Mindfulness isn’t as easy as it seems, is it? It’s a popular buzzword with benefits that promise to improve our lives and mental health. In a world that is constantly moving a million miles a minute, it’s not as simple as a well-adorned social media graphic may lay it out to be—at least not when you’re still practicing the skill.
The most basic definition of mindfulness is the ability to be fully present and aware of the moment in which we’re living. It has a handful of basic principles like non-judgment, patience, trust, and acceptance. Mindfulness is not a choice you make just once; it’s a choice you have to consistently make for yourself every day in order to benefit your inner peace.
With the gift of consciousness comes the burden of discomfort. Pare down needless suffering by choosing to live in the present moment. The present moment is here, waiting for you to experience it. Infuse some of these tips on how to live more in the present in your life and see how it feels.
1. Listen to yourself—closely
The first step in mindfulness is to tune in to your physical body. Take inventory of how you’re feeling. Are you hungry or tired? Do you have any aches or pains? How does the weather feel on your skin—is it chilly or humid? Observe your simplest needs and most basic feelings before trying to fix them, if at all.
If all is well there, take a moment to slow down. First, take a deep breath. Next, observe your thoughts and without judging yourself for thinking too much or too little, let them pass.
As you’re doing this, take some time to notice your surroundings. Use your five senses to their full capacity. For example, smell the fresh air or the recently lit candle. Feel the sun on your skin. Also, listen to the birds chirping or the air conditioner hiss. Savor the taste of your coffee or tune into the taste of strawberry seeds stuck in your teeth. Watch the shadows of leaves dancing on your carpet or your cat stretching out on the couch.
Remember to take your time through all of these observations. Tuning to the environment we are in at this very moment is the first and most important step toward feeling more present. You can even start over if you have to; make your environment more comfortable or change it completely and do it again.
Doing all of this without your mind wandering isn’t easy. And sometimes, it isn’t even possible—and that’s okay. The goal of mindfulness isn’t an empty mind. It’s the practice of tuning in to your body and observing without judgment.
2. Focus on one thing at a time
As you learn to live more in the present, practice focusing on one thing at a time. The benefits are obvious for being able to shake off things that weigh our brains down: scrolling to-do lists, notifications buzzing on your phone, plans for the future, and negative feelings about the past.
Disconnect from anything that could take you out of the present moment, whether you are at home relaxing, on a walk, or at work. Shut off your phone or set it to Do Not Disturb. Choose not to multitask. Instead, give your full attention to the one task at hand. Set some time up in your day to live outside of a schedule.
One good way to practice this is to dive deep into your sensory experiences, one at a time. You’ve learned how to observe them one at a time, and you should indulge your senses, too. For one thing, when you have something to eat or drink, don’t just sip, chew, and swallow. Close your eyes and savor the taste. Take a moment to look up and see leaves rustling and clouds moving. You don’t need to spend 10 minutes doing these things. You just need to choose not to let the things that bring you joy and pleasure fly by, unnoticed.
Don’t ruin a good today by ruminating on a bad yesterday or a scary tomorrow. Choose not to worry about the past or future. Rather, dial in to what’s happening right now. It’s not easy to ignore the past and future, but you should choose to as often as you are able to.
3. Let go and let it be
What would it feel like to just exist? Think about living without the pressure of yesterday, tomorrow, or two hours from now. There is so much beauty in accepting things simply as they are in that moment.
Living in the present is all about observing, and not trying to fix or change anything. That’s not to say that life happens without problems that require solving. But maybe it can wait. Can you feel, observe, reflect, and then finally react later?
Release the need to control every moment of your day. This is such an anxiety-inducing experience: To stress over fixing and solving problems that sometimes can’t be solved at that moment or maybe don’t even need solving. When we feel like this, we often end up adding more stress and resistance than can make life feel more difficult. When you’re able to master this (and trust, it takes time), it helps life flow a bit more naturally.
Accept the present moment exactly as it is, especially if it’s uncomfortable. In order to live more in the present, leave behind the things you do to fill these uncomfortable spaces. For example, don’t feel like you need to fill the awkward silence—just let it exist. Don’t get angry that it started raining—just feel it on your skin. (As our mothers would say, “You’re not going to melt.”) Instead of diving straight into solving the thing that is causing you anxiety, simply feel it and observe it for a moment. Then, you can choose your action instead of reacting emotionally.
When you let go, life flows.
4. Do the things that make you feel alive
Live life with the goal of creating memories. Do it for the plot of your own story. Romanticize your life, starting right now.
What’s stopping you from doing what you want, when you want? Go outside and play in the rain. Walk down the path less traveled. Stop to smell the roses. Tell a stranger you love them. Call a friend that you miss. Whisper sweet nothings to the ocean.
Also, release the fear of being judged by others, as you’re really only judging yourself. There is always time, each and every day, to step outside of your routine and the things you’re “supposed” to do. Step into the authenticity of every moment. If it helps, imagine you’re starring in a film or a series of candid photos. Live for that moment right there, not the fear of being judged for it later. Will it even matter tomorrow?
As you learn how to live more in the present, you’ll inevitably learn the power of going with the flow. In other words, your body will tell you what you want and need. Your stomach tells you when you’re hungry. The butterflies in your chest tell you that that silly thing you’re thinking about doing is going to bring you joy.
5. Practice gratitude
It’s polite to say thank you, but dig deeper into gratitude. Appreciate the little things. When you pay more attention to the positive things each day, you seem to receive more of them.
You can bring more positivity into your days by starting a gratitude journal or even adding a small section to the agenda you already use. You can be grateful for the big things like family, a career that you love, and your home. But don’t miss out on gratitude for the smaller moments like fall sweaters, a perfect morning coffee, or a friendly stranger.
Challenge yourself to write three big things and three small things you’re grateful for each day. There’s so much beauty in the mundane. When you live more in the present, you notice these things more.
6. Step into a creative space
You can capture the moments you appreciate by flexing your creative muscles. Take photos or videos of the things you’re grateful for and start a gratitude album. You will be able to look back and appreciate everything that led you to this moment. After all, you deserve to admire your own growth.
Know that it’s not about the finished product; it’s about the experience of observing, feeling grateful, and making a mental or physical note of it.
If you love the idea of visual reminders of your gratitude and the beauty in the present moment, you can choose to display them in your home. Fracture glass prints are an elegant and long-lasting way to display the moments you’ve captured.
Turn a regular corner of your home into a gratitude display with a Photo Wall. Choose your favorite moments—like autumn leaves or your children laughing—organize them by theme or color, and tie it all together with Storyboard. Whatever style you choose, decorating with glass prints is a healthy way to connect to the positive moments of the past in a present act of gratitude.