Do you ever get somewhere and sense that you have no actual recollection of the steps you took to get there? Maybe this happens while driving, as you focus on the chatter of your mind, yet the actions of turning left, slowing down for the curve and stopping for a light all happen from repetitive memory? Or maybe you have those days when you realize you haven’t eaten because you were caught up in the many demands and activities in your day? Do your weekends seem to vanish into thin air, leaving you asking yourself ‘where did the time go?’ The reality is that we spend most of our time in a tuned-out state. We are living on autopilot.
This phenomenon of being on autopilot is a common byproduct of living in our world of constant multi-tasking. Through this, we become disconnected from what is actually happening in the moment, making us unable to recall specifically how we arrived at a location, got to the end of our day or feel like the weekend escaped us. Being disconnected from the present moment puts us in a place of distraction, an almost numbing out to what is happening around us. We easily overlook the sunny day, the sound of birds in the background, and we end up not actually hearing (or really listening to) what someone is trying to tell us.
Such disconnection creates imbalance in our own lives and especially in the relationships we share with others. It is rarely an intention to be so disconnected from what is happening around us, yet when we continue to live without being present, we lose track of the small moments throughout the day which bring joy and create an overall sense of happiness and well-being. In this autopilot endemic, sadly, many people feel they live joy-less lives. We have lost the ability to find peace and pleasure in our mundane tasks and environments because we forget to take notice.
We also tend to miss out on truly connecting with others, with our spouses, children, close friends and family, because we aren’t truly engaged when spending time together. This can leave us feeling depleted and annoyed instead of enriched and loved after sharing activities, events or day-to-day interactions. It also often makes those around us feel unimportant and unvalued because they feel we don’t want to give them our attention. We risk later-life regrets of wishing we ‘just had more time,’ after selectively or unconsciously opting-out of appreciating and savoring the moments when we had them. In life, we only ever have THIS ONE moment, right now, and it will never be repeated.
Through shifting our conscious and intentionally focusing on one single task or activity, THE task or activity at hand, we may be more mindfully present, aware and engaged. The health benefits of truly being in the moment are plenty, including feeling more fulfilled in life, experiencing greater peace, having an increased sense of calm and learning ways to more skillfully respond to stressful situations. Many people mistake mindfulness with meditation. While these two practices support one another, mindfulness is focused on tuning into how you are in the moment, while meditation is intended to create a space for relaxation and self-exploration. Mindfulness becomes a way of living and experiencing life more fully.
To begin feeling more present in life and living with a greater sense of purpose, there are a few key foundations to explore. The first is simple awareness – making note of what is happening in the moment and acknowledging how we are showing up, whether good, bad or ugly. This is an essential part of mindful living, and the next foundational principle - suspending judgment. Being an observer of how we are is the only goal, without self-criticism or analyzing how others perceive us. Instead, we hold compassion for ourselves, the third key principle. We accept ourselves as perfectly imperfect humans and release expectation for how we think we should be. Rather, we merely make note of how we’re feeling, be curious about it, yet return to the present moment, engaging fully and softening our inner mind.
It takes practice to live more mindfully. Remembering that autopilot has become a natural way for us to live, it is through actively noticing life around us and pausing to observe how we are showing up, moment to moment, that we are able to start shifting into a more participatory way of living. With each moment that we can truly see and feel ourselves, just as we are, without judgment, we are strengthening our skills to live more presently, for both ourselves and with those in our lives. This is how we can begin to override the autopilot mode, retrain our minds and choose connection over distraction.
If you are interested in learning more about mindfulness, some great authors to explore are Jon Kabat-Zinn, Pema Chodron, Deepak Chopra and Tara Brach. Journeying down this path takes courage, curiosity and commitment, and working with an intuitive guide helps you to wholly incorporate mindfulness as a lifestyle. Check out Jen Rizza at www.hdrestorativewellness.com and learn more about how she guides you to unlock greater wellness and mindful living in your life.