Do you find yourself stuck in the past, ruminating over previous conversations or interactions? Or maybe you’re focused on the future, stressing about what could happen or how your future could be affected by your past. If you find that the past or future take up more mind space and thought than they should, and prevent you from being in the present moment, this exercise is for you.
One exercise to do to slow your thoughts down and become more aware in the present moment is to observe your hand. This exercise should take 5-10 minutes. Your complete attention should be focused toward your hand, with any external stimuli such as your computer or cell phone put away. First, place your right hand palm up. Pretend this is the first time you are seeing a hand; notice the outline of your hand along with the spaces between your fingers. Next, what color is your hand? Are there different shades throughout your skin? What is the texture of your skin? Is your hand flat, or does it have dips, scars, and markings? Focus on your fingerprints and lines that run across your hand and fingers; trace these slowly with your mind. Now turn your hand over. Once again, notice the color of your skin, the texture, any markings, and hair on the back of your hand. Look at your nails, trace the outline of each, and notice the length and texture of your fingernails. Now observe your knuckles and the lines that run across them.
Once you are finished this exercise, check in with yourself. Ask yourself how am I feeling? What kind of state am I presently in? Am I calm, sleepy, re-centered, or maybe distracted, anxious, unsettled? How does my body feel; is it heavy, light, tense? Is my mind quiet with no particular focus or thought, or am I experiencing racing thoughts? Was this exercise easy to do, or was it difficult to focus and stay present with the task? These are important questions to ask yourself each time you engage in this exercise, which will allow you to track your progress with present moment awareness.
Worrying has some benefits, such as preparing for possible future situations and action; similarly with rumination, which can help prevent similar mistakes from occurring in the future. Worrying and rumination are aspects of the problem-solving mode of our mind, however an unhealthy amount of worry or rumination can have a negative impact on your day-to-day living and psychological wellbeing.
Opposite to the problem-solving mode of our brain, we have another mode I will refer to as the appreciative mode. This mode is activated when listening to music, taking in a sunset, or feeling the warm breeze outside. Our goal is to be able to harness this mode when negative or stressful thoughts arise, rather than immediately problem solving. This will allow us to slow down and avoid causing more problems.
Practicing present moment awareness can slowly increase your attentional flexibility. It also allows us to become more aware of what may actually be bothering us, rather than us automatically avoiding the issue at hand. Being present also helps us develop a different perspective and relationship toward the private thoughts and feelings we experience.