How to Be More Present: The Simple Guide

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "The Power of Now" by Eckhart Tolle. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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Many of us spend our lives searching for peace, joy, and fulfillment. We look for it in different ways: through accomplishments, relationships, experiences, and material possessions.

The Power of Now proposes that the only way to find true peace and fulfillment is through being solely and intensely present in each moment. The more we live in the Now, the more we are able to connect with our true selves and experience life fully, without extraneous thoughts and speculations clouding our minds and altering our lens of the world. 

How can you be more present in the moment? Learn more on how to be as present as possible with this guide from The Power of Now.

Distractions from Living in the Present

What will I make for dinner tonight? I should have spoken up during that meeting. I wonder if I’ll get that promotion. I really want that car. I have to remember to buy bread and eggs on the way home. All of these thoughts distract us from experiencing the present moment. 

Our endless thoughts often focus on the past or the future. However, we have no control over either — the past is over and the future isn’t here yet — so we are in an endless cycle of wasting our mental and emotional energy on things we can’t control. The only moment we can impact is the present. Recognizing this is how you be more present in the moment.

The Solution: Be Present in Every Moment 

The past only exists in memories and the future only exists in projections, so when you try to be more present, you experience the only moment that is real — Now. Presence is the only antidote to the control of the ego and the pain-body. 

  • Much of our pain and distress is self-imposed, from feeding into the pain-body’s negativity and the ego’s power to fill our minds with worry about the past and future. 

Being more present in the moment does not change your external circumstances. When we face hardships in life, being more present allows us to tackle them moment by moment. Added stress from our ego-controlled, worried thoughts only makes the obstacles seem more overwhelming. When we try to be more present, we have more mental capacity to face these challenges. 

Life consists of cycles of success and failure; each one is a necessary precedent of the other. When you are more present in the moment, you must accept the lows as much as the highs as part of the reality of the Now. Why fight a cycle that is inevitable?

If you are wishing that a situation were different in some way, then your thoughts are in the past, future, or some hypothetical scenario — and you are not in the present. 

The Simple Way to Deal with Situations

If you are facing a difficult or unpleasant situation, you have three options:

  • Change the situation (if you can). 
  • Leave the situation (if you can). 
  • Accept it as it is. If you can’t change or leave the situation, you may be forced to accept it forever, or at least until things change and you can take another action later.

This simple exercise can teach you how to be more present.

Accepting the present means to acknowledge that it already exists, and that no amount of wishing, complaining, or worrying will change this current moment. You can, however, take one of the first two actions and make steps to change or leave the situation.

Does this seem easier said than done? Of course. Presence is a simple concept but is not necessarily an easy practice. Most of us are in the habit of letting our egos run the show, so keeping our focus on the present and being more in the present in the moment will be like a muscle you strengthen with time and practice.

How to Be More Present, Practically

We will explore how to put this into practice and be more present in your everyday life. The key is maintaining awareness of both your mind and body. 

Your body is a gateway to your mental and emotional state. 

  • Do you ever look down during a tense conversation and notice your hands are clenched in fists? Or wake up in the morning to realize you were grinding your teeth in your sleep? Or get up from working intently on a project and feel how stiff your neck is? You may not have consciously registered how stressed or tense you were, but your body gives you telltale signs. 
  • Let your body clue you in to when you need to take a moment and bring your focus back to the present. 

By the same token, your body is a tool to get your mind back in the present. Putting your focus on your body will bring your mind back to where you are in this moment. 

  • Connect with the inner body, or your internal state of being: Pay attention to your breathing. Relax your body. Close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths.
  • The more often you can connect with your inner body, the more presence you are able to maintain. Once you are present in the moment, you will not stay there — you will need to remind yourself and practice, and eventually you will spend more time in the Now.

How To Disconnect From Your Internal Voice and Be More Present

A lot of distraction from the present is your internal voice talking to you, making you worry about the future or obsessing about the past.

How do you disconnect from the voice inside your own head? It takes deliberate effort, attention, and practice.

You can learn how to be more present by separating your true self from your egoic mind by observing your thoughts. This is called “watching the thinker.” Thoughts come from your ego, making your ego the “thinker.” The part of you that can observe your thoughts without engaging in them is the “watcher,” your true self.

Try this exercise: think, “I wonder what my next thought will be.” Wait and watch. Notice that your thoughts will likely stall for a moment while you are in this state of presence and alertness. You’ve just watched the thinker. With training, this is how you can be more present.

When you can understand that the watcher and the thinker are separate, then you can realize that you are not made of your thoughts. In moments when your mind is still and thoughts are quiet, you still exist and are still yourself.

As soon as you witness your thoughts, you’ve separated yourself from them — even if only for a moment. This is a victory in itself. 

How to Be More Present: The Simple Guide

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Here's what you'll find in our full The Power of Now summary:

  • Why you feel pain from the past, and how to get rid of it
  • How to be more present and stop worrying about the future
  • The 8 key ways to achieve mindfulness

Allen Cheng

Allen Cheng is the founder of Shortform. He has a passion for non-fiction books (having read 200+ and counting) and is on a mission to make the world's best ideas more accessible to everyone. He reads broadly, covering a wide range of subjects including finance, management, health, and society. Allen graduated from Harvard University summa cum laude and attended medical training at the MD/PhD program at Harvard and MIT. Before Shortform, he co-founded PrepScholar, an online education company.

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