My dad is a real estate agent and this has always afforded him a somewhat flexible schedule. When my sister and I were in high school we would often walk home for lunch and dad would join us if he wasn’t too busy. Sounds nice right? But here’s the thing – he was there with us but he wasn’t really there. He would be smack dab in the middle of a hectic work day and although he sat and shared our bologna sandwiches and sour cream and onion chips (our regular lunch staples) he would be lost in thoughts of meetings, transactions and sales. It actually got to a point where we told him not to bother coming home any more because we would talk to him and he wouldn’t even respond. And I don’t think he was intentionally being rude- he was just still working in his mind.
I’ll admit that it bugged the heck out of me as a child but now that I’m an adult I catch myself doing the same darn thing. I’ll be so focused on making dinner, getting the house clean, prepping my voice work, writing or even reading a book that I will completely ignore my family’s attempts to get my attention. This isn’t such a big deal when the topic revolves around a petty fight between siblings but it can be devastating if someone is endeavoring to share their feelings or an especially wonderful or painful experience and I brush them off in frustration (“can’t you see I’m doing the dishes!”) or ignore them completely.
This isn’t unique to my children – the same thing can happen with friends and family. Instead of taking the time to zoom in on a friend who wants to chat- their experience will trigger a memory of something that has happened in my own life and I’ll butt in with my own story. Or I’ll be watching my children in the background or thinking about an upcoming project and not be truly listening to what is being shared. And it’s only gotten worse with the advent of technology and obsessive email/cell phone/Facebook checking.
Although I do think it’s necessary to focus on work and commitments, it’s equally important to practice being present in your own life and with the people you love. Here are a few things that have helped me keep myself in the moment:
1. Really Listen when someone is talking to you and focus on what they are saying. Try not to interject with an anecdote of your own – just pay attention to their words and give them your full and undivided attention. Try keeping quiet and simply listening.
2. Practice Active Listening. I took a course a few years ago with parenting expert Georgine Nash on Active Listening and the information I gained really helped me develop a skill for building rapport, understanding, and trust with the people in my life. Active Listening is the process of listening attentively while someone else speaks, paraphrasing and reflecting back what is said, and withholding judgement and advice. Essentially actively listening makes the speaker feel heard and encourages open conversation.
3. Set a Time. If you really just can’t focus on the person who desires your attention, set a time in the near future when you will be able to offer your ears. For example, with my kids I could say “I see you really want to talk to me about your new soccer moves and I want to hear all about them. It will take me 5 minutes to change your brother’s poopy bum and them I’m all yours!” or with a friend: “I can’t wait to hear all about your awesome new job but my children are currently beating each other senseless with the television remote. Can I call you back in half an hour once things calm down?”
4. Meditate. Honestly nothing has helped me more with staying present than my mediation practice. I’m only a few months into a regular routine and already I’ve noticed a greater awareness of myself, my stress triggers and my ability to stay more present and calm in day-to-day life. I started out with 5 minutes a day of just sitting quietly with my eyes closed and focusing on my breathing and I’m up to 20 minutes now. I recommend downloading a meditation video to get started or attending a meditation class at a local yoga studio for inspiration.
5. Be Honest about your current state of mind. I attended a seminar with the brilliant educator and counselor Barry MacDonald a few years ago and he recommended coming home after work and announcing at the door a number value reflecting your current state of mind. For example, if you’ve had a particularly stressful day at the office, you might say “Hey everyone. Today I’m at a 10 on the stress scale. I had a tough day and I need 5 minutes or so to decompress and then I’ll be ready to help make supper.” This provides you with an opportunity to pull yourself together before anyone makes demands on your attention and it teaches your children that it’s ok to be open and honest about your needs and feelings.
Personally, I have a hard time relaxing when there are dishes in the sink or a bed is unmade but I have to remind myself that the dirty cups and messy sheets will get tidied up eventually, but the opportunity for a genuine connection with someone I love may pass me by if I’m not careful. Maybe it’s time to put down the iPhone, walk away from the kitchen, ignore the television and really engage with the people in my life.
How do you stay in the moment?