The Practice of Being Present

Embrace your past, think about the future, but remember that now is the time to live.

The Practice of Being Present

Hello, my name is Samuel and I have a monkey mind.

That is, I have a tendency is to easily get distracted by one shiny thing after another.

It has been one of my many fatal flaws - my inability to focus. Actually, it's not that I can't focus, the challenge is staying focused.

Technology, while good, has allowed our attention to be easily snatched by what we hold in our hands.

Among the many distractions are:

  • Notifications on my phone from social media
  • Emails to deal with
  • Tasks and projects requiring my attention
  • Chats and messages from differerent individuals
  • Finding what to watch on Netflix or YouTube

Deleting apps is not enough. You will eventually have to deal with these 'necessary distractions' eventually.

How does one do that?

The Mindful Art of Being Present

I wrote earlier about Saying 'No' to infinite possibilities. The underlying principle is really twofold; saying No and then focusing on One Thing.

There is the other dimension of importance which is the act of being present.

Here's a great anecdote from The Last Dance, a documentary about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.

Mark Vancil, author of Rare Air, is quoted in an episode saying this:

Most people struggle to be present. Most people live in fear because they project the past. Michael’s a mystic. He was never anywhere else.

His gift was not that he could jump high, run fast, shoot a basketball; his gift was that he was completely present and that was the separator.

A big downfall of a lot of players who are otherwise gifted is thinking about failure. Michael didn’t allow what he couldn’t control to get inside his head.

He would say, ‘Why would I think about missing a shot I haven’t even taken yet?’

This is Jordan in his own words:

“When I got that ball, my thoughts were very positive. The crowd gets quiet, and the moment starts to become the moment for me. That’s what we’ve been trying to do…that’s part of that Zen Buddhism stuff.

Once you get into the moment, you know when you are there. Things start to move slowly, you start to see the court very well. You start reading what the defense is trying to do.

I saw that moment. When I saw that moment and the opportunity to take advantage of it…I never doubted myself. I never doubted the whole game. We were hanging too close.”

This idea of being totally present, about being in the moment, becomes the key differentiator between average performers and world-class performers.

Are you past, present or future oriented?

The challenge for a monkey minded person is how to stay focused by being present. The boring answer is that the only way to get better is to practice.

My goal for myself really is to be the most present in doing not just my most meaningful work, but when I'm with people and my closest friends.

There's another way to help and I actually like what Darius Foroux wrote here about time perspectives.

Here's what he says about how time perspectives can impact our actions:

When we think about time, we usually think of the following states and how they impact our actions:

Past: When you’re focused on the past, you’re often paralyzed by what has happened to you. You either wish your life was like the “good old days” or you wish certain things didn’t happen. People who often ask “Why?” are overly focused on the past.

Present: When you’re primarily focused on the present, you either want instant gratification or enjoyment of what’s in front of you. No thought of the past or the future. “I only live today” is your motto.

Future: A future-oriented person is someone who eats healthy food, gets good grades in school, doesn’t smoke, drink, and is always working towards a future outcome.

In my own life, I found that I can tend to get too future oriented or at least think and imagine too much about outcomes without focusing on the present.

Reflecting on this principle about time perspectives, we cannot get too focused on past actions or future outcomes. There's a need to expend your energy on being focused at the present that gives the highest returns.

Ultimately, we all want to make the best use of our time. So no matter what you do, don’t wait for life to bring you joy, clarity, or purpose. Embrace your past, think about the future, but remember that now is the time to live. Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow is not here yet. So make today count.

- Darius Foroux

In order to be the most effective I can be, I have to be present-oriented.