By Dr. Pete Kadushin, O2X Mental Performance Specialist
Originally Published in The Armory Volume 2:Issue 2
We’re all walking around with an untapped reservoir of power and strength. A super power we usually don’t even realize we have. What super power you ask? Our capacity to return to the present moment actually. At any moment, whether we’re daydreaming of what might happen or worrying about what already has, we can see through the noise in our minds and return to the here and now.
At first thought, this doesn’t seem like anything too special – which is why it flies under our radar and is often a neglected tool in our arsenal. So why is this such a powerful weapon? Anchoring ourselves in the present moment allows us to a) downshift our nervous system; b) see our current situation clearly; and c) execute at a higher level. Below we’ll expand on these ideas and then present some practical ways to practice this super power more often.
Living in our mind – either wandering the past or projecting into the future – comes with a physical side-effect. While we’re being bombarded by constant stress in our lives (from our job to our life at home), we never get an opportunity to step back and drop ourselves into our parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and digest system in our bodies).
Grounding ourselves in the present moment allows for a few moments with our heads above water – and even a few short minutes is enough to let your nervous system start to relax and unwind.
When our minds are unclouded – by thoughts, feelings, and habits that are attached to our past and future – we’re able to see our present situation more clearly. Normally, we see whatever is happening in front of us, except that it’s overlaid with our expectations or past experiences with that person or scenario. By practicing connecting to the present moment regularly, we can strip away our preconceived notions and approach each situation with all of our experience and awareness clearly aimed at the task at hand.
This means that connecting to the present moment is a way of leveling up our strategic thinking. It’s a way of seeing people and situations as they are, and not as we think they should be, and allows us to take action accordingly.
Excellence in Execution
The only window for action is the present moment. We can’t change the past, and the future is yet to be, which means that if we’re going to operate at our highest level, we can only do that in the here and now.
By becoming present, we can provide ourselves with our best chance to execute at our physical best. By systematically building this into a habit, we can execute at our physical best more consistently, regardless of the unpredictable and complex environment you’re operating in.
How to practice
To start – we need to recognize that this is a practice. Anyone who has claimed the present moment knows that a thought or fantasy will come by in moments to try and distract you! With that in mind, here are a few ways to build the habit of presence.
1. Pick an Anchor
Before building the habit, it’s helpful to find a present-moment anchor for your attention. Many find the breath to be a helpful target (you can’t leave home without it)!
Others find that the sensations in their body are what comes through most clearly on a moment-to-moment basis. Examples include the soles of the feet, the weight of the hands, or where your body is contacting a chair while sitting.
By picking a consistent anchor, you can begin to strengthen your ability to come back to that, first in quiet moments, and then in more complex and challenging ones.
2. Practice Consistently
Finding a time where you can shut down outside distractions and focus on anchoring yourself to the present moment is critical to making this a super power you can rely on. Consider it going to the mental weight room. To do this, the instructions are simple, and not easy.
Find a quiet, distraction free environment.
Set a timer for anywhere between one and ten minutes.
Pay attention to your breathing or the sensations in your body.
When you get distracted, gently bring your attention back to your present moment anchor.
Each moment you stay with your breath or your body, you’re building your capacity to be present. Each moment you notice you’ve become lost in thought and return to your breath or your body, you’re strengthening your ability to notice when your attention has been hijacked and come back to the here and now.
When starting out, consistency is more important than length. Two minutes every day is better than ten minutes once a week. By practicing at the same time each day, you can start to build the habit and keep the momentum going!
3. Pair Presence with the Tactical Pause
We won’t always have the time to find a quiet, distraction free, place to practice before something important comes up. Being able to bring yourself to the present moment while the stuff is hitting the fan is what you practice for.
One way to bring your super power into real-life conditions is to pair it with the tactical pause. Whenever you’ve trained yourself to take a couple of low-and-slow diaphragmatic breaths, you can take control of your attention at the same time. Using this as your cue to return to your present-moment anchor can pay the double benefit of downshifting your nervous system as you arrive in the here and now, ready to take action.
Remember that this is a skill and a habit, and both take time to change. By noticing the moments where you’ve gotten 1% better at grounding yourself in the here and now, you can stay focused on making the super power of being present something you can call on when you need it most.