Distracted By Later (And Five Ways To Avoid This)

The present is a gift and I just wanna be.

– Common, “Be”

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

– Matthew 6:27

Has this ever happened to you?  Say you’re having a perfect moment.  Maybe you’re having dinner and drinks with some good friends, or lying on the beach with your family, or finishing up a great workout.  Life is good.  Suddenly you’re jolted by something that needs to be done later.  It could be a project due at work, an unpaid bill, or anything else that is taking you away from your perfect moment.

I struggle with this all the time.  Trying to be present now is something I’ve been trying to work on in my own life.  I have this bad habit of stressing about things I need to do later. Later, meaning several hours from now, tomorrow, next week, or sometime else in the future:

  • What am I going to cook for dinner tonight?
  • I need to pack my gym bag for tomorrow.
  • This project needs to be done by next week.
  • Am I ready for my vacation in two weeks?
  • Do I have a blog idea for the end of the week?

I’ve come to realize that this endless stream of tomorrow-worry does two things: 1) it becomes a needless drain of energy; and more importantly 2) it takes me away from any enjoyment that I might be experiencing right now.  This became annoyingly clear a few years back while on vacation in Hawaii.  Here I was at this beautiful beach house with family and friends but I could not fully enjoy myself.  My awesome Hawaiian vacation was being clouded by distractions of work, upcoming responsibilities, and even missed workouts. The next thing I knew, we were packing up the rental car and heading back to the airport.

After being diagnosed with cancer, I promised myself that I would work on being more present.  Reading about cancer survivors and those dying from terminal illnesses, I learned that now is all that we have and that tomorrow isn’t promised to us.  This is easy to say but much harder to put into practice since most people don’t plan for no tomorrow.  With that said, here are five things that have helped me become more present:

  • Slow Down: Thinking about your “to do” list can become overwhelming.  One task becomes two, two becomes four and so on.  I tell my mind to stop and then ask myself, “What am I working on/doing right now?”  If I’m writing a report, I’ll focus on writing the report.  If I’m lifting weights, I’ll focus on lifting weights.  If I’m having dinner with friends, I’ll focus on my food and the company around me.  Slow your mind down and simply think about the task at hand.
  • Observe and Take In: Sometimes I get so distracted I’ll forget where I’m at or what I’m doing (which is not so good when you’re driving).  Again, I’ll stop, take a deep breath, and take a look around me.  Use your senses to be fully aware of where you are.  I have a window seat at work.  Usually I’ll just swivel my chair around and take note of the colors of the trees, watch the flags get whipped around by the wind, or smell the chicken sandwich that my co-worker is eating in the next cubicle over.
  • Focus On Gratitude: Instead of thinking about what needs to be done in the future, I’ll give thanks for something right now.  I’m grateful for my health.  I’m grateful for this dinner that I’m eating.  I’m grateful that I’m sitting at work.  I’m grateful to be spending time with my family or friends.  Actually, expressing gratitude is a pretty powerful tool. Not only does it humble you and make you happy, it keeps your mind in the present as well.
  • Do Something For Someone Else: A great way to get your mind off yourself is to do something for another person.  Help a co-worker with his/her project.  Compliment someone.  Buy someone an unexpected gift.  Write a kind note to a friend.  Getting outside of our own head and focusing on others not only brings happiness to others, it boosts our energy levels as well.
  • Remember – Been There, Done That: I recall something that “Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff” author Richard Carlson wrote: “Will this matter a year from now?” More than likely, no.  The same things you’re worrying or thinking about now, you’ll probably be worrying about and thinking about tomorrow.  And the next day.  That big presentation?  It’s not your first and it won’t be your last.  The project that’s due? You’ve met deadlines before and you can do it again.  Have confidence that whatever comes to mind, you’ll be able to crush it when the time comes.

In the end, there will always be things to distract us.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with planning and being prepared.  But when these become overwhelming distractions today, it robs us of the opportunity to take in life now – which is all we really have anyway.

What are some ways you avoid distractions?  How are you more present?