by Howard Cohen, LMHC
Many years ago when I was acting in the theater, a wise director advised me to “stay in the moment” of the scene and not think about what was happening outside the world of the play. She said, “Don’t bring in your personal troubles or your fears, and listen to what your acting partner is saying to you. Real listening is the hardest part of an actor’s job.” These words have stayed with me in my “real life” as I feel that not only is it crucial to “be in the moment” every day, but it’s equally important to truly listen to what others are saying to you. As a counselor, good listening has become a key tool to supporting and helping my clients.
The main theme of this article is to try to become more aware of what is happening around us; to be present to what the day has brought us to deal with, and not escape into the confines of our thoughts. More than likely, being in our thoughts denies us what is really going on at that moment in time. Mostly, we are listening to old messages that we’ve received or how we have handled situations in the past. Living in the moment is not about the past, but about the present—not yesterday or tomorrow, but today and right now! Not that our experiences won’t help us with a current issue, but we need to be confident those lessons we’ve learned will guide us when we need it most.
Living in the moment will allow you to create the best day possible. There is no negative thinking permitted, only positive thoughts with a forward momentum. Being honest with yourself and open minded allows you to stay connected with others, but it requires you to really be in touch with your own feelings and needs. To be present in your life, you need to listen without judgment and contribute without questioning the outcome. In other words, give yourself a great present and be present to others in your daily path. Let’s be a bit more specific here and talk exactly about how we can be more “in the moment”.
Recently, famous television actress, Valerie Harper, shared with her fans that she was beset with inoperable brain cancer and may have only a few months to live. Her mantra was, “Don’t go to the funeral until it’s time for the funeral.” In other words, live every day as your last one, and she reminded us, “We are all going to die eventually.” If you have an illness or health issue you are dealing with, take your prescribed medicines and treatment. And, think positively that you will overcome it. It seems that Ms. Harper’s medical team and positive attitude has placed her cancer into remission!
If you are challenged by other people’s concerns and actions toward you, speak directly to them. Try to be more assertive with your needs and set boundaries with them so they recognize they may be going too far with their demands of you. If you are unhappy in your job, think about changing jobs, or at the least, asking for an increase in pay. With this in mind, if you are discontent with your relationship with someone, speak up and don’t settle for unhappy. On the other hand, if you’d like to be in a relationship with someone, say hello to a stranger that seems friendly on your next Starbucks visit, and strike up a conversation. You may find a new friend or love interest!
Staying present in your life has a lot to do with taking deep breaths and hearing your own breathing. Some days offer more distractions than others. It’s important to ignore many of them, especially negative thinking about the outcomes of situations. Take a second to say “stop” to yourself (out loud, even!) to unsupportive thoughts throughout the day. If you are feeling stressed or worried about a particular issue, try to assuage those fears by listening to music, meditating, reading, exercising or going to a yoga class. I think you are getting the idea; the way to live in the moment is to take a positive action in the moment!
What do you do when you are hungry? Do you grab a bag of chips or a candy bar? Being present can also mean making better food choices. Try to cut carbohydrates and sugary foods from your diet and add more vegetables and fruit. Eat an apple or some trail mix next time you get a hunger pang!
Staying in the moment means you need to reduce your stress levels and be more proactive than reactive in handling your busy schedule. Taking a few moments to calm or self-soothe yourself will begin that process. Learn some quick meditation techniques; listening to relaxing music, reading a romantic poem or stretching tense muscles can really bring you back to a “Zen” state. There has been a resurgence of yoga in our culture. Think about taking a class to see what all the buzz is about. You might learn another way to chill out.
Being in the psychology business, I recognize that many of us deal with emotional ups and downs, which may include bouts of depression. Oftentimes, we are not handling difficulties in an effective way. This might lead you to think about speaking with a mental health professional. Solving personal issues may be just a matter of adjusting thinking, but sometimes it may require a medicine boost. Research has proven that talk therapy along with taking an anti-depressant can lead us in the right direction.
I think the most powerful tool to keep us “in the moment” is to not live in the past or plan too much into the future. Many of us are guilty of dwelling on past successes or failures that affect our present circumstances. Not that you can’t learn from the past (because you can), it’s just not the same situation we are facing right now. Things have changed and you’ve changed, even if it’s just slightly.
Sometimes we are “too much in our heads” or think too much about what we should do in a given situation. Write down a plan, journal your thoughts, learn to blog, and let your inner thoughts become outer players in your life. Start being more physically active and tap into your passionate nature. Learn to disconnect your electronic devices and begin to connect emotionally with others. Talk to a life coach, join a group whose activities you like, and sit at a café without looking at your phone. Try to look at someone you don’t know directly in the eyes and “get in the moment” with them.
Howard Cohen is a licensed mental health counselor in private practice with offices in Wilton Manors and Dania Beach. Cohen Counseling is a safe space for therapy, with specialties offered in the areas of LGBT issues, career counseling, overcoming depression, dealing with loss and grief, and addiction solutions. Call 954-980-9628 or email [email protected] See ad page 49.