My son, Jeffrey, came to visit me in Bellingham, Washington recently. We relaxed and connected and explored. We talked and didn’t talk. We ate good food and just enjoyed each other’s presence.
What we didn’t do—what I see families so often do—is spend so much time living in the past that we forgot to enjoy the moment right in front of us. I get it. Being a parent of an adult child comes with reminiscing. You see the little characteristics that only a parent can see and it reminds you of the 5-year-old child they were seemingly only moments ago. Reminiscing is harmless until it isn’t—until it robs you of the very different but equally beautiful relationship you’re forming as two adults. Capturing these moments takes practice.
Mindfulness has many names, but for this piece of the puzzle, I call it the moment mindset. The moment mindset empowers me—and you—to reclaim the seemingly small things and understand how they add up to big things. In each and every moment, we have the opportunity to choose: we can choose to receive joy or embrace negativity. We can choose to assume good intentions over bad. We can compliment ourselves instead of allowing negative thoughts free room and board. And every time you choose positivity and kindness and connection, you tell yourself that you’re worth it. Do that a hundred times, a thousand times, and you have a life filled with positive memories.
These are some tips that worked for me.
1. Recognize and log the times when you’re not in the moment.
I always thought I was an in-the-moment person until I started tracking my thoughts and the times they wander from the present. It’s not that I often ruminate or wish time would move faster; it’s simply that I’m somewhere other than here. That’s not inherently unhealthy, but it doesn’t allow for presence of mind and over time, it becomes habitual. It allows us to trick ourselves into thinking that the past or future was or will be somehow better than the moment we’re in now. As you can imagine, that can wreak all sorts of havoc on your sense of peace and contentment.
2. Begin to identify patterns and cues.
Don’t think of your thoughts-logging task as a way to list all the things you’re doing wrong. The goal here is to identify patterns and cues for the times we stray from the present. Let’s give an example. If you notice that you think about a particularly sad holiday past every time you drink a cup of peppermint tea, you’ve identified a cue. Our senses can trigger powerful memories in ways that our brains can’t on their own.
3. Gently correct course.
There isn’t anything wrong with thinking about a less-than-stellar holiday. We all have painful memories, and without them, we wouldn’t truly appreciate and understand the power of joy. But if that memory robs you of the joy of this moment, it isn’t serving you. This isn’t about negative reinforcement. Mindfulness isn’t about judging ourselves for the thoughts we have or trying to stop the thought from appearing in the first place (that’s impossible, anyway). It’s about noticing the thought, separating ourselves from it and gently guiding our conscious back to the present. It’s going to be work, but it will be worth it.
4. Carve out time for mindfulness.
I love working out. I love the feeling of being absolutely exhausted after a workout. But I also know how crucial it is to work out my mindfulness muscle. There are lots of tools and techniques out there. For me, the Calm app works wonders because it’s ready whenever I need it and helps guide me through a mindfulness meditation. Sometimes I just need to press the reset button, so I step away for a quick five-minute guided meditation. Other times, I need a “full-body workout” and spend a good 25 minutes going through a stress-relief meditation. It’s hard at first, and you’ll find your thoughts wandering approximately every .02 seconds, and that’s normal. You don’t run a marathon in a day, and you don’t achieve mindfulness in a day either.
5. Express gratitude often.
I love a good sticky note reminder. It’s such a simple way to gently bring myself out of whatever train of thoughts has my attention. On my bathroom mirror, I might write “60.” Whenever I see it, I’m reminded that I have 60 seconds right now that I will never get back. I can choose to spend them however I want to. It’s innocuous on its own and it doesn’t pass judgment or give commands. It’s just a way to gently guide myself back to this moment and find gratitude for my life exactly as it is.
As a planner, I love to think about and plan for the future. I have big goals that I plan on absolutely crushing this year and every year after that. I built my career on helping other people make a plan to crush their goals. The moment mindset isn’t about taking away from your plans for the future, it’s about celebrating the wonderful life you have now while planning to make it even better in the future.