Joey Velez, MA, MBA; Wellness Contributor
Have you ever been in a semi-conscious state, when suddenly you snap into a fully conscious moment? Or have you ever started to think about your six-page long “to-do” list and asked yourself, “Did I brush my teeth this morning?” even though you completed the task two minutes prior.
Thinking about what you must do tomorrow, or all that happened yesterday can make your brainwaves look like a major city freeway during rush hour traffic on a Tuesday evening. Whether planning, organizing, worrying, or reliving past experiences, these are thoughts that can take up valuable real estate in your mind, but what these thoughts are really doing is taking you out of the present moment.
Real-life happens in the here and now, and if you can teach yourself to be as in the moment as possible, you will find that your performance will elevate, your production will increase, and your overall well-being will improve.
Learning from past experiences is important, as is setting goals for your future. However, you do not want to have those thoughts affect the here and now. You should become familiar with the acronym “WIN,” which stands for What’s Important Now.
Being present and focusing on the task at hand are foundations of the WIN mentality. Numerous elements of life are out of your control: winning, outcomes, other people, statistics and the past and the future. All of these factors require focus, and when you focus your attention on them, you take yourself out of the present, making it more difficult to be successful at the task at hand. The only thing you should be focusing on is the task in front of you, which is your process, focus, belief, your attitude, effort, and your actions.
Your chance of injury will increase when you remove yourself from the present because you may skip over important details. For example, rushing through a workout because you are thinking about what you have to do afterward will distract you from the exercise’s proper form. Next thing you know, you pull a muscle in your back or hamstring, and now your mobility is limited for the next month.
You may also miss important information when you remove yourself from the present. For example, if you are distracted during a executive meeting, and they ask for your opinion on how to market the newest company product, , you may not be prepared to answer the question, which gives the impression that you were not listening. The mind may wander, and we cannot control what comes into it, but we have control over how quickly we bring ourselves back to the present.
When the WIN acronym was presented to me, I could not help but reflect on playing varsity basketball my junior and senior years of high school. This time in my life is a great reminder of why it is important to live in the present.
During my junior year, I was the 12th man on the roster, so I accepted my role and that my playing time would be limited. During that year, I cheered my heart out to encourage and motivate my teammates, and I treated each practice like it was a game because that was my time to get on the floor and play. I knew that if I worked hard and gave it my all, then not only would I benefit, but my teammates would as well. My senior year came around, and I was excited to have an expanded role, however, to my surprise, it stayed the same. I was devastated.
I felt like the joy of basketball was being taken from me. I constantly asked myself, “What am I doing wrong? Why am I not playing? Why doesn’t the coach like me?” There were even times when I cried after games because I did not get a chance to help the team. Ten years later, I realized that I missed out on playing my senior year of basketball with my five best friends because I was constantly focused on what was out of my control. My junior year was so much more enjoyable and memorable because I was present. During my senior year, I did not understand this concept, which, in turn, made this precious moment one to forget.
When you are present, you experience more freedom and joy and you increase your ability to make on-the-spot decisions. When you are not present, you experience more stress due to being in a constant state of worry or planning, your mind fills with more clutter because you are constantly thinking and your decision making becomes negatively impacted because your thoughts are elsewhere. Therefore, it is vital to build self-awareness around your focus.
Understanding when, where and why you lose concentration, as well as when you are not fully present, will help you know when it is time to act and get back into the here and now.
One of the most efficient ways to get back into the present moment is to focus on your breathing. Whether it is one, two, five or ten breathes, make sure they are deep and that you focus on each inhalation and exhalation individually. Some individuals find it helpful to count each breath; either way, the act of focusing on breathing places your attention on something that is happening right now. Not only does it set your attention on one area, but proper, deep breathing facilitates relaxation throughout the body because you are bringing in more oxygen to the system.
When your mind is racing, and it has too much going on, your body will tense up, and you will feel an increase in your stress levels. Therefore, breathing can not only help you bring your attention back to the present moment but can also help decrease stress.
You can supplement your breathing with an action or a cue, to help bring your attention back to the present. This cue can be anything from a phrase, to clapping your hands. A phrase that sticks with me and that I preach to the athletes I coach is “be where your feet are.” It reminds me that the only place my mind should be is where my feet are. When I feel myself not being present, I take a moment, look down, check my feet, and say “be where your feet are.”
No matter what your competitive environment is, your biggest competitor will always be yourself. When your mind is too busy focusing on yesterday’s adversity, something a co-worker said to you or all that you must do before 5 p.m., you will not be able to be successful at the task in front of you. We cannot control what comes into our mind or where our mind goes, because your mind will wander, but we can control bringing out attention back to the present as quickly as possible. Do not beat yourself up over not being present. Instead, focus on your breathing and get back into the present.