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7 Ways to Practice Being in the Present Moment

Bringing awareness and meaning back into everyday life.

Your life is full of routine and habit, and in many ways, that’s good. A routine, things we do day in and day out, helps us accomplish a lot without having to think too much about it. These become automatic responses as you go from one activity/event to another. If you had to think about all of the things you do in one day over and over again as if it were the first time you were doing them, you’d be wasting a lot of time and energy. So conserving time and energy on an ongoing basis is adaptive and practical, helps us get through what we need to do, and frees us up for the very important things we need to focus on.

Yet, I’m sure you’ve noticed, as I have, that sometimes things become so habitual we don’t even think about them. We’re simply on automatic pilot, not even consciously aware that we’re engaged in some activity. I’ve often asked myself, “Did you do X, Y, or Z today?” because I really don’t remember since it’s just such a habit. So not always so mindful.

In this crazy, demanding world we live in, made even crazier in the last few decades with the internet and social media calling us to be involved, we need to stop and think, to reevaluate how we spend our time and how we live our lives. Taking the time to be present in the moment is a very difficult thing to do even when you’re conscious of the importance, the need, and the benefit of doing so. Are you aware of being present? Do you practice being present? Even just stopping to think that you’re not aware of being present for yourself, that you’re thinking about what’s happened already or what will happen, and not focused on the now, is an important first step.

So if you have the inclination, now is a good time to think about what it means to actually “be here now” and perhaps, to set an intention to make active presence a part of your life. Here are some ways to help you cultivate your interest and to create conscious awareness of being in the moment.

Regular Practice

What comes to mind for many of you is meditation. What’s required is that you set aside 15-20 minutes once or twice a day to sit undisturbed. The point is to focus on your breath in some fashion and allow your thoughts to move out of your consciousness.

It’s pretty hard to do—that’s why they call it practice. But the idea is to bring yourself back to present consciousness and allow whatever comes up in your thoughts and feelings to drift away. At the very least, you are giving yourself a time-out from your daily routine and that, for many of us, is a gift in itself.

Mindfulness practice is another way to bring awareness to whatever you’re doing. Even if it’s too time-consuming to do this for many of the activities you do during the day, stop for one or two activities to be totally present. That could be going for a walk after dinner, or a morning jog, or it could be doing the dishes. The idea is to be totally engaged in every aspect of the activity. Instead of thinking a thousand thoughts and doing your activity by rote, bring your full awareness to every aspect of what you’re doing. Give it the time and energy it deserves. See the importance in everything you do.

Another way to be present in the moment is to set an intention. Why are you doing anything other than the fact that you have to? By setting an intention, you’re stating why this activity is necessary and giving it meaning.

Use Your Senses to Ground You

This may sound too simplistic but it’s actually a wonderful way to approach being present in any given moment. Since so much of what you do is mentally motivated, inevitably what your senses are picking up is often taken for granted. But your senses alert you and inform you about what is going on around you, at least on an unconscious level. So practice paying attention to what you see, smell, hear, taste, and touch. In fact, this works particularly well when you’re feeling anxious and/or depressed. Stop what you’re thinking and consciously feel what your senses are bringing to your attention.

At the very least, focusing on your senses will get you out of your head in the moment. At best you’ll gain a new tool to help you deal with your emotions and reactivity on an ongoing basis. Remember, once upon a time, when our lives really depended upon them, our senses alerted us to our environment and helped us to survive. In the process of evolution, our senses (and intuition) have taken a back seat to our very active mental lives.

Get Into Nature

Taking a walk in the park, in the woods, sitting by a stream, and gardening are simple ways to take a break from daily life (or if you can’t manage this during the week, perhaps on the weekend). Being immersed in nature allows you to break the cycle of constantly thinking and interacting and allows you to enter into the flow of the natural world. Being in nature is a handy reminder that life is cyclic, that things are constantly in flux and ever-changing. Everything comes into being, lives a life, and dies. If only we could understand that this applies to the events of our life, as well as our thoughts and feelings.

Accept What You Don’t Know

Hard one! Most of us want to know what’s going to happen in the future, especially if it’s something that’s very important to us personally, or if it’s something especially fraught with emotion. Much of not being present in the moment is about anxiety and fear about future worries. Imagine what releasing all of that energy about not knowing would feel like—a lot more time and energy to actually be present.

Uncertainty and change are part of the human condition. The more you practice acceptance of these, instead of trying to manipulate and control them, the better you’ll get at enjoying life as it unfolds. The same goes for your feelings. Accept your feelings as they are in any given moment without judgment. Feelings are frequently subject to change. Obviously, be responsible for your feelings but be respectful of them. Allow yourself to feel your feelings—don’t overthink them.

Challenge Habitual Behavior

We all have things we do on an ongoing basis but we usually do them without much thought or consideration to how they get done. A way to become more present in the moment is to do what you usually do but in a different way. Make yourself aware of how you do things, rather than just doing them by rote. Change the order in which you do a thing, and/or when you do them in the course of a day. Or just don’t do them on any given day. Do something new—change what you eat for breakfast, alter your route to work, buy something different that reflects a new image, a change in the way you want to be seen.

Create Personal Rituals

Rituals take you out of ordinary time. They can be as simple as lighting a candle or elaborate, containing many elements designed to feed all the senses. They can be performed alone or with a group of like-minded people. Rituals are unique ways to be present in the moment. Rituals are done with pure intention, fill you up, satisfy your soul. They are regular time-outs from your life that energize, lift your spirit, and provide continuity to your life even in the face of difficulties you may encounter. They are steady reminders that you are here no matter what is happening around you.

Daily Reflection

Some people journal regularly. Others create a gratitude list. Before your day ends, get into the practice of thinking about your day, how it went, what you accomplished, what surprised you. Were you present for yourself? Did the activities/events of the day distract you, taking you away from what is important to you? What could you do differently tomorrow?

And here’s a bonus...

Downshift Your Life

This is not for everybody. Some people make a conscious effort to slow down and simplify their life, while some people may want to but can’t just yet because of circumstances of life. But if you can, even in some small fashion, change the way you live and how you spend time so that there is more physical time and space and a freeing up of energy to be more present for the things/events that are most important to you.

As a corollary to this, take a digital holiday. This can be a real holiday, for example, when you’re on vacation. Or it can be shutting off your devices for a period of time every day or on the weekend. See what it feels like to not be connected all of the time. Does this make you uncomfortable? (If so, this is good to know.) If it’s something you enjoy or relieves you of the pressure of constantly “being on”, that’s good to know, too. Maybe you’ll spend more time living in the now.

More from Abigail Brenner M.D.
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