be more present in your life?

Emily Thomas
Emily Thomas



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