It is perhaps obvious that we can only live in the present moment and not in the past or the future, but if you really pay attention, you’ll probably find that your attention is rarely on what’s happening now. It’s sometimes possible to go through an entire day and never pay more than perfunctory attention to what’s actually happening around you. We’re largely creatures of habit, which means we can do most of our daily tasks on autopilot while we think about other things. It might be thinking about your day ahead while you brush your teeth or skipping through songs while you drive to work.
When this mental displacement gets out of control, we really start to suffer. For example, rumination is when we get caught up in thinking about negative feelings. Maybe it’s shame or embarrassment over something that happened years ago, or some old regret or resentment. Getting lost in these kinds of thoughts is characteristic of depression. On the other hand, worrying about the future too much causes anxiety. Trying to anticipate everything that could go wrong essentially makes you live your life as though you are in a perpetual crisis. In reality, hardly anything we worry about actually happens, but worrying makes you as miserable as you would be if they all happened.
It’s important to set aside time to learn from your mistakes, savor happy memories, and plan for the future, but most of what we think of as planning or learning is actually just worrying or ruminating. Instead of learning new things or moving forward, we’re just rehearsing negative thoughts.
The way out of this trap is simple but difficult. All you have to do is live most of your life in the present moment. Physiologically, your brain can’t pay attention to its environment and ruminate at the same time. The more your attention is engaged in the world around you, the quieter worry and rumination become. When you actually live in the present moment, everything is fine, but this is very difficult for the brain to accept. It’s always scanning the horizon for threats.
It takes a lot of practice to coax your brain into just focusing on the present moment. That’s why mindfulness meditation is so useful. It’s setting aside 20 or 30 minutes every day just to practice bringing your mind back to the present. When done consistently, this practice gradually builds your attention muscles. You begin to notice in your daily life when you’ve started obsessing over some past mistake and you can say, “Ah, there’s rumination. Let’s let that go and focus on what we’re doing instead.” The more you practice, the more you see how your emotions are connected to some fear or worry that has nothing to do with the present moment.
Bringing your mind into the present also leads to a much richer life. You pay more attention to your loved ones, which brings you closer. If you’ve ever had someone space off while you were talking to him, you know how alienating that can be. Staying present also lets you experience more of the world and engage your curiosity. There’s so much that goes on around us that we’re not even aware of. Mindfulness can show you a new world right under your nose.
If you’ve been struggling with drugs or alcohol, we can help you build a better life. At Tree House Recovery in Orange County, California, we’re helping men create the sustainable changes necessary to build a sustainable recovery. Call us today for information: (855) 202-2138