Many people spend a lot of time thinking about the past or the future — a thinking process called ruminating. If you consistently make it a habit, it becomes a loop — and prevents you from living in the moment.
“Ruminators repetitively go over events, asking big questions: Why did that happen? What does it mean?” says Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, the chair of the department of psychology at Yale University and the author of Women Who Think Too Much: How to Break Free of Overthinking and Reclaim Your Life. “But they never find any answers,” she adds.
The more you ruminate about past or upcoming events, the more your imagination starts creating negative outcomes. It’s called “catastrophizing” — believing that something is far worse than it actually is.
“Catastrophizing can generally can take two different forms: making a catastrophe out of a current situation, and imagining making a catastrophe out of a future situation,” explains Dr John Grohol, founder and Editor-in-Chief of Psych Central.
If you worry a lot about what might be, or what might have been, you will miss what is happening around you. Dwelling on the past is a trap that many of us fall into, consumed by what might have been or what could possibly go wrong.
For many people, staying present is a daily battle. It can be incredibly difficult to enjoy the time you have with your loved ones, close friends and people you care about. Worrying about the future severely hinders our ability to live fully in the present —all we truly have is this present moment… right now.
Living in the moment is focusing your attention, and time and on what is happening right now, wherever you are. The future is completely intangible and it can only be shaped by the things you do every day, and the decisions you make in the present.
Essentially, the only thing you have any influence over is today, so, logically, the present is the only thing you have and can control. Dwelling on yesterday’s mistakes or tomorrow’s uncertain decisions means missing out on today.
“Everyone agrees it’s important to live in the moment, but the problem is how,” says Ellen Langer, a psychologist at Harvard and author of Mindfulness. “When people are not in the moment, they’re not there to know that they’re not there.” Overriding the ruminating habit and awakening to the present takes intentionality and practice.
Taking one day at a time means not asking too much of yourself, or neglecting your own needs. It means recognising the difference between what-ifs and what is. It means choosing to focus more on the happy moments than on the painful or stressful ones — you actively choose how to make sense of your experience.
It means checking frequently that your thoughts are not dwelling on the past or racing ahead to the future. And if you find that they are, stop— and gently bring your attention back to the present, focusing on where you are, what you are doing and what is happening in the here and now.
To actively stay in the present, focus less on what’s going on in your mind and more on what’s going on around you, less on your mental chatter.
You can keep a journal to record your thoughts, worries, hopes, and observations. It’s an effective way to checking in with yourself on a daily basis and get anything that’s been worrying you off your chest.
Take time every day to relish in whatever you’re doing at the present moment — what psychologists call savouring. “This could be while you’re eating a pastry, taking a shower, or basking in the sun. You could be savouring a success or savouring music,” explains Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychologist at the University of California at Riverside and author of The How of Happiness. “Usually it involves your senses.”
Taking things one day at a time can make life a lot more manageable. “Being present-minded takes away some of that self-evaluation and getting lost in your mind — and in the mind is where we make the evaluations that beat us up,” says Stephen Schueller, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania.
Living for the moment can be the most effective and quickest way of overcoming stress and anxiety. It could change your life for the better.
You can start a passion project or a new healthy habit that can prevent focusing too much on the past or the future. Or better still, focus on your sense, says David Ford, Observer of experiential and symbolic brain activity.
He explains, “Rumination is a mental activity, so redirecting your attention to your senses is an alternative to a focus on your thoughts. Listen to music. Make some food. Get exercise. Dance. Do yoga. Get your mind engaged in something that is happening now, and it becomes much harder to think about things that aren’t happening now, like the past or the future.”.
From this day forward, endeavour to live just one day at a time. Yes, it’s as simple as that. All that is required of you is to live today fully as if it were your first day and your last.