The Powerful Present
by Jean Marie Johnson
You know what it's like: you stop short, dead in your tracks. You've forgotten what you are about to do, or where you are headed because you are lost in thought, somewhere else. You are present
, at least physically, but your attention is elsewhere, looking back to a memory, or forward with anticipation. Either way, you aren't in "real-time" and are absent in every way that counts.
So you regroup, mentally retrace your steps, and get back to the moment. We've all done it.
At other times, we're simply multi-tasking which leads to the specific form of divided attention that creates mistakes. Take yesterday: a 4 p.m. dentist appointment around which I'd planned my busy day. Tooling down rural roads, listening to old-school rock and roll, I had no idea that I would arrive 24 hours early. Yes, 24 hours
. It's not as if I could just hang out in the waiting room and respond to my messages.
Now, it remains a question, technically, as to whether or not the scheduling error was mine, or theirs. But I'd put my money on it, that, trying to do too many things at once, I entered the date on my phone incorrectly. Know thyself.
That lack of alignment with real time made me pause to consider how I relate to the larger concept of TIME. What distracts me from being in the present moment? Is it:
A tendency to think about what happened in the past
An urge to focus on what will happen in the future
An Achilles Heel for multi-tasking
My affirmative responses discourage me. How about you? How many would you check off? I decided to take on the personal challenge of doing a better job of relating to the present moment.
If only it were a checklist. That would be easy.
Our lives aren't lived exclusively in the activities we'd rather do, or the places we'd rather be. They certainly don't start at 5 p.m. when we press "shut down" or on a weekend morning when we sleep in.
How we spend our days is a question of how we spend the moments that comprise the seconds that make up the minutes and the hours.
All of them matter.
Most of us begin each day with the best of intentions. Self-talk or prayer puts us in a positive and hopeful frame of mind. We may take an early morning walk, do a little yoga or squeeze in that mini workout. We do our best to bring a sense of purpose and a willingness to contribute to each new day. And off we go.
The present is a powerful and unpredictable place. It brings us joy, pumps us up, provides a good laugh and gives us that deep sense of soul satisfaction.
But the present also offers its share of tedious tasks, unanticipated challenges, and bad news that we'd rather do without. So much for those good intentions. When that happens, you may feel a bit defeated and kick into a lower gear where you settle for "let me just get through the day." Even the most positive amongst us knows that feeling. And yet, how we spend this day, all of our cumulative moments—is how we spend our lives.
We owe it to ourselves to make a better choice.
There's no quick fix; it's a commitment. So, if you're willing to consider a longer term approach, please do read on.
Arriving at a hospital emergency room to see my mother, I made my way to the security desk, the final gateway to the patient. I approached the young man sitting there, and leaned over to say my mother's name. But as I did so, a woman inched in front of me. The guard quickly asked if she was going into the therapy area. She gave him a cold and nasty look and pushed a name tag in his face. He recoiled, but allowed her to enter. As he sat down, he looked me straight in the eye and said "some people…."
All of this happened so quickly. The last thing I "felt" like doing was getting into a conversation with the guard about how we, as human beings mistreat one another. I needed to get to my mother. But I stopped myself and responded to what was present in that moment:
- "I know. It's hard not to take it personally. I bet it has nothing to do with you."
- "You're right. And I should be used to it by now."
- "It caught you by surprise. Can you tell me which room my mother….?"
Given a choice, I would not have witnessed that little scene. But I did. I could have ignored the whole thing. You might even argue that I had every right to.
In every moment, we have to decide "who will show up" and "how we will be," especially when things don't go as we would have them. You renew your relationship with present time when you bring the best of who you are to each moment.
Take responsibility for the present tense
It's perfect. It's imperfect. It's perfectly-imperfect. Whatever philosophical bent you have toward your experience, you can always decide that you will accept and go with what the moment has to offer, or even what it might "dish up." Remind yourself that what you make of it is a matter of what you do with it. It is what is meant by the expression "you create your own experience." How you handle being present in the present is up to you.
Practice behavior modification
The habit of being fully-present on a selective basis may be fairly-entrenched, and so finding a way to remind yourself can help. While you may not tie a string around your finger, you might place a post-it note on your phone that says: be present. Why not a supportive, gentle nudge? I've put one on my desktop, a personal variation that supports me in my commitment to be present.
Incorporate a new question
As you live the moments of your day, start asking yourself: "What is the best way to be and to respond right now?" Or simply:"What about right now?"
Just asking the question will help to keep you focused, aware, relaxed and ready to respond based on a conscious choice. Another way of saying "present," it is that pause between the stimulus and the response.
Choose to tune in to this moment
As a service provider, you know that what you do, right now in the present moment, influences how others respond to you and what happens next.
Every interaction you have creates the memories and experiences you go over in your mind: those you feel good about, those you are proud of, and the ones you learn from.
Rather powerful, this business of the present. Wouldn't you say?
I know. There's a lot of static on that channel; you may even be in a dead zone. As trite as it sounds, do it anyway. That's what I did in the moment with that security guard. And while he may have felt better because I empathized with him, I was the primary beneficiary. Being present is a concept that is hard to nail down. And yet, at its core, you might think of being present in terms of:
- Being at ease: ready and receptive to however a situation presents itself. Being able to let go of expecting things—and people—to be a certain way.
- Being attuned: paying attention to what is happening, what people are really communicating: verbally, non-verbally, everything. Focus on that.
When you are at ease and attuned in the moment, you are able to respond more appropriately and more authentically. That's likely to be a better choice for you and for everyone else who may show up in your day.
Tune in to the powerful present. Make every moment matter: it's yours
Jean Marie Johnson is a Communico facilitator and has helped clients with their MAGIC initiatives. And for 20 years she has specialized in cultivating the customer experience as a key competitive advantage.