Time travel is possible. We all do it occasionally, but some people do it more often than others. People who time travel spend a large portion of each day thinking about all the things they should’ve done yesterday, all the things that went wrong in the past, and all the things they’re supposed to do tomorrow.
As a result, that’s where they live, in the past or in the future. They rarely pay attention to what’s happening to them right now, so they miss living in the present moment— the only true moment in which anyone can really live.
For example, notice what’s happening to you right now as you read this. Are you thinking of something else? Are you thinking of something that happened in the past or something that’s coming up in the future? What does your body feel like right now? Pay attention to it. Do you notice any spots of tension or physical pain? How are you breathing? Are you taking full, deep breaths, or are you breathing very shallowly?
Often, we don’t pay attention to what’s happening to us. We don’t pay attention to what people are saying to us or to the things that we read. We don’t even pay attention to who’s around us while we’re walking. And to make it even more problematic, we often try to do more than one thing at the same time, like driving, eating, and talking on the phone simultaneously. As a result, we miss a lot of what life has to offer and we often make easy situations more difficult.
But even worse, not living in the present moment can also make life more painful. For example, maybe you anticipate that the person with whom you’re talking is going to say something insulting, which makes you feel angry—even though the person hasn’t even said anything yet! Or maybe just thinking about past events makes you feel physically or emotionally upset, which then interferes with whatever you’re trying to do at the moment. Obviously, both types of time traveling can make any event unnecessarily painful. With the mindfulness skills, you’ll learn advanced skills to help you stay in the moment.
But for now, try the following exercises to help you live in the moment and tolerate distressing events more skillfully.
Exercise: “Where Are You Now?”
The next time you’re in a distressing situation, ask yourself the following questions:
- Where am I right now?
- Am I time traveling in the future, worrying about something that might happen, or planning something that might happen?
- Am I time traveling in the past, reviewing mistakes, reliving bad experiences, or thinking about how my life could have been under different circumstances?
- Or am I in the present, really paying attention to what I’m doing, thinking, and feeling? If you’re not in the present moment, refocus your attention on what’s happening to you now by using the following steps:
Notice what you’re thinking about and recognize if you’re time traveling. Bring your focus back to the present moment. Notice how you’re breathing. Take slow, long breaths to help you refocus on the present. Notice how your body feels and observe any tension or pain you might be feeling. Recognize how your thoughts might be contributing to how you’re feeling. Use cue-controlled relaxation to release any tension. Notice any painful emotions you might be feeling as a result of time traveling, and use one of the distress tolerance skills to help you relieve any immediate pain.
Exercise: Listening to Now
Another exercise to help you refocus on the present moment is the Listening to Now exercise. Dedicate at least five minutes to help yourself refocus.
Sit in a comfortable chair. Turn off any distractions, like your phone and television. Take slow, long breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Feel your stomach expand like a balloon each time you breathe in and feel it deflate each time you exhale.
Now, as you continue to breathe, simply listen. Listen to any sounds you hear outside your home, inside your home, and inside your own body. Count each sound that you hear. When you get distracted, return your focus to listening. Maybe you hear cars, people, or airplanes outside. Perhaps you hear a clock ticking or a fan blowing inside. Or maybe you hear the sound of your own heart beating inside your body. Actively and carefully listen to your environment and count as many sounds as you can.
Try this exercise for five minutes and notice how you feel afterwards. A variation of this listening exercise will help you stay focused on the present moment while you’re in a conversation with another person. If you notice that your attention is beginning to wander and you start thinking about your past or future, focus your attention on something that the person is wearing, like a button on their shirt, a hat they’re wearing, or their collar.
Note to yourself what color the item is and what it looks like. Sometimes this can snap you out of your time traveling. Now continue to listen, and if your mind begins to wander again, do the same thing and try to keep listening.
Exercise: Mindful Breathing
Another exercise that will help you stay focused in the present moment is breathing. It sounds simple, but we often don’t breathe as well as we should. Think about it: who ever taught you how to breathe? If you’re like the rest of us, probably no one. And yet, you do it about fifteen times a minute or almost 22,000 times a day! Everyone knows that we breathe air to take in oxygen. But how much of the air you breathe is actually oxygen—100 percent, 75 percent? The correct answer is that the air you breathe is only about 21 percent oxygen, and when your body doesn’t get enough oxygen it can knock your biological system off balance.
For this reason alone, taking full, slow breaths is important. But another benefit of breathing fully is that this simple technique can help you relax and focus. Many spiritual traditions combine slow breathing techniques with guided meditations to help people focus and relax.
Here’s a breathing exercise that many people find helpful. This type of breathing is also called diaphragmatic breathing because it activates the diaphragm muscle at the bottom of your lung cavity. Engaging the diaphragm helps you take fuller, deeper breaths, which also helps you relax. Read the instructions before beginning the exercise to familiarize yourself with the experience. If you feel more comfortable listening to the instructions, use an audio-recording device to record the directions in a slow, even voice so that you can listen to them while practicing this technique.
Set a kitchen timer or an alarm clock for five minutes and practice breathing until the alarm goes off. Then as you get more accustomed to using this technique to help you relax, you can set the alarm for longer periods of time, like ten or fifteen minutes. But don’t expect to be able to sit still that long when you first start.
In the beginning, five minutes is a long time to sit still and breathe. When using this new form of breathing, many people often feel as if they become “one” with their breathing, meaning that they feel a deep connection to the experience. If that happens for you, great. If not, that’s okay, too. Just keep practicing. Also, some people feel light-headed when they first begin practicing this technique. This may be caused by breathing too fast, too deeply, or too slowly. Don’t be alarmed. If you begin to feel light-headed, stop if you need to, or return your breathing to a normal rate and begin counting your breaths.
To begin, find a comfortable place to sit in a room where you won’t be disturbed for as long as you’ve set your timer. Turn off any distracting sounds.
Take a few slow, long breaths and relax. Place one hand on your stomach. Now slowly breathe in through your nose and then slowly exhale through your mouth. Feel your stomach rise and fall as you breathe. Imagine your belly filling up with air like a balloon as you breathe in, and then feel it deflate as you breathe out. Feel the breath moving in across your nostrils, and then feel your breath blowing out across your lips. As you breathe, notice the sensations in your body. Feel your lungs fill up with air. Notice the weight of your body resting on whatever you’re sitting on. With each breath, notice how your body feels more and more relaxed.
Now, as you continue to breathe, begin counting your breaths each time you exhale. You can count either silently to yourself or aloud. Count each exhalation until you reach “4” and then begin counting at “1” again.
To begin, breathe in slowly through your nose and then exhale slowly through your mouth. Count “1.”
Again, breathe in slowly through your nose and slowly out through your mouth. Count “2.”
Repeat, breathing in slowly through your nose, and then slowly exhale. Count “3.”
Last time—breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Count “4.”
Now begin counting at “1” again.
When your mind begins to wander and you catch yourself thinking of something else, return your focus to counting your breaths. Try not to criticize yourself for getting distracted. Just keep taking slow breaths into your belly, in and out. Imagine filling up your belly with air like a balloon. Feel it rising with each inhalation and falling with each exhalation. Keep counting each breath, and with each exhale, feel your body relaxing, deeper and deeper. Keep breathing until your alarm goes off, and then slowly return your focus to the room you’re in.
Distress Tolerance Skills:
- DISTRESS TOLERANCE SKILLS
- RADICAL ACCEPTANCE
- DISTRACT YOURSELF FROM SELF-DESTRUCTIVE BEHAVIORS
- DISTRACT YOURSELF WITH PLEASURABLE ACTIVITIES
- DISTRACT YOURSELF BY PAYING ATTENTION TO SOMEONE ELSE
- DISTRACT YOUR THOUGHTS
- DISTRACT YOURSELF BY LEAVING
- DISTRACT YOURSELF WITH TASKS AND CHORES
- DISTRACT YOURSELF BY COUNTING
- CREATE YOUR DISTRACTION PLAN
- RELAX AND SOOTHE YOURSELF
- Self-Soothing Using Your Sense of Smell
- Self-Soothing Using Your Sense of Touch
- Self-Soothing Using Your Sense of Taste
- Self-Soothing Using Your Sense of Hearing
- Self-Soothing Using Your Sense of Vision
- Self-Soothing – CREATE A RELAXATION PLAN
Advanced Distress Tolerance Skills:
- Advanced Distress Tolerance Skills: Improve the Moment
- SAFE-PLACE VISUALIZATION
- CUE-CONTROLLED RELAXATION
- REDISCOVER YOUR VALUES
- SELF-ENCOURAGING COPING THOUGHTS
- TAKE A TIME-OUT
- LIVE IN THE PRESENT MOMENT
- IDENTIFY YOUR HIGHER POWER
- ADVANCED RADICAL ACCEPTANCE