December 7, 2022
Being Present in the Moment: Why we should practice it and dangers of time travelling

Being Present in the Moment: Why we should practice it and dangers of time travelling

“If you are depressed, you are living in the past, if you are anxious, you are living in

the future, if you are at peace, you are living in the present.” Lao Tzu

Do you occasionally find yourself mired in the past, obsessing over a long-ago occurrence and unable to let it go? Is remorse, or wrath keeping you from letting go? Or being held hostage by a need for something that is no longer there? Regret is wishing the past to be different.

Do you also find yourself get stuck in the future, worrying about the uncertainty, the what ifs? Spending time in the past and future is opportunity lost. It means we are not living in the most important time, which is being present in the moment.

We are all time travellers. This is a remarkable mental accomplishment. It enables us to relive priceless moments from the past and make preparations for the future. But this feat can be a detriment to our happiness.

The past is behind, learn from it. The future is ahead, prepare for it. The present is here, live it.” Thomas Monson

What happens to our attention when we are stressed?

When we are stressed, our attention gets hijacked, and we have less control over it. Attention is a limited resource. It consumes a lot of energy to function. When we spend the attention on imaginary scenarios about the future, catastrophizing, not only does it deplete our energy, but it also reduces our productivity. Our attention pushes us to live in a fictitious future. It robs us of the time in the present.

According to a well-know Harvard study by Killingsworth and Gilbert, which included more than 2000 subjects ranging in age from 18-88, our minds wander 47% of the time on average. Which means we are only living about half of our waking lives. The rest is spent time-travelling. Moreover, their research showed that we are less happy when our minds are not in the present. This holds true regardless of the activity we are engaging in. In other words, our level of mind- wandering when engaging in an activity has a greater impact on our enjoyment than the activity itself. This applies even when the mind-wandering is on pleasant thoughts. The researchers conclude from the study that “…the wandering mind is an unhappy mind”, and “In fact, how often our minds leave the present and where they tend to go is a better predictor of our happiness than the activities in which we are engaged.”

What came first, the chicken or the egg, you might be asking. Is people’s discontent the cause of their minds straying, or vice versa? According to their research, people’s mind-wandering is the cause, not consequence of their unhappiness.

Our 16 waking hours being reduced to 8 is equivalent to our attention time travelling almost 50% of the time. To make matters worse, it also decreases our sleep quality. So instead of getting eight hours of quality sleep, we might only get five or six. Time travelling is the greatest time thief!

How do we control the time machine?

Training in mindfulness involves learning to recognise when our thoughts stray, without passing judgement. It is the practice of being in the present moment. It is not about stopping mind wandering, as some mind wandering is beneficial.

Rather, it is gaining control so that the mind wandering does not trap us in the past– which is rumination or trap us in the future—which is worrying. It is becoming more adept at operating the time machine.

Wandering thoughts can be beneficial. Just like many other things in life, its advantages depend on its dosage or balance. For instance, the alpha brain waves during mind wandering are indication of relaxation. It allows our brains to recover after extended hours of concentration. It also allows us to shift our focus when we are stuck with a problem we cannot solve, giving us the opportunity to see solutions and insights we could not see during intense focus.

Generalized anxiety can develop when worrying becomes a habit. We get better at worrying as we worry more. Our physiology becomes accustomed to being in the stress mode and it becomes our default. Our physiology eventually remains in a state of stress even when there are no external stressors. Our minds receive signals from our physiology. Our minds interpret the physiological signals of elevated heart rate, muscle tension, blood pressure, and respiratory rate as indicators of stress. Consequently, our minds perceive we are stressed, even in the absence of stress.

Through mindfulness training, we practice being in the present to break this tendency. Meditation is only one aspect of mindfulness. Mindfulness is an attitude. It involves mental training. Simply put, meditation is a conduit to help us achieve mindfulness. Among the many advantages of mindfulness training are the following:

  • Enhanced productivity
  • Increased happiness
  • Better sleep
  • Reduced stress levels—decreases cortisol levels

Training in mindfulness can change your life. It transforms us into the person we desire to be. The past is a mental construct that tricks us into believing it actually happened. Meanwhile, worrying does not take away tomorrow’s troubles, but it takes away today’s peace. Every moment you spend in worrying and regret, you are taking away from the present.

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