- To be present means focusing on what you are doing in the moment.
I remember when I was proud of how well I could multi-task. Talking on the phone reading my e-mail and drinking my smoothie all at the same time, I was so efficient. At least that is what I thought at the time. I often missed the underlying message the person on the phone was communicating. It’s like looking at that article on your phone while your kid is talking to you. Are you really hearing?
The efficiency of multitasking is a myth. When we multitask, it often means we are doing more than one thing poorly. To be present means we can do a task well and often more quickly than if we were trying to do two or three things at the same time.
There is a saying in the Zen tradition: “Before enlightenment chop wood, carry water; after enlightenment chop wood, carry water.” I think I first heard this saying in college. At the time it seemed nonsensical. Now it has an obvious meaning to me: It is not what we do that is different when we are present—it is the quality of our being while we are doing it. There are multiple benefits to our mental and emotional health to being present.
1. Reduce Anxiety
When our thoughts are focused on the positive things in the present moment, anxiety is greatly reduced. The vast majority of anxieties are fed by thinking negative thoughts about the past or future. Anxiety happens when we focus on what we wish would have been different in the past or when we focus on what negative things could happen in the future. When our thoughts are on the positives in the present moment, it feeds our sense of calm and well being.
2. Strengthen Relationships
We have all talked to someone and felt like we were not heard, or told someone something only to have them ask us a question we answered minutes ago. Unless the other person has a hearing problem, the issue is most likely that the other person was focusing on something else while we were talking. On the other hand when someone truly listens not only to our words, but to the nonverbal part of our communication and the feelings behind what we are saying, we feel valued. Care enough about the people in your life to give them the gift of being completely with them when they are talking to you.
3. To Be Present Affects Quality
If you have ever tried to talk to someone and write a note about something else at the same time, you have probably had the same experience I have. I either wrote something or said something I did not intend. We make more mistakes when we are trying to do two things at once. When you are truly present you notice things that go unseen or unheard when your focus is split. Anyone who has tried to do a complicated task while caring for two or three small children can attest to this. We all make more mistakes when we try to do two things at once and then it takes even more time to fix those mistakes. Have you ever noticed the more things you start the less you finish. Multitasking often equals multiple started projects and few finished projects.
4. Creativity & Problem Solving
When we are truly present in the moment we notice things that slip by when we are multitasking. This is true when you are creating a written work, a painting, a sculpture, or other art. It is also true if you are using your creativity to solve a problem. Being present allows you to find solutions that elude you when your focus is split. Every problem has at least 3 solutions. When you are present in the moment you will be able to find multiple solutions and choose the best one. When our focus is split we often become focused on the first solution we think of. Or worse on whose fault a problem is rather than on how we can work together to solve a problem or understanding the other person’s point of view.
5. Reduce Stress
Being mindful or present in the moment has a buffering effect on stress. We live in a stressful, distracting world. When we discipline ourselves to focus on one thing at a time we have less stress. Focusing on multiple things at one time is a stress in itself. To be present in the moment allows you to let go of the worries before that moment. You can leave future worries to the future. Honestly most of those worries in the future will not come to pass anyway. Why ruin the moment thinking about them.
6. Find More Joy
When you are totally present in the moment you can focus on the positive aspects of what is happening in this moment. The next time you are interrupted by a phone call from a friend or a family member, take a moment to appreciate the gift of the connection. Give that person a totally present moment and then go back to what you were doing.
“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever had.” Eckhart Tolle
What do you think about being present versus multitasking? Do you agree or disagree?
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