By Levi Newman
We live in an age of distraction. Technology, around every corner and in almost every pocket, clogs life’s airwaves and makes it difficult to be mindful of the moment. Even as I type this (on a computer, no less) I can hear a television blaring a movie in the other room. My son, I’m quite sure, is on his Xbox 360 ,and my wife has checked her phone no less than 35 times in the last 10 seconds.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one to take a trip without bringing along my iPad, but there has to be boundaries. That boundary should begin when we start to miss life as it unfolds in the present.
This idea has been running through my mind because of the 4th of July. I was sitting in the park watching fireworks with my family, equally enjoying the colorful explosions overhead and the look of excitement on my children’s faces, when I took a moment to glance at the crowd in hopes that I’d find the same delight amongst the masses. But what I found closest to me was disheartening—a man was watching every second of the event through the viewfinder of a large camera, never once bothering to look up and observe the beauty with his own eyes.
It was in this moment that I realized that we often squander the precious seconds of our lives because we are not mindful of the moment. That’s not to say we shouldn’t capture important events, but how often are we trying so hard to record something for posterity that we miss out on the importance of the memory for our own brain?
This is why living in the moment, or mindfulness, is so important. We should embrace life, letting our thoughts and feelings surround us until we’ve given active, open attention to the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.
This way of thinking should apply to every moment, not just the bright and shiny ones. When we’re at work, we should fantasize less about clocking out at five and more about the task at hand. Not only would this make you a better worker, which has its own benefits for you and your employer, it would help you appreciate those around you.
When we’re living in the moment it also keeps us from dwelling on intrusive memories, such as past problems or uncertainty about the future. This decision to take active control of each moment isn’t an easy undertaking. Most of us allow our thoughts to control us, not the other way around. Because this sense of balance often eludes us, we need to stop concentrating on doing and focus more on just being.
The true reason to be mindful is simple: mindful people are happier, more exuberant, more empathetic and more secure in their relationships. This allows for reduced stress, an improved immune system, lower blood pressure and often alleviates chronic pains. Not to mention that being accepting of who you are and what you’re doing allows for a higher self-esteem and the ability to acknowledge and improve upon one’s weaknesses.
Here are a few simple steps to get you started on the right track.
1. Reduce your self-consciousness. In other words, dance as if no one is watching. Being able to be comfortable in your own skin is difficult, but allowing yourself that freedom is important.
2. Avoid worrying about the future by focusing on the present. If you’re so wrapped up in what’s going to happen tomorrow, you’re not concerning yourself with what is happening around you, which may ultimately prove to be more important.
3. Improve your relationships with others by taking control of your emotions and avoiding action and impulse. There are going to be times when you may feel like lashing out or losing control, but taking a few moments to collect yourself and be mindful of your responses can make all the difference in the world.
4. Make the most of time by losing the watch. Time often dictates every second (no pun intended) of our lives, so much that we may cut off the enjoyment of an event just to stick to a set schedule. Planning is important in life, but so is spontaneity. Take time to enjoy both.
5. Avoidance isn’t a solution. If you have a problem, the only way to improve your life is to tackle it head on. If you allow things to fester without addressing them you run the risk of things getting much worse before they get better. It’s OK to fear not having the answer, but being mindful of needed actions will help you through the toughest times.
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Levi Newman, a 10-year Army veteran and graduate of the University of Missouri. Levi currently serves as the senior author for the Veterans United Network. He also works as the Director of Outreach for Veterans United Home Loans, where he builds and maintains relationships with businesses, organizations and individuals. To keep up with Levi, follow him on Google+!