Stop Fretting And Regretting: 5 Mind-Hacks To Stay Present

The Challenge: Our minds are constantly wandering and sometimes hard to quiet down.
The Science: Research shows that a wandering mind can negatively impact our productivity and mood.
The Solution: Train your mind to stay in the present moment to become happier and more focused!

Have you ever sat down to get work done and looked up half an hour later to realize that you’ve accomplished absolutely nothing? You weren’t even surfing the internet or checking your phone. Your mind just could not focus on the task at hand. It was jumping from the email you needed to respond to what you wanted for dinner. Well if you have a hard time keeping your mind on track, you’re not alone. Harvard researchers found that your mind wanders 50 percent of the time. Mind-wandering not only inhibits your productivity but also makes you less happy according to the same study. To maximize your time and increase your happiness, adopt these strategies to stay focused:

1. Fight Back

When you notice your mind drifting, snap it back to the task at hand. Pay attention to the details of what you’re doing: if you’re ironing, enjoy pressing every wrinkle away until the sheets are crisp. Sometimes, it will be easier to redirect your mind back; other times it will not, and you’ll have to really focus. Fortunately, the mind is malleable, so the more you practice being present, the easier it becomes to stay on track.[1] When I have a hard time keeping my mind on track, I often repeat what I am doing to myself silently. Other times, I’ll have to drown out the noise with music.

2. Calm Down

Science has shown that meditation can help you relax and empty your mind of errant thoughts. The most consistent mediators in fact had decreased brain activity in areas related to brain wandering. Practicing mindfulness, however, is not for the faint of heart. It is normal to struggle at first with clearing your mind. My first foray into meditation was a complete disaster. All I could think about was what I should be doing, and I left the room early while everyone else still had their eyes closed. Now, though, before I begin a new task, I take a moment to close my eyes and clear my mind. When I open my eyes, I feel rejuvenated and ready to begin whatever is in front of me.

3. Breathe Deep

We’ve all heard the phrase: “Take a deep breath.” The act of deep, mindful inhaling and exhaling can indeed help you release your thoughts as if they were molecules of carbon dioxide. After the toxins have been flushed out, you’ll be brought back to the present. Science has shown that taking the time to notice the physical sensations of your inhale and exhale—like the expansion of your lungs or the movement of your diaphragm—increases your attention span.

4. Savor the Good

From simply taking the time to taste and enjoy your dinner without distractions to sharing a positive experience with a friend, the act of savoring one’s positive experiences has been linked to enhanced and longer-lasting happiness. Even if only one good thing happens to you in a day, if you take a moment to savor it, you can stay happy all day long. Instead of jumping from one thing to the next, savoring allows you to be fully present, capitalize on the good, and move on with a boosted mood. Don’t be afraid to let out a squeal of joy or to give yourself a fist pump when something goes your way. Better yet, keep a gratitude journal so that you can look back later and remember all the things you’re thankful for.

5. Dispel the Bad

Just as positive thoughts can lift you up, negative thoughts can drag you down. Let them go and cleanse the environment around you: surround yourself with positive people who uplift you, brighten your interior and external space with light, and take better care of yourself through self-compassion. Instead of being trapped in a web of negative thoughts, these simple positive lifestyle changes can lead to an upward spiral of positivity.

When you just can’t seem to stay focused, try these strategies to stay present. Sometimes, we obsess about the past or worry about the future. The best way to stay happy and on track is to live entirely in the moment.

Emily Stark
Emily Stark is a student at Yale University working towards a degree in Public Health. She competed on the university's Track and Field team and is currently training for a marathon. She feels most at home when she's on the trails, in the kitchen, or in the library.
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