7 Science-Based Ways to Live in the Moment
Are your thoughts running a mile a minute? Learn how to get out of your head.
Posted Apr 07, 2021 | Reviewed by Gary Drevitch
What is it to live in the present? Many believe it involves “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment” (Kabat‐Zinn, 2003). When we live in the present moment, we're not in our heads as much, ruminating on bad things from the past or worrying about the future. Our thoughts tend to skew negative, so staying present appears to be a good way to experience less negativity and boost our well-being (Khoury et al, 2013)
How to Live in the Present Moment
To start, you may want to check in on your well-being by taking this well-being quiz. If it turns out that you are the kind of person whose mind is always running a mile per minute, it can take some practice to learn how to live in the present moment. Here are a few science-based strategies to try.
1. Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditations can help you focus on your bodily sensation, your experiences, and your breathing. In a recent blog post, I wrote about the benefits and challenges of mindfulness. Overall, it seems that mindfulness can help some people feel better. Here is a 10-minute mindfulness meditation to try:
2. The Raisin Exercise
The raisin exercise is often used in conjunction with other mindfulness exercises, but I find it to be nice because it's fairly simple and easier than other mindfulness strategies. It involves using your senses to 'be present' eating a raisin. You touch it, smell it, feel it on your tongue, and finally taste it. Here is a guided version of the raisin exercise.
Gratitude involves paying attention to and appreciating the positive things. Although it involves a positive orientation, it crucially involves being present in the moment first, so that you notice the good stuff. You might discover you're grateful for a lot of really simple stuff—like the smell of fresh-cut grass, the feel of the sun on your skin, or the intricacy of a snowflake. And we would never get to appreciate any of this without first being present.
4. Learn How to Stop Rumination
Rumination involves repetitively focusing on negative things and their possible causes and consequences (Nolen-Hoeksema, Wisco, & Lyubomirsky, 2008). Rumination keeps us stuck in our heads and not in the present. Sometimes, we can get out of a rumination cycle by shifting our body's focus—for example, by doing some sprints or taking a cold shower.
5. Box Breathing
I love box breathing because it is so easy. It's just slow breathing that involves taking an in-breath for 4 counts, holding for four counts, taking an out-breath for four counts, and again holding for four counts. If we focus on our breath by using this counting, we prevent ourselves from being in our heads.
6. The Body Scan
The body scan involves bringing attention to every part of your body. You close your eyes and shift your focus from one region of the body to the next, paying attention to any sensations you notice. Here's a guided version of this exercise.
7. Daily Journaling
Sometimes is can be helpful to taking a few minutes each day to get your thoughts down on paper and free up space for paying more attention to the present. You could keep your daily journal in your smartphone notes app or grab a paper journal to get your thoughts out.
Adapted from an article published on The Berkeley Well-Being Institute.
Kabat‐Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness‐based interventions in context: past, present, and future. Clinical psychology: Science and practice, 10(2), 144-156.
Nolen-Hoeksema, S., Wisco, B. E., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). Rethinking rumination. Perspectives on psychological science, 3(5), 400-424.