Give the Gift of Being Present

The holiday season has always been my favorite time of year, but more so now than ever as I experience the magic through the eyes of my seven- and four-year-old boys. Every year leading up to this magical time, I vow to myself that I will be in the moment, and fully present, to truly experience the joy. But, somehow, I exit the holiday season feeling like it completely passed me by without fully being in it. Despite my best effort, the holidays pass faster than you can say the word ‘Christmas’, and I’m always left feeling like I spent too much time focusing on finding the perfect gift, checking off my never-ending to-do list, and, of course, responding to the constant pings from my phone, when instead, I should have been experiencing it and taking it all in.

According to a 2010 Harvard study, we’re not fully present for almost 50% of our time, instead we spend most of our waking hours thinking about something other than what we’re actually doing. But, why? Why is it so hard to live in the present moment? Well, first, it’s human nature to be thinking about something else. We are evolutionarily hardwired to constantly think about the future (what we need to do) and dwell on that past (what did we do). Hundreds of years ago, human survival relied on planning and learning to survive. Now, it is merely preventing us from being present. And, second, we live in a world dominated by smart phones – literally interrupting us – and distracting us from being present. So instead of actively being present, we are on auto-pilot, letting time pass without awareness or presence.

This season I’m shutting down my auto-pilot mode, and committing myself to being more present and aware of what’s happening (when it’s actually happening). While my initial motivation to be ‘fully present’ is to do the impossible – slow father time – there are some real benefits. These benefits include:  better moods, more energy, and it allows you to better regulate your emotions. But above all else, it allows you to form deeper and more authentic connections – and to me, that’s the greatest gift of all.

So, what does ‘being fully present’ really mean? Well according to Headspace (a popular meditation app), being present means being focused on one thing — a conversation, a project, a task in hand — without distraction, without wanting to be somewhere else, without being in your head and lost in thought. While it sounds simple enough – it can be challenging especially in the chaos of the holidays. So here are a few ways I plan to ensure I stay as present as possible:

  • Practice actively listening: How many of you have been in the middle of a conversation with someone and realize you have completely stopped listening, distracted by your own thoughts? Well, it happens to me way too often. Part of being present is giving the person you’re speaking with your undivided attention. Practice active listening by not interrupting, staying focused, asking questions, and listening without judgment.
  • Meditate: There are so many benefits to meditation – it improves focus and attention, reduces stress and anxiety, reduces age related memory loss (the list goes on and on). But meditation teaches you to focus on your body and breath in that exact moment – this in turn is teaching you to quiet your mind and focus on the present moment. There are apps to help you on kick off your mediation practice like Headspace and Calm, and I plan to start with small 10-minute daily sessions.
  • Unplug: For me, my phone is a constant distraction whether it be emails, texts, calls or social media – it can interrupt me from whatever I’m doing. So, for me, I’m going to make myself unplug, turning my phone off when I’m spending quality time with the people I love.
  • Let Go: I’m a control freak at the core but this year when things don’t go as planned, I’m going to push myself to let it go. I plan to pause, take a few breaths, and enjoy the moment for what it is (rather attempting to fix it).

I hope you’ll join me this season and let’s all give the best gift of all: being fully present with our families, friends, and loved ones. Happy Holidays.

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