1. Look inward for reinforcement, not outward.
When you feel stress or anxiety, resist the urge to look for external reinforcement. External reinforcement is the sugar high of emotions; it comes in a quick blast and then fades, and then you need another hit. All those seemingly harmless behaviors—checking e-mail, reading news blurbs—are ways of leaving the present. They are ways of trying to get external reinforcement that this moment is okay.
The present lives in us, not outside of us. We do not have control over the outside world, but we do have control over what is inside of us. When you feel the need for reassurance, remind yourself that all the resources you need to be present and at peace are inside you. Remember that they have always been there, and they will always be there.
2. Control your information stream.
Put your news consumption on a diet. Put your phone away. Regulate your use of external information for emotional support, especially from social media. Facebook, Twitter and the rest can be wonderful ways to connect with friends. But overuse them and they begin to make you feel disconnected instead.
3. Write down your goals—and then throw them away.
Goal setting is a great way to prioritize what’s important to you. Just remember that goals are about the future. Once you’ve identified them, let them float away into the future, where they belong. The real rewards are not in attaining your final goals, but in working towards them. And that only happens in the present.
4. Embrace gratitude.
At regular intervals take a few moments out of your day and list five things you feel grateful for. Gratitude is an amazing weapon against anxiety, and it is a powerful way of reminding ourselves of the power and value of the present.
A great way to immerse yourself in gratitude is to perform acts that help other people. Volunteering and acts of kindness help us focus on others, rather than ourselves, and are an amazingly effective tool for living presently.
5. Practice mindfulness.
Develop a simple, repeatable mindfulness habit. If meditation is your thing, spend fifteen minutes each morning in quiet contemplation, simply being present. The core of my contemplative process is running. It’s my way of burning out the noise and anxiety of the future and the past (which do not exist) and bringing my awareness back to the present. Experiment and figure out what works best for you, and then make it a habit.
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