Think about the last time you had dinner with someone, whether family, a colleague, or a significant other. How much of your time was spent experiencing that moment, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells and being completely present?
How much of your time was spent checking emails, text messages, and social media, thinking about responsibilities and deadlines, or otherwise disengaged?
If you fit into the majority, according to statistics, you spent more time distracted than you did present. One study found 97% of college students are distracted by their cell phones during class. Another study found mobile users spend over four hours a day on phones and tablets — that’s almost 1,500 hours per year.
Our world is inundated with distractions, both internal and external, that make it difficult to be truly present in the moment. Some of the things that pull your thoughts away might include:
- Failures, shame, or embarrassment from the past
- Worries about the future
- Other responsibilities, like work or a side hustle
- The disruption of electronics: notifications, text messages, calls, social media, etc.
As hard as it can be to admit, all these distractions train our brain to require distraction. We’re becoming addicted to it. And as we do, it gets harder and harder to be present with our loved ones — and during some of life’s most important moments.
Why Is It So Important to Be More Present?
Failure to be present can wreak havoc on your life. It can cause you to make careless mistakes at work, putting your job or a promotion at risk. It can deteriorate your connection to those you love the most, leading to strained and broken relationships. It can prevent you from giving your children the attention they need to grow and thrive. It can prevent you from seizing major opportunities that are right in front you.
On a more positive note, research demonstrates that being present directly contributes to success and happiness. “Being present,” in this context, means listening to others, being aware of your surroundings, and engaging with those around you. It means being keenly aware of the moment you’re in rather than reliving past moments or worrying about the future. Being present can be likened to focus in many ways.
And why does this directly correlate with happiness and success? Because:
- When you listen to others, your perspective broadens and your knowledge base expands.
- Your relationships with those around you grow when you engage with them; you give and receive more love.
- The past loses its grip and you’re able to perform at your best today despite what you’ve been through before.
- You make strides that build your future instead of worrying about your future (and becoming paralyzed by that worry).
How Can I Eliminate Distractions in My Life?
If we look for successful examples in the real world, one of the first examples we notice is the world of athletics. Successful athletes cultivate an intense focus on being present. Let’s explore their tools and then I’ll share some key takeaways that you can implement today to improve your presence and focus, too.
An article published in News and Views from Sports Psychology explores the importance of a focus on the present in athletes. All too often, athletes play their game with the burden of past failures weighing them down and distracting them. It’s a vicious cycle; this negative distraction is detrimental to their current performance, which leads to another perceived failure and another distraction in future performances.
In addition to the past, athletes often feel pressured by the future. It’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing on the potential win and the moment of glory — and lose focus on the game itself. Although this is a positive goal, it distracts from a focus on the present.
Even the writers of the News and Views from Sports Psychology article recognize that no athlete can focus on the present unfailingly: “Athlete’s minds are going to drift into the past or the future; it’s not a matter of if it happens, it’s a matter of when, how often, and for how long it happens.” For this reason, Kev Ravizza, sport psychology consultant, recommends that professional athletes use what he calls “the traffic signal” to keep their focus on the game:
- First, the athlete must evaluate his or her focus periodically throughout the game by asking, “Am I focused on my performance in the present moment?” If the athlete is fully focused on the present moment, the light is green. He or she is good to go.
- However, if the athlete’s thoughts are shifting between the past, present, and future, his or her traffic light is yellow. This is a warning sign; it’s time to shift focus to the present and stay there by eliminating distractions.
- Athletes who ignore a yellow light can easily escalate themselves to a red light: their focus is elsewhere, and their performance is likely to suffer as a result. Those who reach “red light” status might need to momentarily step out of the game to clear distractions and reset their focus.
Clearing distractions often includes physical movements or visualizations that help the athlete refocus. Simply taking a deep breath, pulling the shoulders back, standing tall, and facing forward can symbolize a fresh start with clearer focus.
How to Be More Present in Your Life
Maybe you aren’t a professional athlete (not many of us are). So, how can you use the tips Ravizza uses with his athletes to stay focused in your own life? You can start today with these easy steps:
- Simply be aware. Ask yourself often throughout the day, “Am I focused on the present moment?”
- When the answer is “no,” explore your distractions. What thoughts or other distractions are stealing your focus?
- Eliminate distractions. Redirect your thoughts, put your phone away, turn off your monitor, or go to a quiet place. Some people find they’re able to eliminate distractions by visualizing a stop sign or “shaking it off.” Find what works for you.
- Find an accountability partner. Ask your loved ones or coworkers to remind you if you’re checking your phone, in a daze, or thinking about something else when you should be engaging. And then, when they offer reminders, thank them and refocus.
- Keep a journal (like the Happier Mind Journal). Set your goals each morning and take time at the end of each day to reflect on your achievement of those goals and how it makes you feel. Over time, you’ll find you get better and better at staying present — and, as a result, you feel better and better at the end of each day.