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The Gift of Presence

Let me paint you a word picture...has this ever happened to you?

You're getting some good friend time into your week (which, let's face it, is a major mission between your work, family, exercise and self care commitments), and while you're with your friend and you want to be present with them, your mind has other plans. Your to do list flashes like a neon sign in the back of your brain, followed closely by a minor freak out about whether you remembered to turn off the heater at home, and whether you still have enough time to do that thing for work you said you'd do last week.

You think you're hearing the conversation, but you're missing the little cues that tell you how your friend is really feeling and missing a great opportunity to connect and be in the moment - all things that actually give us energy and make us feel good.

Instead, you're winding yourself up about all the things you haven't done yet and whether you have enough time to get to them - you're making yourself anxious and exhausted.

And the really crazy part? You're choosing to do this!

I am definitely guilty of this, notably when I'm babysitting my friend's son. I LOVE spending time with this kid, he is really imaginative and I get to goof off and play silly games with him, which makes me feel energised and topped up. BUT I am also super busy and often quite tired (I know you relate). So some days when I pick him up from school instead of jumping into the games with him and really being in the moment, I focus on feeling tired and all the things I need to do instead and say no to him a lot, which in turn makes me frustrated, short tempered and more tired.

It has the fun side effect of making him all of these things too. Because he's not getting what he wants from me he also gets frustrated, he starts arguing with me and then he gets over tired too and we're in the tantrum zone - now neither of us is getting what we want.

Last week I managed to show up almost perfectly. We went to the movies and had the whole theatre to ourselves - so he pointed out with no one else around to annoy we could play zombies until the movie started. I could have said no and had him argue with me about it for the next 20 minutes (thus exhausting and annoying both of us), but I said sure. I spent 20 minutes shambling up and down the aisles and throwing myself over the backs of the seats, reaching claw-like hands toward him and groaning "BRAINS!" while he ran around dodging and giggling. When I chose to be present in the moment I wasn't tired and we both had fun.

Now, I'm not suggesting we HAVE to be 100% present in every moment of our lives, nor am I implying you're a bad person when you don't - I definitely don't live up to that bench mark. But I AM suggesting we aim to be more present than we're being at...well...present.

Since I had this little epiphany last week I've been seeing how often I can apply it to the rest of my life. I have laundry to do - well, I could throw an adult tantrum over this and be annoyed at how much time this will take out of my weekend....OR I can accept that the laundry needs doing and it will be a much more enjoyable task if I'm smiling than if I'm scowling. By being in the moment and taking a deep breath at the washing line, I found I enjoyed the fresh air and sunshine that I got and could focus on this too, something I would have missed entirely had I been sulking about the injustice of it all.

I'm aiming to play this game with myself every day. If I find myself fighting against reality and choosing to be upset or annoyed about something inevitable (because this IS a choice), then I try the following:

1) Stop, take a moment and stand (or sit) up tall, with really good posture (you know, the posture you wish you walked around with all the time, that one!)

2) Take a really deep breath - in through your nose, filling your belly, then out again through either your nose or your mouth (extra points if the exhale is longer than the inhale)

3) Smile! (No, seriously. You might feel silly for a few seconds, but smiling LITERALLY changes your brain chemistry and releases the happy, calm hormones)

4) Push away any thoughts of what you COULD be doing and focus in on what you ARE doing

5) Commit 100% to doing whatever it is the BEST you can, and ENJOY IT!

This is no magic bullet, but the more times you catch yourself battling reality (for the record, reality wins every time in my experience), and draw yourself back into the moment, the easier it will get and the better you'll feel. You'll even start to feel like you've got more energy.

Go on, try it. What have you got to lose?


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