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Opinion

Commonsensical thoughts sculpt present

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April 6, 2012

We spend a lot of time thinking about the past by evaluating how we did or what we should have done and remembering past experiences, as well as thinking about the future by worrying, dreaming, planning, or wondering what is to come. There is nothing wrong with thinking about the past or the future as long as we also take the time to be in the present.

After all, we can learn from the past and plan for the future, but we can neither change the past nor control the future, so excessive focus on either wastes the wonderful time that can be spent in the present. It is the present we are meant to live in.

As James Thurber expresses, “Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness.” With a little practice, you can greatly improve your life by learning to live where your feet are—the present.

While thinking of the past and future is acceptable, start to identify the difference between constructive and non-constructive thoughts of the past and future. If you are devoting a bit of time to planning a fun afternoon with a friend or reflecting on, learning from, and letting go of a past mistake, then those are acceptable moments.

However, if you realize you are stuck in a worrying cycle, end it by reminding yourself to focus on the present and what you currently can do about it. For example, if you wake up and fret about an upcoming test, step back and realize that you still have to shower, get ready, eat breakfast, and go to a few classes before studying is even an option.

There is nothing you can do about it now, so do not worry now; it will not increase your study time or improve your grade.

Instead, focus on what to wear and eat, then on what your professor is saying. This will help you stay calm and productive instead of distracted. By being aware of your thoughts, especially the unnecessary non-present ones, you begin refocusing yourself into the present.

During times when you are intentionally trying to be present, you may notice your thoughts drift. This is completely natural; resist feeling frustrated with yourself and, instead, gently acknowledge the distracted thoughts and allow them to flow out of your mind.

Eventually this process will become more natural. Now, engage in the present by grounding yourself. Do this by noticing your current situation: the smells, sounds, sights, tastes, feelings, or task at hand.

Notice how everything in that list was plural except for ‘task.’ I did this intentionally because you need to do only one activity at a time. Oftentimes people dislike refusing to multi-task because they think they will complete less, however, that is not necessarily true.

When you devote all of your attention to one task at a time, you will be “in the zone” and therefore more productive. To dedicate yourself to one task at a time, be very aware of your current actions. When you eat, pay attention to what you are eating, how it tastes and how full you feel.

When you do homework, close your email and turn off your TV. When you exercise, focus on the sensations and the surroundings of your physical environment instead of being stuck in your head with past and future thoughts.

Come to the present, to your body, and escape the hold your mind has on you. By being present, you will come to realize that you enjoy life’s activities more, feel less stressed, form better relationships and can focus better. Seek out the little joys and wonders that only exist in the present.

Feel the sun and wind on your face as you walk to class, really listen to a friend’s story, and completely immerse yourself in each individual task you do. Never worry about failing at being present because every single moment you gain in the present is a moment of success. And with that rewarding thought, always remember to live where your feet are.

Jaime Haines is an exuberant puppy-lover and “House” addict and plans to use her psychology degree to encourage activism and well-being through counseling, workshops, speeches, and the written word.