Staying Present

I’m someone who spends a lot of time in my head. I tend to overanalyze, to plan what I say a little more than your average person, to really know what I have in mind before I act.

We could overanalyze even that, and talk about whether it’s introversion or my broader Myers-Briggs type or something else  that makes me that way. But let’s just start with the fact that I struggle to stay present.

Here are some ways I’ve found to keep myself more present:

  • Physical activity. The best thing for me is to raise my awareness of my body. Some of my favorite ways to do this include dance, walking outside, and playing with the animals, but really, anything that reminds me that I’m not a giant floating head will work. In meetings, I take notes to make myself stay present. My recall of things is usually pretty good, as long as I pay attention, but if I let my mind wander, I can’t tell you much. So like a big geek, I take detailed notes.
  • Being creative. Whether it’s music or the arts or cooking/baking, these things help me process the things in my head and get them cleared out.
  • Cleaning. I don’t do as much of this as I should, but sometimes outer order brings inner peace. That’s one of the things I’ve liked about the move, is that a lot of the “stuff” is stowed. I do think better when I’m not ignoring a pile of clothes that I need to sort before I can do laundry.
  • Keeping lists. I almost said “physical lists,” but the truth is that it can be an electronic list, I’m just surrounded by a sea of post-its reminding me where I am in things. It’s not that I’m likely to forget where I am in any of these things, but having something I look at that reminds me what comes next helps keep me focused. I like nothing better than to let my mind wander, but I seldom have a lot to show for that, and the people in my life do tend to value what I do more than random trains of thought I ride. Also, along the line of Getting Things Done, if I know that an idea is written down somewhere I’ll find it when I need it, I don’t have to keep repeating it to myself. “Oh, right, I need to do x and then check on y, and call _____ about z…”
  • Prioritizing. This one makes me a little crazy, because prioritizing a to do list (“Be sure you’re working on your ‘A’ tasks and looking for opportunities to delegate your ‘C’ tasks”) has never worked for me. And I think only crappy managers put all their crap work on employees. (Sparing you a lecture on being a good leader who motivates people in ways that matter.) But what has worked for me was getting clarity about what one thing I need to do, even if I accomplish nothing else. Pulling a list of top 3 things I need to get done— not necessarily the three most important things, not necessarily the three biggest projects, but three things that need to happen that day, or else.
  • Realizing where my responsibility ends. This one is probably the hardest for me, and I’m not great at it. But you’d never know from looking at my life that not everything is on me. So I’ve had to learn to find ways to let go of the thought that “if it is to be, it’s up to me.” Now, let me say that I’m speaking to my fellow hyper-responsible people, here. There’s a level on which “if it is to be, it’s up to me” totally works. I just apply it too broadly. Other people (in my opinion) might not apply it broadly enough. If you lack motivation, I’m not telling you that hustle doesn’t matter— I’m just not someone who needs to be reminded of that.
  • Giving myself permission to be less present, sometimes. This one is kind of counter-intuitive, but I have a few areas in my life where I don’t fight how I am. When I’m walking the dog, for example. Sometimes I can zone out and listen to a podcast and make lists in my head instead of being truly engaged, every second. I try to stay engaged enough not to miss the cute things he does and the beautiful sunsets or flowers or things, but I don’t need my whole, focused attention in that situation the way I might in other areas.
  • Deliberate gratitude. This is one I’ve been developing over the course of the move. There are six bajillion moving parts to this move, and it’s so much work, I’ve struggled with feeling discouraged, stressed, picked on, and other pleasant things. One thing that has helped is a commitment to make a (nearly) daily observation about what I’ll miss about the house I’m leaving and something I’m looking forward to in the new place. It has really helped to ground me.

Have you thought much about this? Did I miss a tip? Let me know in the comments!

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