Personal Lessons from choosing to be present during a holiday

Before heading off to Thailand, I decided how I would be during my holiday, and I chose to be fully present. Here’s what I learned from it and how I plan to use it in my life.

To give some context, I’d spent the two weeks prior to the holiday in semi-holiday mode. Whereas usually I am very focused and have specific tasks to tackle, during these weeks I was mostly closing out programs, not working toward building anything new and this meant that I wasn’t following the typical to-maximize-productivity-and-outcomes schedule that I usually follow. What this led to was a lot of distraction, and spending an unhealthy amount of time refreshing my newsfeed and reading articles online — think lying down with my phone at midnight refreshing my newsfeed, feeling exhausted but still looking for who knows what on my FB feed. I felt unfocused, and un-energized.

So on my trip I resolved I would be present. What would that mean?

• It meant I would have no Internet access, no connecting to Wi-Fi spots when available, and in fact I wouldn’t even carry my phone with me

• It meant that if we were having dinner I would be HAVING DINNER. Not thinking about the meal for tomorrow or the day trip we would take tomorrow or last Christmas when I was in Texas. I would literally HAVE dinner and focus my attention on the present moment, whether it be the conversation, the game of cards we were playing, and yes even sometimes on the feeling of “I’m bored…hmmm”. When this happened, instead of the crack addiction of taking out my phone, I said “ok let me start a more interesting conversation, let me ask my friend about her job/life/anything”, and it led to meaningful dialogue about our careers, where we were in life, plans for the year, etc.

Things I noticed from doing this:

• I get bored a lot and that’s good because it led me to think and to talk

• I see the implications of mindfulness practice: when my mind starts to shift away from the present, I don’t judge it, I just accept it and say “ok let me come back to the present”

• I was able to create deeper connections and to savor the experience. For example, because I didn’t have my phone with me and I was feeling bored, I would choose to start playing cards, or choose to start a conversation with my friend and it forced me to ask questions that didn’t bore me, which led to deeper, more intimate conversations

When I came back from my 10-day trip, I thought I’d want and need two hours to get caught up with my email, FB feed, what’s app messages, etc. Instead, I took my phone out at the airport, and it took me a total of 15 minutes. Most of the email I receive is not directly addressed to me, I realized that while it’s nice to like a friend’s post, find out that they’re traveling across somewhere, etc., do I really need to know every single detail? Am I really missing out on a lot?

The thought in my mind was: “This is what I was so anxious to see? A few posts that vaguely relate to me? A few emails from bloggers I follow…do I really need to read them? No, not really, I’d rather spend that time writing my own goals and reflections.

The Biggest Lesson for me was this:

It hit me that if I showed up like this every day in my life, I would enjoy every day so much more. FB and email have their place, maybe, if I choose to make that important, but the really valuable, the stuff that makes me happy, the stuff that creates memories to look back on, is happening right now, in the present. I thought: I want to be present in my life, not just drift by.

[A related experience where this same principle applies]

I went to college in NYC in a beautiful campus and right now I think back and have rosy eyes about it: “wow, the buildings, the experience, it was amazing!” but then if I ask the question: is that really how I experienced college? The answer for most of the time is no. Most of the times I was rushed, sleep deprived and stressed out of my mind because I was behind my reading, my papers, etc. There were moments during senior year, especially the last semester where I really focused on savoring the experience because I knew it was my last couple of months there. Now I look back and think: what was I so stressed out about? It was all gonna work out fine, I could have enjoyed it so much more.

Of course, it’s easy to say that once I’ve had professional success and my post graduation fears didn’t come true. But I think I can apply the same hindsight to my life right now. When I look back at my twenties, I’ll remember my first business and my time in India and what an amazing experience that was. Great! Now, can I make sure that I experience MORE of that NOW?

And that’s what being present and in the moment is currently doing for me.

Here are most of the habits that have helped me cultivate this mindset, and way of being/showing up:

• Morning jog to wake up by body and experience physical vitality

• Listening to an audio book about a topic I want to learn about (you can get your first audiobook free on Audible, http://www.audible.com/)

• Mindfulness meditation practice with Calm — I love their 7-day programs, while drinking a cup of delicious tea (http://www.calm.com/)

• Keeping the 5-minute journal (http://www.fiveminutejournal.com/)

• After meditation and my delicious breakfast, spend 30–90 mins of deep work without interruptions working on my most important task of the day — this one is huge for me to feel like a productive, contributing human being BUT it’s so hard to do/I’m not as focused while doing it if I haven’t had time to myself whether through running and or meditation but really both. There are days when I’m tempted to skip it so “I can be super productive and finish my work” and every single time I lose steam faster and spend a lot of time being distracted. So I’ve learned that my jogging and meditation are an investment in staying focused on my highest point of contribution throughout the day. I feel SOOO good and grateful after this that “it almost feels like I’m cheating”.

• Knowing myself and developing habits that support me. I love to work and to work on a task uninterruptedly. Once I’ve done this though, I need human interaction; otherwise, I’m unhappy and feel like what’s the point of being so productive? So I spend time with my partner going on a scooter ride in the neighborhood or going out to eat dessert or meeting a friend for tea. These all work in combination. If I only spent time socializing, I wouldn’t feel great about myself.

• Getting 8 hours of sleep — this is the most important one. I prioritize sleep over everything else. Being flexible with this has been hugely helpful. I used to want to wake up at 5am, and whenever I didn’t reach my goal I would feel horrible about myself. Now I have a window, admittedly a pretty wide one, between 6am and 8:30am (8:30am really is the latest because otherwise it gets too hot to run).

One thing I plan on doing to continue cultivating the mindset of being present

• From Essentialism (http://www.audible.com/pd/Self-Development/Essentialism-Audiobook/B00IWZ6XGA)--giving myself more margin: I hate to rush, for example, I want to enjoy my breakfast and enjoy my run without feeling rushed, and without having to think “I have to run back now”, so I give myself margin: instead of 30 mins. I’ll give myself 45 so I can be leisurely about it. This allows me to “relax for the same result” (https://sivers.org/relax, Derek Sivers), and enjoy the journey, literally: walk leisurely, appreciate the beauty around me, smile, enjoy my walk.

• In dance class my instructor told us to slow down: Slow means quality, and I think that’s true for life, specifically for the appreciation of daily life.

Do you have any experience with choosing to be present? What did you discover as a result of it?

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