You’ve probably heard a lot the past few years about “staying present” and “being in the moment.” They’re part of mindfulness, a practice with proven psychological benefits. When we let go of worries about the future and regrets and hurts from the past, we tend to be calmer and happier. Mindfulness is a wonderful way of reducing stress and improving life.
But sometimes people misunderstand what “being in the moment” means. It does not mean being impulsive and self-indulgent or ignoring the consequences of our actions.
Think about the kind of short-term temptations we face every day: Eating junk food, buying something we don’t need or can’t really afford, or saying the first thing that comes to mind even if it’s hurtful or likely to get you in trouble. Those are reactions, not responses. They interfere with goals like staying healthy, getting out of debt, and having good relationships. Acting on those impulses may feel good for a moment, but it won’t make you calmer and happier. In fact, it’s likely to add to your overall stress.
The mindful approach to temptation is noticing the feeling—not acting on it, but pausing to observe that you want a cookie or whatever, or that what someone did upset you. Notice the feeling in your body. Notice how intense it is, or isn’t. Wonder about what triggered that feeling. What thoughts are keeping the feeling going? (“She did that on purpose,” maybe? Or “I deserve a treat”?)
As you notice, you may find that the urge becomes less strong. You may start to think about the feeling and how acting on your impulse will move you toward or away from your goals. You might decide to act on your impulse…or you might discover you don’t need to. How do you—the core, thoughtful you—want to respond to the situation?
The more often you’re able to notice your feelings and impulses without immediately acting on them, the calmer and happier you’ll be. That’s the kind of “being in the moment” that makes for a better life.