A Simple Guide To Living In The Moment

living in the moment


It’s hard to be present in the moment when our attention is being pulled in every direction. There is a constant stream of news stories, social media posts, advertisements, advice from friends, rants from strangers, you name it.

But nothing can take our attention without our permission. I have come to believe that the ability to be present, to mentally be where you physically are, is a superpower that can deeply increase your quality of life in today’s world.

ryans tiny house

Hi, I’m Ryan

Believe me when I say I know it’s not easy learning how to be present in the moment. As the founder of The Tiny Life, I have a ton on my plate each week. I have to be intentional about staying present. It’s a work in progress. But I do think that over the last 10 years, I’ve gotten a lot better about being fully be where I am. I’m excited to share that with you.
ryan mitchell simple living expert

How do we actually stay present in our own lives? How do we consciously choose to be in the moment when the globe is heating up and we have to finish that project by 5 p.m. and dinner definitely won’t make itself and there’s about 10 unread texts just waiting in our notifications and …

What Does It Mean To Be Present In The Moment?

What Does It Mean To Be Present In The Moment

It seems a little bit idealistic to say we can just ignore all stimuli and obligations to be in the moment. There are things we have to get done. Important tasks to think about.

But I do believe, and I mean really believe, that we can integrate presence into our busy, chaotic lives. We can get things done and focus on the details while also listening to our partners without being distracted, enjoying the fullness of our good experiences, quieting our racing minds, and having gratitude in the moment.

Presence and productivity aren’t mutually exclusive. So, what does it actually look like to be in the here and now?

Presence Means Having Gratitude

Presence Means Having Gratitude

Presence is being grateful for what’s right in front of you instead of worrying about how to have the next best thing. Gratitude can keep you from spiraling.

expressing gratitudeIt’s natural to wake up and have your first thought be about what you need to get done in a day. I often feel like I have a never-ending laundry list of things I need to get to and goals I want to achieve for The Tiny Life. It makes it hard to stay focused on the now.

Something I’ve tried in order to be more present is starting each day by listing things I’m grateful for, either in my head, or by writing them down.

Specifically list out things you’re thankful for — your family, pets, hot coffee, nice weather, what have you. That way, when you’re tempted to focus on all the ways you aren’t doing enough, or all the goals you haven’t met, you can ground yourself in the things you’re thankful for.

Maybe it’s okay that you didn’t finish your entire to do list today. You have a warm dinner and your family waiting in this moment, that’s enough.

a simple guide to what makes you happy

Presence Looks Like Childlike Wonder

Presence Looks Like Childlike Wonder

A lot of learning how to be present in the moment looks like channeling the awe and wonder of a child despite all the commotion that comes with being an adult.

childlike wonderI got to chat with my good friend Carlee Kumler, who is a mental health therapist with Meltzer Counseling and spends each day talking to teens, kids, and adults about their lives. Being present and fully in the moment with her patients is a huge part of her work.

Carlee talked to me a lot about the lessons she’s learned from being a new mother. She’s quickly picked up on a thing or two about presence from watching her sweet six-month-old daughter and trying to see the world through her eyes.

It’s interesting to me that this idea of being where you are is so difficult, yet we came out of the womb really good at it. What do children understand that we have lost to adulthood?

The thing is, adults have a lot more years to think back about and a lot more details to worry about to keep their lives secure. There are bills to pay, mouths to feed, and decisions to make. However, learning to live a little more like our children is one way to keep us grounded, even with all the background noise.

Carlee Kumler
“Little kids are exactly where they are. We’re born very present; it’s a learned condition to worry about what comes next. Then, all of the sudden, we’re living in our worry. We’re anywhere but here.” – Carlee Kumler

Presence Is Allowing The Feeling Of The Moment

Presence Is Allowing The Feeling Of The Moment

A huge part of being present where you are is being true to whatever feeling the moment brings and not putting up walls. Presence means allowing the feelings that are born in a moment to affect you in a way that is honest and raw. It’s the habit of not blocking out feelings due to fear, worry, or insecurity.

Carlee Kumler
“If you’re on a rollercoaster, presence means you’re able to just scream and enjoy it. If you’re in an argument with a friend, you’re present in the pain of that conversation. Instead of trying to manipulate our feelings, try to just experience them.” – Carlee Kumler

It takes a lot of work to feel moments fully, to be in them without letting your cerebral side take over. Children are better at allowing themselves to feel their moments because they haven’t learned how much it can hurt yet.

They haven’t built defense mechanisms to safeguard them from pain or pleasure — they’re all in. But if you can unlearn this kind of emotional authenticity, you can relearn it too.

This doesn’t mean that we should feel the full gravity of every moment as it’s happening. If we lived like that, we might all be way more overwhelmed than we already are!

Being authentic to the moment isn’t letting every emotional wave hit you at once, it just means you aren’t afraid to recognize it for what it is. You aren’t afraid to recognize the wave as a wave, and allow it to wash over you.

Presence Is Easier When You Love Yourself

Presence Is Easier When You Love Yourself

Being present in the moment is easier when you are content with yourself. One huge culprit for taking us out of the moment is self-doubt; that pesky inner narrative that tells us our hair looks weird, or we were dumb for saying that, or that we don’t belong.

observe your own behaviorSelf-acceptance and self-confidence are building blocks toward the mental freedom that being present in the moment brings. When you know your tendencies deeply enough to not be consumed by that self-conscious voice, it’s easier to be present with your friends and loved ones.

Introspection is vital for being present. In order to love who you are and quiet the voices of self-doubt, you have to pay attention to what you bring to the table.

Take time to observe what you’re good at, both from what you know about your passions and talents to what others have told you about your gifts. Write these things down. Then observe your weaknesses. Write down areas you feel you fall short, things you could work to improve, or types of tasks you find difficult.

Once you’ve observed your patterns, you can start to accept them. It’s easier to be in your moments as they happen when you aren’t distracted by insecurities. This won’t happen overnight, though, it’s a lifelong journey.

Presence Looks Like Accepting Your Past

Presence Looks Like Accepting Your Past

Another culprit that steals us from the present is its all-familiar cousin, our past. Creating a healthy relationship with your past is a challenge and a balancing act.

Carlee Kumler“We can ruminate on the past all day, overthink it, rethink it — it steals us from the now. But, when you have a time and a place dedicated to working through those things, they don’t hold as much real estate in your present. That’s what frees you.” – Carlee Kumler

On one hand, there is value in reflecting on your past experiences and memories to better understand yourself in the here and now. Bottling it all up and refusing to process what you go through leads to bad results; therapists and psychology textbooks concur.

On the other hand, it’s not healthy to spend too much time dwelling on the hardships you’ve been through, the good times that have gone by, and all those would-haves, should-haves, and could-haves.

How do we navigate this balancing act? The balance between unhealthy dwelling and healthy processing takes time to figure out, and it’s not something you ever fully master.

With the right tools, you can maintain a healthy relationship with your past so that you have the freedom to enjoy your present. Like an old friend you meet for coffee and chat with on occasion, but they don’t get their own room in your home.

Presence Is Confidence In Your Future

Presence Is Confidence In Your Future

Navigating the future is also tricky. Worrying about what’s to come is a major offender in keeping us from enjoying our present lives. Again, its about balance.

Excessive worry about every outcome will get you nowhere. There is so much out of our control. But throwing caution to the wind and enjoying the now without planning for the future at all doesn’t seem to be the solution either.

have confidence in your futureThere is a quote I like: “Worrying doesn’t take away tomorrow’s troubles, it takes away today’s peace.” I don’t know who was the first to say that, and it’s one of those quotes that’s been passed around a lot. But I think it says a lot about the ways excessive worry steals our lives.

A study from Huffpost states that 85% of what we worry about in life never actually happens. Of course, managing your worry and anxiety is easier said than done. Oftentimes, worry comes from trauma, mental illness, or experiences that aren’t in our control.

Practicing the habit of being at peace is something you owe yourself to be more present in your life, even if it takes work to get there. In my experience, I’ve found that taking things day-by-day helps reduce my worry. Then, reducing that worry helps me to be where I am. It’s kind of cyclical.

When I feel those thoughts of worry about tomorrow, next week, or next year creeping into my mind, I focus on what’s right in front of me, whether that be my loved ones, the small task I’m working on that day, the book I’m reading, or my plans for that week.

A lot of times I’ll ask myself: If I knew my life was going to end in 30 days, would I be worried about this? If the answer is no, then it must not be worth giving all my energy to it in the now, either.

Why Is It So Hard To Be In The Moment?

Why Is It So Hard To Be In The Moment

There are many culprits that keep us from being present. But if we identify these repeat offenders, it makes it easier to deal with them.

Technology Keeps Us From Being Present

Technology Keeps Us From Being Present

I think technology and social media win first place as far as reasons it’s hard to stay present. If I’m being candid, I have probably been distracted by notifications on my phone five to 10 times while writing this post. The irony is rich.

distracted on phoneTechnology pulls us out of the moment not only when we use it, but by planting ideas and narratives in our minds that stick with us even as we pull away.

The news, the Instagram stories, the funny Tik Toks, the endless notifications and text messages — these things aren’t innately bad. Yet, if we aren’t careful, they can steal our moments from us.

A tangible way to combat this is through the concept of digital decluttering. You don’t have to cut out your media intake cold turkey, but study after study shows why managing our media with intention can help us mentally. Being intentional about how much time we spend online as well as the type of content we consume is key for staying present.

social media detox

Racing Thoughts Take Us Out Of The Moment

Racing Thoughts Take Us Out Of The Moment

Anxious thoughts are a huge culprit for whisking us away from the here and now. A racing mind, whatever the cause may be, moves your attention away from what’s physically in front you and onto the mental clutter filling your brain space.

One of the main reasons fear keeps us away from the now is that fear and worry are centered on what might be instead of on what is. Quieting the inner voices in your mind can be a challenge, but there are several tips and strategies listed below to help you navigate anxiousness.

Carlee Kumler
“Redirect your fears to observations. Fears like ‘What if I get a flat tire, what if I’m late, what if I get in a wreck?’ become redirected toward what is true, like, ‘What is true is I am safe, my hands are on the steering wheel, there is no evidence to suggest I will be late.’ Observations ground you.” – Carlee Kumler

Overstimulation Keeps Us From Being Present

Overstimulation Keeps Us From Being Present

Having too much on your plate is another culprit that can make being present in the moment difficult. The main cause of distraction is an overstimulated brain, as our brains can only hold so much before being overworked.

getting a grip on a busy scheduleWhen our schedules are too full, we’re going through something emotionally draining, or we have too many people needing our attention, it all plays in the background of our minds. It takes practice to learn the art of clearing your mind of the extras begging for your attention.

For me, it’s helpful to think about my time and my mental capacity as two separate buckets that I pour from. Just because I am able to fit five meetings, a facetime with a friend, watching the news, finishing a project with a partner, and dinner with loved ones into my day, that doesn’t mean I should.

Having the time and hours to do it all is different than having the mental capacity. If you base what you can take on from time alone, you’ll find yourself distracted and frazzled in moments you wish you were present. Be intentional about analyzing what your brain has room for, not just what your calendar does.

Things You Can Do Each Day To Stay Present

Things You Can Do Each Day To Stay Present

Tangible habits are the best way to reset your mind and body and learn how to be present in the moment. Let’s talk about simple, easy things you can engage with to stay present as you live day-to-day.

Movement Helps You Stay Present

Movement Helps You Stay Present

Exercise and movement help you to stay grounded and increase endorphins — the feel-good hormones in your brain. There is something about the act of moving your body that reminds you, I am here physically and, thus, I can be here mentally too.

It doesn’t have to be a huge workout, even things like standing up for a bit instead of sitting down all day, or doing stretches in the middle of a long day can bring you back to the present moment. This list of top serotonin increasing exercises are great ways to engage with your physical body and recenter your mind:

Exercises to stay Engaged

  • Walking
  • Running
  • Biking
  • Swimming
  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Aerobics
  • Zumba
  • Dancing
  • Inline Skating
swimming to stay active

Use Music And Art To Be In The Moment

Use Music And Art To Be In The Moment

playing violinMusic, visual arts, or other creative outlets engage your mind and hands at once. It’s hard to be out of the moment when being creative, because your inner and outer worlds have to work in sync with each other.

If you feel like you’re going through the motions, try engaging with some form of creative activity to feel your moments more fully. Maybe you want to try taking up an instrument, water coloring, or writing a poem. There are lots of possibilities to get your creative juices flowing.

Focus On Your Breathing To Stay Present

Focus On Your Breathing To Stay Present

Science says that our lungs are the epicenter of our minds. The way we breathe directly correlates with our ability to be present in the moment, to focus, and to take in our surroundings. Focusing on your breathing helps to calm your body down. When our body is calm, our brain is calm, and we can connect more fully to the present moment.

woman meditating in the momentAdopting good breathing habits is important whether you are in a state of panic or not. Healthy breathing helps to keep you grounded and centered on the moment at hand.

If you’re in a situation where you feel your stress response taking over, your pulse racing, or your skin starting to sweat, try some basic breathing techniques to bring you back to the present.

A simple exercise is to breathe in through your nose for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of four, then breathe out through your mouth like a straw for a count of six. Following this sequence repeatedly in the middle of high stress moments can help you come back to the present without drawing attention to yourself.

Playing With Children Or Animals Keeps You Present

Playing With Children Or Animals Keeps You Present

Playing with kids increases serotonin and oxytocin as you create bonds. The ability to let go and freely engage in play can help us to stay in the moment. As adults, it is easy to forget to do things that light us up and that are merely enjoyable. Playing with kids awakens our imagination.

playing with petsPetting or playing with an animal is proven to help with anxiety and depression and improve cardiovascular health. It also engages your senses.

Playing with a dog, cat, or any other pet can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax your body and mind, bringing you back to the present moment.

Mental Strategies When Being Present Is A Challenge

Mental Strategies When Being Present Is A Challenge

Sometimes you can eat well, do yoga, journal, breathe, rinse, repeat, and still feel like your moments are getting away from you. Some moments are just harder to be present in than others, to not let your racing mind take over.

Let’s walk through some mental and emotional grounding techniques to help us to stay present when our thoughts get way too loud and try to steal us from the moment.

Count Five Senses To Ground Yourself

Count Five Senses To Ground Yourself

The concept of shifting our thinking from our inner voice to our physical surroundings is a high brow grounding technique in the therapy world that helps us learn how to be present in the moment.

The five senses technique is a fairly common tactic to bring patients back to the here and now. Here’s the way it works. You move sequentially and intentionally take note of the following things:

Five Senses To Keep You Centered

5 Count five things you see around you: A soda can, a stain on a blanket, clouds

4 Count four things you can touch around you: The fleece of your jacket, gravel on the road

3 Count three things you hear: Dogs barking in a park, rustling leaves

2 Count two things you can smell: Detergent on your clothes, sharpie on your notebook

1 Count one thing you can taste: What does the inside of your mouth taste like right now?

This process of taking inventory of things you can physically observe by using your senses brings you to the present.

Carlee Kumler
“Use the counting to five technique to make the shift from thinking about things to observing things. The process pulls us back. Take in what’s actually in front of you, feel it in your body. Your mind can’t ignore that.” – Carlee Kumler

Use Extreme Temperatures To Come Back To The Moment

Use Extreme Temperatures To Come Back To The Moment

Engaging with extreme temperatures increases endorphins. Increased endorphins can ease symptoms of depression and anxiety and help you to stay grounded.

Try using a cold or hot pack to bring you back from racing thoughts. You can also take a cold or hot shower or bath to help you re-center your mind.

Schedule A Time For Worry To Stay Present

Schedule A Time For Worry To Stay Present

Compartmentalizing is a skill and a superpower, one that is vital for being present in each moment. One way to compartmentalize in a way that is healthy is to create an imaginary box where you place your worries to open later.

Carlee Kumler
“Say I am really worried about a big event coming up. I set a date and time to deal with it, like Thursday at 4:00. Until then, every time that worry pops into my head I’m going to say, ‘I see you worry, I’ll meet with you Thursday at 4 p.m.” – Carlee Kumler

This trick keeps you from fighting your own thoughts. You acknowledge the thought and recognize that it exists, yet you have a plan set in motion for when you will give it your attention. You figuratively put your worry on a shelf for later.

How To Be Present In Each Area Of Your Life

How To Be Present In Each Area Of Your Life

Learning how to be present at the office might look like staying passionate about work instead of being worried about getting everything finished by 5.

Learning how to be present with your partner might look like letting the dishes sit in the sink long enough to truly hear the story they’re trying to share with you. Presence is bound to take a different form in each area of your life.

living a level 10 life

Being Present In Your Relationships

Being Present In Your Relationships

Interpersonal relationships drive the biggest portion of our lives. Our friendships, our family, our romantic partners, our coworkers — the way we communicate with all of these people has the greatest impact on who we are and how we feel.

Being present in your relationshipBeing present with people by sharing meals, listening to anecdotes, catching up over Facetime after a long hard day — aren’t these the moments that matter most? If we aren’t able to be present for our people, I might venture to say we aren’t actually present in our lives at all.

I think this goes back to the concept of attention. Relational presence looks like giving the person you are with your full attention when you are with them.

If someone is confiding in you, presence looks like listening to what they’re saying intently, then taking the time to formulate your response based on what they actually said, not an assumption you already made.

If you’re sharing an experience with someone, like a concert or going to the movies, presence looks like enjoying that time with them, off your phone.

When you’re present with someone you love, you’re not texting your boss back, thinking about what you need to finish once the conversation ends, or focused on what you plan to say next. You’re just with them.

Carlee Kumler
“If you struggle with active listening, find a specific spot on their person to focus on. Then, focus on breathing and listening instead of on what you’re going to say next. Partnerships are more effective when we work to hear one another.” – Carlee Kumler

This isn’t easy, and no one is perfect. Making the time and effort to be present with your people means being strategic about the way you manage your time elsewhere so that when you are with them, you can truly be with them.

Getting good at time management is a whole other conversation, but I do think improving that skill and setting work life boundaries is the prerequisite to being present when you’re actually with people.

This looks like scheduling ample time for work so you aren’t distracted by it with your friends, or responding to, “You free?” texts with, “I don’t have time today, but would love to call you tomorrow afternoon so I can give you my full attention,” and then actually calling when you said you would.

It takes practice. I’m still getting the hang of balancing The Tiny Life and other work endeavors with my romantic and social life. However, I think being present with people is something we should never stop striving to be better at. Is anything else really as important as that?

How To Be Present At Work

How To Be Present At Work

When we’re able to be present, we’re more productive. When you’re working, you want to be able to give your full attention to the task you’re working on in that moment.

being present at workThe best quality work comes when you’re able to give all of your mental capacity to that task and not be distracted by last week’s mistakes or the drama waiting for you at home.

You also want to focus on each task fully without being overwhelmed by all the other tasks in your mental loading dock.

For me, keeping a to-do list and taking tasks one-by-one is the only way I can make the best use of my time. This is backed by science. Neuroscience says that multi-tasking is a total myth and that our brains can’t actually handle more than one thing at a time.

If we want to be present in our work lives, we need to take things slowly in order to speed up. It seems a little backwards, but inching along task by task will actually allow you to get more done in a day than trying to bulldoze through a ton of work at once.

Even if you are only working on one task, your brain is processing everything else in the background, and you work more slowly. Biting off more than you can chew keeps you from being present in your work.

However, sometimes we can’t go slow and steady. Sometimes these things are out of our control and we have to get 99 things done in the time it would take to do 10.

When that happens, well, it sucks. But we can still take the mountain of work one bit at a time while having grace for ourselves when we don’t get as much done as we intended to.

Staying Present With Yourself

Staying Present With Yourself

Of course, none of this matters if we aren’t present intrapersonally, within our own selves. The experts say that knowing oneself is the key to connecting with others and the world in a healthy way.

being present in the momentI think mastering self-presence just means continuing to show up for yourself, despite life’s demands. Presence for yourself looks like taking care of your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs even when you’re extremely busy.

It’s having grace for yourself when you fail or react to things in a way you don’t love. It’s carving out time to do things you love, things that actually make you feel good and not just things you need to do for money, or to please someone.

While this might feel unattainable in a demanding world, I have found that being present with myself has helped me to show up more fully in all areas of my life.

Your Turn!

  • What areas of your life can be more present in?
  • What habits can you start this week to be more present in each moment?

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