The formula is very simple: When we are present, we have a stronger capacity to choose where to direct our attention and what action to take. The more choice we have, the more power we have in our lives. The result: we are able to break free of the habits that have held us in unproductive and ineffective behaviors. Seems simple, right? I’ll just be more present and then I’ll be a better leader, parent, spouse, sibling, colleague. The challenge comes with actually becoming a more “present” person. It’s harder than it seems.
So why is it so hard? The state of our reality today is that constant distractions are pulling at our attention – calls, texts, Facebook and LinkedIn updates, emails, pressures from work, managing our families, news updates – and they are all pulling at us constantly throughout the day. How can we get anything done and stay focused with all this noise in the background? It’s hard but, our brains have adapted to this constant state of stimulation by always wanting it and looking for it too.
How many times have you been busy as work and then suddenly you find yourself picking up your device to check to see if any messages have come in? A lot. We all do it these days. It’s hard not to. It’s like the sugar habit and how are bodies crave it. Our brains crave stimulation. Constant stimulation may make you feel like you are multitasking and getting a lot done, but multiple studies have shown that multitasking isn’t an effective way to work, and is in fact detrimental to productivity.
So why is being present important?
We experience life as a series of moments. The past, the future that we anticipate, and the moment which is right now. Being present makes you aware of what is happening for you in this moment. Why is this important? Because when you are present in this moment, and see what’s happening with yourself – emotions, sensations, feelings, the stories you are telling yourself – you have the capacity to make better decisions. Think of the decision making process like this:
- When you focus your ATTENTION.
- Your INTENTION becomes clear.
- You become AWARE of yourself
- With the awareness you have cultivated, your CHOICES are easy to make.
- Your choices drive your ACTIONS.
- And your RESULTS are an outcome from your attention and expectations.
Going through this process helps you ask yourself the following questions:
- What’s my goal?
- Where is our focus and energy?
- How am I experiencing this? What are my assumptions?
- What are my options?
- What roles do I need to play?
- Is this what I wanted or expected?
Remember, “where your energy flows, your attention goes”. So, if you are experiencing this moment, how does that affect your actions in the next one? Being present brings you to the point that you are asking yourself that question. Your actions become “choice” vs. “reaction”. Wouldn’t you rather decide on how you are going to “show up” for people, than showing up because the world just threw you a curve ball?
By being present you will develop the capacity for using choiceful action. When you are present, and take different actions because you have made a thoughtful choice then you will have a different future. In each moment when you have a decision to make you can ask yourself: How am I feeling in my body? Am I getting messages I should pay attention to? What are my emotions right now in relation to this decision? Happy, fearful, anxious? What stories am I telling myself? Is this going to work out or not?
How you manage yourself affects everything else – your relationships, your body, your experiences. Learning to be present takes practice and focus but the outcome is a life that you have chosen vs. a life that happens to you. The outcome is your ability to achieve the results you desire.
Virginia Dean is a Leadership & Executive Coach at Ace-up. Over the last 25 years, she has worked with C-suite executives and entrepreneurs in life sciences, professional services, high technology, and non-profit organizations leading HR departments, building companies and developing leaders. Virginia has worked in and coached leaders at The Bridgespan Group (spin off of Bain & Co.), Macromedia (now Adobe), FleetBoston (now Bank of America), Ariad Pharmaceuticals, TESARO, Acronis, The MA Medical Society, BeiGene and the Mobius Bias project.