As I sit at my laptop in July, carefully eating an ice lolly to cool down in 27-degree heat whilst simultaneously editing a Christmas article for the October-December edition of Liberti, it occurs to me: modern life makes it very tricky to live in the moment.
In our work lives, we rarely stop to celebrate our current successes because we’re always looking ahead for the next quarter or term or target. Thanks to modern technology, a good number of our clients, colleagues or even customers can reach us at the touch of a screen – whether or not it’s within our designated working hours – and so even if we’re not in the office, our mind is very much on work. And, because we’re so busy, we have to schedule in everything from errands to social events, meaning our calendars are a full, colour-coded reminder of what’s coming tomorrow and the next day and six weeks from now.
And it’s usually at this point – when I’m drowning in busyness and trying to work out when I’ll have time to see that friend or buy that birthday present or clean the bathroom – that I’ll come across some form of the Pinterest/Instagram visual quote, advising me to “Live in the moment”. A one-minute Google has revealed the following variations: “All we have is now.” “To Do: Live in the Moment.” “Stop trying so hard and just BE.” “Look at the magic all around you.” “Be where you are, not where you think you should be.” And, I promise you, at least two of those were in a squiggly font on a sunset background.
But here’s my question in response to all that well-intentioned advice: how?
It’s all very well to say, “OK, great, I’m going to live in the moment now” but does that stop me lying awake at night mentally checking off tomorrow’s to-do list? Does it heck. But living in the moment – being mindful of where we are and not missing out on our lives because we’re too busy looking ahead – is a genuinely good thing to try to maintain. So I’ve decided to try and answer my own question: how do you actually live in the moment?
Move with the seasons: Step in time with what the world around you is doing. Don’t be that guy who whines when it’s too hot in the summer, and then whines again when December is too cold and dark. Revel in what’s great about each season, and get outside every now and then to appreciate the changes all around you. Eat pumpkin soup in autumn and crunch the leaves beneath your feet. In winter, drink hot chocolate, cuddle up in a blanket and get all hygge. Smell the spring flowers and get off your face on Easter Eggs. Spend your summer at the beach, rocking your aviator sunglasses like the beach babe you are. And, bonus, eating seasonally is also great for the planet.
Don’t multitask: We all love feeling very busy and important when we smash our way through multiple jobs at once, but try focussing on one thing at a time and see how much more you get out of it. I used to work with an author whose biggest book was about mindfulness, and she advised an exercise for learning how to be more mindful: make a cup of tea, but really just make a cup of tea. Don’t put the kettle on and wander off to do other things. Focus on the process of making tea. What do you notice? What do you smell, hear, see in the room that you usually miss? Sit with the mug and do nothing else, feeling the warmth in your hands as you sip. She also recommends not eating in front of the TV, but making mealtimes a moment to enjoy together and really savouring the food in front of you.
Listen: My Mum used to complain that a friend of hers would always ask how she was at social occasions, but she would see their eye wandering around the room looking for who they needed to speak to next. It wasn’t that they were bored or uninterested; they were simply trying to make sure they caught up with everyone. I think we can all be a bit guilty of that, or of spending a conversation working out what we’re going to reply rather than listening to the end of what the person is actually saying. Try listening to what someone says, how they say it, what’s their posture, their facial expression? If someone has just been on holiday, don’t just ask if they had a nice time and be satisfied with their “Yes, thanks.” What did they get up to? How was the hotel? What did they eat, read, do on the plane? Follow your conversational curiosity.
Slow down: I once read about the slow movement (by which I mean I read a book in which a character told another character about the slow movement, and I decided that meant I knew plenty about the slow movement). It started as the slow food movement, in reaction to protests about a McDonalds opening in Rome in 1986, but now encompasses lifestyle choices that prioritise taking time to do things properly. Carl Honoré, author of In Praise of Slow, explains:
It is a cultural revolution against the notion that faster is always better. The Slow philosophy is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace. It’s about seeking to do everything at the right speed. Savouring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them. Doing everything as well as possible, instead of as fast as possible. It’s about quality over quantity in everything from work to food to parenting.
Use moments to your advantage: When you’re miserable or stressed or angry, sometimes it’s nice to know that it’s only for this moment. It can be so easy to spill your breakfast first thing in the morning and let it ruin your whole day, or to be going through a season of grief or uncertainty and believe that this is just the way things are from now on. Take a moment to stop. Close your eyes. Breathe. And, if it’s helpful, you can borrow my mantra that I do not use nearly often enough: this too shall pass.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti