How Do We Get Into the Present Moment?

September 20, 2019

What is the present moment?

“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.” – Eckhart Tolle

Our brains are hardwired to make us exceptional at retrieving data from past experiences, and to then apply those insights towards our imagination or future-thinking. In other words, we spend a lot of time thinking about what we’ve done and where we want to go, yet hardly any time at all in the present moment… But why?

Why does our brain think like this?

About 20 years ago, researchers discovered that our brains remain highly active even when not engaged in a task. They named this network of activity the Default Mode Network (DMN).

In extremely simple terms, the DMN is active during internally focused tasks including autobiographical memory retrieval, envisioning the future, and conceiving of other’s perspectives (Theory of Mind).

This reflection and application can be extremely useful for survival purposes. Taking information from the past and projecting it into the future from the reference point of me as an individual helps me make decisions that increase my chances of survival. Additionally, theorizing about what other people in my group are thinking ensures I have a shot at navigating social interactions, which also increases my chances of survival.

Is the DMN “bad”?

Absolutely not!  It is a normal function of brain activity that likely had a very important purpose in our evolution and survival.  However, there is some evidence to indicate that people with depression struggle to break out of this network. One of the key characteristics of depression is continuous, and often negative, focus on the self.  Additionally, if we remain stuck in the past and the future, it limits us from doing what we want to be doing to make our lives better. In these scenarios, it is useful to have strategies that get us out of our head and back into our lives.

How to get into the present moment?

1. Use work or hobbies to kick-start your focus.

One of the best ways to break free of this pattern of thinking and get into the present moment is to use the task focused network. This is as simple as engaging in something interesting – work, hobbies, exercise, etc.

Many of us are familiar with the phrase “losing yourself in your work”. This is exactly what happens when you go from a place of problematic self-focus to a place of task focus. Work can literally free us from the DMN that can trap some people.

Also, if you need some inspiration for hobbies or other activities outside of work – here’s a list of 100 hobbies to try before 2020!

2. Be with others. Give to others.

Another way to free ourselves from this network, if we are spending unproductive and non-useful time in it, is to do something that incorporates others. Activities that are:

  • generous

  • compassionate

  • express self-control

  • or express gratitude,

tend to shift us out of our own patterns of self-thinking because they naturally incorporate others. They expand our thinking beyond ourselves.

This is one reason behind the extraordinary therapeutic value of charitable work. Not only is it of benefit for our community, we personally benefit from the involvement by increasing our frame of reference beyond ourselves.

3. Set up cues in your office or home

Again, our brains are experts at going in and out of the present moment without us ever noticing, which is exactly why having visual cues can be such a helpful technique to bring us back.

A cue can be as simple as a reminder set on your phone, a picture on your wall, or a song in your ear.  Choosing the right cue to be delivered at the right time is an art that takes experimenting with to master.

We have often recommended a meditation app called Insight Timer to a lot of our members for three main reasons:

  • It’s free

  • It has endless amounts of content and courses

  • It can send you daily reminders (to cue you) to take a moment and get present

We hope you’ve enjoyed this blog. Use the comment section below to share any of your favorite ways to get into the present moment!


Modern Minds with MUSC Health

Synchronicity is a subsidiary of Modern Minds, a non-profit organization dedicated to treating and empowering mental health and wellbeing. We often partner together to offer truly integrative care for Modern Minds clients, Synchronicity members and the greater Lowcountry community.