“Start by letting go of the false “work-life balance” dichotomy. Life does not start when we’re leaving work and it does not end when we return the next day.
Does your work day ever go by in a blur and later you barely remember what happened? Are you ever physically at dinner but mentally still at work? Maybe you’re impatient to check email or thinking of all you've got do tomorrow to “catch up.”
As a professional and a mom, I’ve been there many times -- especially when I’ve been working long hours and my stress is high. I feel unable to really experience the time at work and to be there and enjoy my time off. I find myself at the end of the week, month, or season wondering, “Where did all the time go?"
Rushed and on-the-go, not paying attention to what’s right in front of me, I sometimes feel as if my life is going by at full speed without me. I’m there, but somehow not experiencing the time in my life. I’m sure this also negatively impacts my loved ones. My kids, my husband, and my friends probably feel when my mind is elsewhere.
If this also happens to you and you’d like to be more present at home or at work, read on. I’ll cover ways to throw yourself back into feeling and even enjoying the present moment.
Why mindfulness should matter to you
First, why might you want to be more present to the moment? To go straight to the data, research shows that mindfulness, or paying attention to what happens moment by moment, makes people feel better. Staying more in the present, mentally, can reduce depression and anxiety as well as antidepressants and with no toxic side effects*.
Why might this be? If you think about it -- oftentimes the present moment is relatively okay, with manageable suffering, if any. Right now, probably most of us have shelter, food, and are relatively comfortable. Our minds can easily though drift away from the present focusing on regrets about the past or worries about the future. When that happens, our minds add the suffering of the past and the imagined suffering of the future to the present moment, and we end up feeling a lot more miserable.
Overall, refocusing our attention to the moment can make us suffer less and experience our lives and loved ones more.
Take a moment
The key difference between a day that rushes by, without me noticing it, and a day I fully experience is where my attention is moment by moment.
I can easily be absent from the moment for hours at a time if my attention is lost in thoughts of the past or the future. That usually happens when I’m avoiding something unpleasant, like boredom or anxiety. When I’m not pushing the moment away though, I fully experience what’s going on.
To show you what I mean, let’s try a brief experiment:
For the next few seconds, do your best to pay attention 100% to what is happening right now. What sounds can you hear? Just pay attention -- what do you see? Turn your head around and just look -- do you notice any detail you hadn't seen before? Is there color around you? What sensations do you feel in your shoulders and neck? What about your stomach -– any tension there?
How did this go for you? Were you a little more present to the moment during it? Refocusing your attention to your senses can help you be more present.
So, where do you start?
Start by letting go of the false “work-life balance” dichotomy. Life does not start when we’re leaving work and it does not end when we return the next day. We spend a big part of our lives at work, so not being present at work is a BIG loss.
Do some soul-searching to figure out: is it important to you to be more present at work, home, or both? What would be different if you were -- and is that important to you? If the answer is yes, commit to yourself to try some strategies for living more in the moment.
Identify signs that you’re not living in the moment. Some people disconnect by thinking about the past or future. How do you know your mind is elsewhere?
Practice noticing when you've slipped out of the moment and bring yourself back. You can do this by focusing on your five senses and what you notice going on inside you. Become aware of your breath as it flows in and out. Notice the people nearby. Tune into what you see or hear. Try not to criticize yourself when your focus drifts away – that’s normal. Simply notice it, and bring yourself back.
Tips for being more present at work, at home, and in between
- Whenever you change activities notice that transition, notice when a meeting ends and a break begins.
If you work with others, notice and experience their presence, when they are coming and going.
Be aware when you change workspaces. Are you moving around? Notice the sensation of walking in the soles of your feet.
As the day goes by, notice when you get frustrated or relieved, disappointed or feel a sense of accomplishment.
TRANSITIONING FROM WORK TO HOME:
Right before your work day ends notice and label that: “The work day is ending”. Pay attention to your mind: is it busy with tasks? If so write them down before you leave to give your mind “permission” to not worry about them until tomorrow.
As you leave the office notice: “I am out of the office, going home.” Notice any tension in your body as you leave. Let it go by relaxing areas you feel tense.
On your way home, pay attention to what’s in front of you – perhaps you’re driving, listening to music, or walking.
As you get home notice and label “I’m arriving home”. How does the transition to that space feel?
If someone is waiting for you home notice their presence, the look on their face as they see you. If you’re by yourself notice your surroundings.
As the evening unfolds, pay attention to what you’re doing. If you’re preparing dinner notice the food you’re touching, sensations of hunger.
Notice if your mind goes back to work. Are you thinking about a future task? Write your thoughts in a notebook for tomorrow, then gently return to being fully present at home.
Be present to others who are sharing the moment with you. What’s going on with them? Ask about their day. Be present when asking and hearing their response.
Be present to your morning at home before coming to work. Notice any impulses to check your email immediately after waking up. Do you want to do that? You can of course work in the morning before getting to work - just make a conscious decision about it.
As you try some of these ideas or others keep in mind that what works for one person can be very different from what works for another. Be flexible and creative in what you try. I hope you live more in the moment, fully alive both at work and outside work. You’re worth it!
Sources: Goyal M, Singh S, Sibinga EMS, Gould NF, Rowland-Seymour A, Sharma R, Berger Z, Sleicher D, Maron DD, Shihab HM, Ranasinghe PD, Linn S, Saha S, Bass EB, Haythornthwaite JA. Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(3):357-368. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13018
If you want to incorporate mindfulness into your life, but need professional help, Lyra can connect you to a therapist. You can get started today if Lyra is offered by your employer. Sign up now.
DISCLAIMER: The content of this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.