“Now. Right now. When was the last time you were there? When was the last time you weren’t busy remembering the past or mentally projecting yourself into the future?”
Most of the sports I play – skiing, squash and tennis – require you to be fully present.
In squash, the ball comes at you so fast that if you are thinking about the work project due tomorrow, you are going to lose.
Likewise, it is virtually impossible to think about anything while skiing straight through a mogul field on a steep slope. Sometimes at the end of a run, I almost have to remind myself to breathe.
These “flow” experiences are so remarkable in part because they are so rare. Most of us find it difficult to fully immerse ourselves in what’s happening right now. As a result, we don’t hear what others try to tell us. We miss some obvious opportunities, and fall into some obvious traps.
It’s pretty easy to recognize this behavior in other people, like when you tell your boss why you need another week to complete a project, and then you explain all the steps you still need to do, and he responds by saying, “So how much more time do you need?”
You may be frustrated when others start talking while you are in the middle of a sentence, or when you notice that the other person is texting while you are talking. Unfortunately, it is very hard to understand all the ways in which you personally are obsessed with the past and future.
Most people think that they are great at multitasking, that they can do two things at once, that they hear every detail. This is not true.
Just to be clear, I’m not saying that it’s bad to plan ahead. You ought to set aside time for planning. It is bad to think about the future when you should be focused on the present.
Think of your cute little niece proudly showing you how she can skip, while you are worried about whether you can make the 7:15 pm train back into the city and meet your friend for drinks. Do you really want to be the glassy-eyed adult who nods absent-mindedly at this child?
Great athletes, performers, teachers and leaders know how to be fully present. I sometimes attend yoga classes, and out of the 10+ instructors I’ve had, a woman named Megan stands out.
Megan notices everything, and remembers. She’s not necessarily better at poses than her colleagues, but she is far better at noticing if you are doing a pose wrong, or if someone is struggling more than normal.
I’ve noticed that the best trainers and teachers focus on the people in the room who are toughest to reach. In contrast, most teachers feel that if they can reach 90% of the students, they are doing a great job. But the best teachers aren’t happy until everyone feels included and involved.
The only way to do this is to be aware of what’s happening, right now, in the room.
The first step to get what you really want from life is to be aware of what's happening, right now, in your life. Give it a try. Does this sentence describe who you want to be?
Be generous and expert, trustworthy and clear, open-minded and adaptable, persistent and present.
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Want to leverage these principles in your own career and life? Read my book How to Self-Promote without Being a Jerk.