Living in the moment is a simple way of “being” in a very complex, distraction-filled world. Making an intentional choice to be present helps you achieve calmness, clarity, and connection. But the constant intrusion of information, messaging, entertainment and visual clutter make it difficult to achieve. Even when we’re not checking things on our phones, there is always the temptation to photograph or record life’s events. Using our devices to glean information, communicate and preserve memories isn’t bad, but it does dilute our attention, taking away just a little of the magic of just breathing in our surroundings.
“The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.” - Abraham Maslow
Here are some of the choices you may be faced with in your everyday life:
Do I want to watch and listen my child’s orchestra concert, or do I want to make a video so I can watch it and share it later.
Do I want to keep my eyes on the road, or do I want to see who just texted me? (I hope this one is an easy choice!)
Do I want to stand still and enjoy the vista over this mountain range, or do I want to use it as the perfect backdrop for a selfie?
Do I want to take amazing photos of my child’s birthday party, or do I want to fully participate?
Do I want to write down the class notes, or do I want to take a photo to look at later?
Do I want to talk to the people I am sharing a meal with, or do I want to scroll through TikTok and text other people?
Do I want to engage with the other people at the bus stop, or do I want to check my socials?
Do I want to give my pets my full attention, or do I want to take the cutest photo ever?
Do I want to sit in the awkward silences of conversation until there is something to say, or do I want to distract myself with my phone?
When was the last time you were able to focus on just one thing? It may have been a conversation, a project, or a particularly engaging task. You did it without distraction, without being behind the lens of a camera, without wanting to be somewhere else, and without letting your mind wander. If you can’t think of a time, you’re not alone! Distraction is part of our culture. If you can think of a time when you were able to focus on just one thing, chances are, you got more accomplished, felt good about what you achieved, or are thankful for the time you spent with someone special.
Here are a few ideas for how to find that focus again, or perhaps for the first time:
Walk Away From Your Device: If you really want to focus on something or someone, try leaving your device in another room.
For Projects, Try Music: If you’re alone with a project, like maybe an organizing project (ha!), you could put on some music if you like. Studies show that what we typically consider "multitasking" is really more like "switch-tasking" where our brain is rapidly changing focus. However, activities that use different parts of the brain, like physically organizing while listening to music, can be layered to create a productive "multitasking" scenario.
Some people focus better with passive entertainment like music, while others do best in the quiet of their thoughts. You could try it both ways and see which way helps you concentrate and get fully engrossed in the work.
For People, Be Patient With Yourself: When you are in the same room with another person, sometimes the banter comes naturally with hardly a pause in the conversation. Other times, there could be awkward silences that you feel inclined to fill. Silence is okay. Use is to reflect on what has been said so far and see if there is something you can build on. Or do something silly to make the other person laugh. Often, sitting in silence helps us to look inward, outward, and around in ways we don’t normally do. It helps us get comfortable with whatever we are feeling whether it’s our emotions, restlessness, or anything else, by just giving it some time. As we search to fill the voiceless void, we are simply present. And, that presence has value.
As I’ve said before, our homes are our sanctuaries. They are a place where we should be comfortable, safe, and relaxed. If devices are disrupting your connection with family members, it can be helpful to create some house rules that encourage being present. It may be that phones are not brought to the dinner table. Or it could be that they are put down when conversations are taking place…any conversations, not just the big parental lectures!
I’m afraid we will never go back to a time when devices weren’t intrusive, but we need to be able to keep them in their place, so they don’t upstage us at important times.
For kids, it is critical that communication skills like giving someone their complete attention and maintaining eye contact are taught. Have you ever seen a group of teens at a bus stop? They are staggered in their shared space, each slightly turned away from the others and actively engaged with their phone. You may not be able to control that dynamic, but you can make sure they have the communication skills they need should they choose to engage.
The Thing About Preserved Memories
As you consider your options in each of life’s moments, be sure to weigh them carefully. The present instantly becomes the past, and if you didn’t fully live it and enjoy it because you were too distracted or too busy trying to preserve it, you may end up with regrets.
One thing I try to think about is what happens to all those photos and videos we take. Typically, they get loaded onto a cluttered hard drive where they stay until we decide to do something with them. But, from an organizer’s perspective, having so much digital media can make it hard to find and display the ones that are most important to us.
So, I guess my point is to choose carefully and with a little foresight. Decide what is most important to you as each moment presents itself. Sometimes a photo or video is an excellent choice. Sometimes distraction gives us a needed mental break. Sometimes, you've just got to look something up. But sometimes, the most fulfilling thing to do is to just be there, both for yourself and those around you.