We all need something to anchor ourselves. Something to give us certainty and happiness through the ups and downs in life. A compass point to give the day direction and prevent feeling meaningless and letting disorientation creep in.
Some people use relationships, status or religion as that anchor. I believe the best one of all is simply the now. Cultivating a habit to focus on what is, not what might be or what was, is a happy way to live. Relationships can end, status can fail and religion can delude, but the now is a constant.
The Now Habit From Concept to Practice
I don’t believe centering on the now is just a fuzzy spiritual practice. The actual habit is just an exercise in focus. By redirecting your attention towards what you are currently doing, feeling or experiencing you can get more done while removing fears and stresses from life.
Here are ten steps to help cultivate the now habit:
1) Remove resistance.
Stop resisting what is. If you are stuck in a traffic jam, you are stuck in a traffic jam. You can’t center yourself in the now if you don’t accept it. Even if you are in a situation you don’t like or intend to change, accept it as part of your current reality.
2) Find rose-smelling moments.
Give yourself a few moments to smell the roses each day. Stopping your routine, even for only thirty seconds, and grounding yourself in what is around you can have a calming effect.
Most people don’t do this unless captured by something magnificent. But even simple parts of life deserve a chance at reflection. Spend fifteen seconds to see how the light bounces off the edge of a glass. Or look at the pattern of clouds in an overcast sky. Just a small investment can make you feel more centered for the rest of your day.
3) Experience what you are doing.
Here’s a big one. Actually experience what you are doing. This might sound bizarre, but how often do you eat a meal without really tasting the food? Listen to music without noticing the notes? Talk to your spouse without really listening?
If you are going to do something, engage with it. Try to isolate specific flavors in your sandwich. Notice the different instruments in a piece of music you’ve heard thousands of time. Empathize with a friend who is talking to you.
Whether you choose to experience something or not doesn’t matter for productivity. It takes the same amount of time for me to really taste a bowl of soup than just slurping it down. But by choosing to focus on your current task you can draw far more enjoyment and peace from it.
4) Cut down multitasking.
Cut out the need to do several things at once. Not only has this been shown to be ineffective from a productivity standpoint, it also makes it more difficult to concentrate. Concentration is key to the now habit. Without the ability to effectively use your attention, you can’t hope to focus on the now.
5) Enjoy limitations.
Freedom is a common concept in American culture. I believe it was the major theme of just about every blockbuster movie I’ve seen recently. But the kind of freedom discussed, external liberty, isn’t the most important freedom.
The most important freedom is from the internal conflicts of worries, negative thoughts and distractions. When you’ve cultivated a high degree of internal freedom, external freedom matters less. Cases of people such as Victor Frankl, who utilized his experiences in a concentration camp to create a more meaningful life are abundant.
Even if most of us have our basic rights and necessities, there will always be limitations. Going to work, chores, paying taxes are an almost inescapable reality. But you can use those limitations to guide your thinking towards the now. Limits can be the rules you have to abide by in the always interesting game of life.
6) Discipline your mind.
Where does this internal freedom come from? Discipline. Despite what much of Western culture would lead us to believe, discipline is the foundation of freedom, not its opposite.
Disciplining your body, thinking and actions means bringing the internal forces under control. This is a skill that takes time to develop. I certainly haven’t reached the pinnacle of human discipline, but compared with several years ago the difference is dramatic.
7) Follow a goal, but detach from the result.
Goals are a difficult subject to tackle when applying the now habit. How can you have a goal, which is based in the future, and still focus on the now? The answer is that goals give an overall direction to what you are doing today.
You can work hard by an inspiring goal and not be consumed by it. Emphasize the actions you are doing right now over the end result. If getting the million dollars, beautiful spouse or perfect physique becomes more important to you than the path towards it, goals can become a trap. As long as a goal serves to order your current actions, then it can help you focus on the now.
8 ) Daily gratitude.
Spend a few moments to reflect on what you are grateful for. Gratitude doesn’t mean, “Well it could be worse…” Gratitude means being happy now instead of just happy later. It means being thankful for the interesting challenges and opportunities life has given you.
9) Cut away distractions to a meaningful life.
Simplify your life. I might not seem like the best proponent of this, by constantly adding more to my life, but after any addition there needs to be reduction. Cutting back on things that aren’t contributing to your growth helps you focus. When you are constantly surrounded by noise of activities, media and people that aren’t adding anything, it is harder to focus on what does.
10) Engage yourself.
I don’t believe inner peace has to come from a monastic life in the wilderness. The happiest people I know are the ones most engaged in life. I usually wake up knowing I have a day full of exciting challenges and tasks. There are always moments for reflection, but by engaging yourself more you do what the now habit is all about, living and not just existing.