Allow The Present To Serve You Well

I decided to take a one-month break from writing a psychopharmacology piece to focus on the increasingly ubiquitous phenomenon of distraction. Often, as I go about my activities of daily living, personal or professional, I encounter people who are seemingly not it the present — grocery store clerks, bank tellers, restaurant servers who ask me to repeat my order 2 or 3 times. After becoming adequately acquainted with a patient of mine, I can tell within a minute or two whether or not they’re actually “present” for a session we’re about to begin. Too often, the patient is adrift — stuck in the past, afraid of the future, or simply checked out from the reality of the moment.

Our brains allow for this pretty naturally. Our minds just slip away, rendering us oblivious to what’s happening now. We all have a finite storehouse of energy, although it differs metabolically from person to person. The thing is though, when we begin to expend it non-productively we start falling behind, becoming increasingly overwhelmed, and before we know it, we’re faced with more than we can reasonably handle.

If or when we find ourselves in this quandary, we can make the shift to the present. And when we do, there are demonstrable benefits — we start focusing our energy on what’s before us, jump-starting our productivity. We feel more alive. There is a plethora of other benefits:

  • We’re more tuned in to what others are really telling us because we’re better able to recognize mood, emotions and attitudes and how they shift in those with whom we communicate. This helps us strengthen our relationships.
  • We’re better able to read ourselves, identify what specific feelings we are experiencing; notice the thoughts running through our minds and how these influence our behavior.
  • We’ve shifted into self-care mode, helping us more easily recognize what we need to do to feel better.

So when we find ourselves adrift, how do we find the path to the present? Here’s what I do:

  1. I post a positive affirmation on the wall in front of me as I’m working on my laptop. This affirmation reads: “Today will be a fabulous day, because I will make it so!” This serves as my call to action, particularly when I find myself distracted and spacing out. I then stand up and starting jogging in place for 30 seconds or so. This gets me immediately grounded as I’m actually feeling my feet hit the floor.
  2. I just start noticing my breathing. In and out…in and out, it goes. I don’t complicate this with specific breathing exercises over certain time frames. I don’t count the breaths. I give this about 10-15 seconds, tops.
  3. I start looking around. Because I work a lot from home, I challenge myself to find some things I’ve not noticed before. Yesterday I searched a drawer where I usually keep paid billing statements. When I pulled the drawer completely out, I noticed a handful of statements that were trapped behind the drawer. Some of them had been there since 2010.
  4. I turn my attention to audible sounds in my surrounding environment. I hear the rumbling garbage truck, the honking horns and the conversations that inevitably take place directly outside my window.
  5. I remind myself that all of these things are happening LIVE — in the very moment in which I’m operating.
  6. I mix these up, some days doing one or two of them, other days the full litany.

Exercises like these, I believe, can be best described as “here and now” techniques. They’re nothing new; humans began figuring out ways to be present to their lives and circumstances eons ago, when running from the wooly mammoth or fighting off adversaries. And for the last decade at least, the behavioral health field has grouped these grounding tactics under the umbrella term — Mindfulness.

With a seemingly endless stream of distractions bedeviling us and influencing us to avoid our feelings, our responsibilities and even our work, we all need to be aware of the importance of the present.

We accomplish only in the present; our joys, and yes, our sorrows too are experienced in the present. It’s the only place we can operate.


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Attribution Statement:
Joe Wegmann is a licensed pharmacist & clinical social worker has presented psychopharmacology seminars to over 10,000 healthcare professionals in 46 states, and maintains an active psychotherapy practice specializing in the treatment of depression and anxiety. He is the author of Psychopharmacology: Straight Talk on Mental Health Medications, published by PESI, Inc.

To learn more about Joe’s programs, visit the Programs section of this website or contribute a question for Joe to answer in a future article: joe@thepharmatherapist.com.