Living in the moment is being aware of the moment we are in. If our minds are in the past or future, we are not truly alive in the present.”
~ Satsuki Shibuya
I sometimes find that I enjoy the build up to something I am looking forward to immensely. Let’s think about a holiday. I spend the run up to the holiday feeling excited and day dreaming about how good it will be. Then I look back on the holiday with really fond memories. I love reminiscing on the great time I had. But whilst I am actually on the holiday itself, I sometimes find myself looking forward to the next thing, as opposed to really living in each moment as it happens. Something I want to get better at is enjoying each present moment, rather than looking forward or backwards on an experience.
I recently read some research by Daniel Kahneman which really resonated with me. He received the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2002 for his work on decision-making. His work shows that we have two mental operating systems, an experiencing self and a remembering self.
The experiencing self:
This self is us in the present moment who live through each event. It is us in our life, moment by moment, whilst we are living it, rather than us thinking about it. Our experiencing self is intuitive and operates in an unconscious mode of thinking. It’s us focusing on the quality of our experiences. As each event takes place, we will forget the experience in that moment and instead create a memory of it.
The remembering self:
This self is us writing history. It is a conscious mode of thinking. It tells our story of our experiences. It’s how we think about our experiences rather than being in them.
Kahneman argues that decisions are made based on the remembering self’s view of what happened in the past rather than the actual experience. As each event takes place, we forget the experience in that moment, instead we create a memory of it, but is that memory always exactly the same as the actual experience was? Often the experiencing self and the remembering self don’t have the same view on what happened. I know with myself, I often look back with a more positive spin than the reality of what happened or how I felt in the moment.
Khanemans research shows that our memory colours an experience with 2 things. The ending and the intensity of an experience. He states that our brains are hard wired to remember intense negative experiences, more than positive, even when the positive experience is a much greater volume or length of time. This is why when we have a situation that ends negatively, it can colour your entire perception of the experience itself.
Think back on previous jobs, relationships, holidays and other experience and try to think whether your memory of them matches the reality of being in them. It can be tricky to remember in enough detail the reality of being in the situation, especially if the ending was bad.
So, how can we live more in the moment:
1) Be conscious of your experiencing self
Now you know we have an experiencing self and a remembering self, pay more attention to the experiencing side. Focus in on the here and now and be conscious about whether you are enjoying each moment as it happens. Try to enjoy the present moment, rather than creating a memory for later.
2) Take in your surroundings with awe
Focus on really being present with your environment as you are in it. Take interest in all the small details. Soak in the surroundings, the smells, the sounds, the atmosphere. Slow down and take time to observe and experience.
3) Stop thinking about what’s coming next
If you are always thinking about what’s coming later, it will be hard to focus at all on what’s happening right now. Try spending dedicated time for planning things for the future and then when you are not doing that planning, focus on what you are doing right now instead. This is not to say that you can’t get excited about something coming up, as this is part of the fun, but try not to focus only on what’s happening at a later date at the expense of experiencing what is happening right now.
4) Focus on one thing at a time
If we stop trying to multitask and really focus our energy on what we are doing right now, we will be able to experience it more thoroughly. One of the mains ways to do this is to stop being distracted by technology. If you stop all distractions, you can aim to achieve what Mihaly Csikszentmihaly refers to as a state of flow, where you get so into the task at hand that you lose yourself in it and get totally absorbed in what you are doing. This is a way to truly live in the moment.
I’d love to hear from you about how well you are able to live in the moment and any techniques you use to do that successfully.