3 Key Steps to Living in the Present

Some people spend their lives focussing on the past, wishing things weren’t changing and using their energy in an often futile effort to maintain the status quo. Others are so future orientated, dreaming, hoping, planning and wishing, that their present fades to grey. When they achieve great things they don’t stop to celebrate and enjoy the moment because they are already striving for the next goal.

For me it’s all about balance. Albert Einstein put it well when he said:

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”

As someone who tends to naturally look to the future I have learned to consciously move my attention to the present, more often. I want to relish it, be fully present for my children and live in the moment. One of the ways I do this is to take a leaf out of Einstein’s book and use questions – questions for the start of the day, the evening and at bed time.

Start of the day questions

  • What am I excited about today? What about that makes me excited?
  • How can I make the most of my unique skills and strengths today?
  • What can I do to make today the best day it can be?

Evening questions

  • What have I failed at today?
  • What didn’t go well today?
  • What did I learn today?

Bedtime questions

  • What were my successes today? What about that made it a success?
  • What am I proud of? What about that makes me feel proud?
  • What am I grateful for in my life right now?

For those of you who feel uncomfortable about the failure question. I learned about this from John Brubaker who tells the story of Sara Blakely, the CEO and founder of Spanx. Each week her father asked Sara and her siblings what they had failed miserably at that week. Not to punish them or bring them down. In fact he would slap them on the back and congratulate them when they put forward their failures. The reason was to teach them that failure is a normal and expected part of the process through which we find success. Actively looking for failures and facing up to them reduces our fears, builds our resilience, and helps us learn what we need to do in order to succeed.

Of course we can use these questions for ourselves, with our loved ones and also adapt them for our teams in order to value the present and positively shape our days and lives.

  • Do you tend to focus on the past, present or future?
  • Which of the questions resonates most with you?

25 Responses to 3 Key Steps to Living in the Present

  • I’m impressed, I have to admit. Seldom do I come across a blog that’s both equally educative and entertaining, and without a doubt, you’ve hit the nail on the head. The issue is something which not enough folks are speaking intelligently about. I’m very happy I stumbled across this during my hunt for something regarding this.

  • I often struggle with staying “in the now” or the present, but this is truly dynamic!! Thank you.

  • My favorite part, this should be a song: “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”

    Nice work, I will certainly ref this blog roll!

  • Hi Julie,

    Thanks for this article it’s excellent. Your questions are great and I like the idea of having different questions for different times of the day, helping you to focus on what you’re doing with the day, how you’re approaching and then what you’ve learned. The focus on failure, and the story for Sara Blakely is great – it is incredibly important for us to be comfortable with failure and I like the idea of not just reflecting on it – but congratulating yourself on the fact that you’ve failed. When we’re comfortable with failure as a possible outcome, we have much greater confidence to step out with new things and to grow.

    Thanks!

  • Nice one about the importance of present. Your questions is too good.

  • What a great post. I like how you bring negativity into the picture. Most of us only want to dwell on the positive, forget we learn from our mistakes and the negativity in our life.

    Helen

    • Thanks Helen. I agree. For me its all about balance. Balance between celebrating and reviewing and applying both to when things go well and when they don’t. Some of us celebrate success but don’t review how it happened in order to replicate it. Others of us focus on only analysing failures and sometimes on proportioning blame. How much more motivating and developmental is it when, we use it as a learning opportunity and a chance to celebrate the fact that we have ruled out something that doesn’t work, or the fact they are moving towards success?

  • This is a great article and i have just printed it, to keep by my reading table and my desk in the office.

    • That’s a very good idea. You obviously recognise that change happens when we take small, consistent steps regularly until we form new habits. Keeping those changes at the top of our minds is key.

  • Wow! This confirms what I already knew. I need a new challenge.

  • Great questions. I tend to spend too much time looking at the past. The evening questions resonate to most with me.

  • Like your ideas. Add to bedtime .. bringing your thoughts to God through prayer. It’s always been amazing to me how much God seems interested in what I do every day and helps me out.

  • BTW I found your website through twitter. Good job!

  • Failure is a controversial word, and I feel it needs more context than you gave it. I think I know where Sara Blakely’s father was coming from, you are not setting you sites high enough if you are always hitting the mark. If you are always hitting the mark, you are taking it easy, and setting goals within your comfort zone. To grow you have to set challenges in front of yourself that expand your comfort zone.

    Carol Dwerck’s book ‘Mindset’ is the best I have come across on the subject. Although my website is about beginner jazz I have a secret page that describes my favorite books. At present the only way to find this page is if I give you the direct link. Which is http://mrgoodsheet.com/if-you-have-met-me/

    • Thanks for expanding on the discussion and the book recommendation James. I agree that the word failure can be controversial depending on our perception of it. The most damaging, of course, is labelling someone or something a total failure.

      It can encompass your point about setting mediocre goals and reaching them and it can also be about not achieving (yet) something that we set out to achieve. This kind of failure can be really helpful to acknowledge as it spurs us on to become more aware, more resilient and to find a better more effective way.

      How about other kinds of failure? For example failing to express who we are, failing to behave in ways that make us feel proud, failing to speak up for what we believe, failing to live aligned with our values?

      What are the potential benefits of acknowledging when we have done this?

  • I believe a good life is built everyday, Julie Hope an not wrong when i say our life depend on how we spend a day on that moment of the day, Love your article.

  • I have read several just right stuff here. Certainly worth bookmarking for revisiting. I surprise how a lot effort you place to make any such fantastic informative web site.

  • inspiring! yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery,and today is all what exists, it is a gift and that’s why we call it “Present”.

    thanks for this helpful questions, it is necessary if one wants to become a better him 🙂

  • I believe a good life is based on having one good day at a time and really focusing on the moments of that day. I do a Sunday Summit, following Christine Kane’s suggestion, as a weekly practice. But I like your daily questions also. Thanks for this inspiring post–and for following me on Twitter.

    • Glad you found it inspiring Shirley. Your comment about living one good day at a time reminds me of the Annie Dillard quote “how we live our days is how we live our lives.”

  • Great article! and is so true! I always try! to make every moment special, to enjoy them. I always have big goals but also small ones and celebrate those small achievement…I hope people will enjoy more and depress less, there are so many things we can do…for example helping others or other causes that makes you feel an heroe every time and you are indeed doing something GOOD!.

    Many thanks again for this article, I hope it will help a lot of people and looking forward to read more from you!

    • Thanks for your comments Maria. I like your suggestion of helping others and good causes. I’ve often witnessed the effectiveness of this in helping people feel grateful, get things in perspective, and worry less.

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