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Achieving Presence: An Easy Exercise With Powerful Results

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

We’re constantly hearing about how important it is for a leader to be present. I think this is because of the power of possibility when leaders are present: they can respond, shape and engage with what’s going on rather than missing things as they happen.

And these are exactly the same reasons for any of us to practice presence. According to Peter Senge, author of The Power of Presence, when we are present, “We shift from repeating past patterns and mistakes to transforming the emerging future.”

This is what a client wrote to me this week:
“Following up on our last discussion, I’ve been practicing trying to be present.  The thing that surprises me most is that I actually see more of what’s around me.  It’s a really strange sensation.  As I’m concentrating on just seeing, not even really seeing specific detail, just taking in what’s around me, I feel like my vision is clearer, that I have more peripheral vision, and that I’m taking in more information than at other times.  It also makes clear how limited my vision is when I’m in my head.”

No way could I have said it any better!

We were working on what gets in the way of being present and what you can do to focus.

We all do things that make us drift out of the present moment. The three habits below, which most of us indulge in sometime, always end up taking us out of “here and now” and propel us to “there and then” thus killing our ability to be present.

  1. Worry – is always about going forward into your future. You are busy trying to figure out how relationships or events are going to take place, what you’ll do, what others will do.
  2. Regret – is always about the past. You wish you had said or done something differently. You get caught up in your head about something that already happened, wishing for a different outcome or other “what if” scenario.
  3. Obsessing or Fantasizing – are characterized by replaying of actual or imagined, past or future events or relationships over and over. Like: yesterday’s team meeting, the conversation you had over breakfast, that upcoming dinner with your parents, or your best friend’s health scare; a day at the spa, a date, vacation or any other pleasant activity.

There is a simple exercise that can bring you right back to the present moment. And you can do it anywhere, at any time and in the snap of your fingers.

First of all, stop thinking about what you’re reading on this piece of paper. Next, take a deep breath, clear your head. Now look around you and notice the details of your external environment, no matter where you are and without judgment. Shift your focus to your surroundings – the sounds, visuals, and the scents – pay attention when you drift away, noticing the ways you do that from the above list. Pull yourself back by refocusing on your environment.

I’ll do it here: I’m sitting at my desk. I’m typing on my cordless keypad on my beautiful Apple desktop. Right below the screen is that famous black silhouette of the Apple Logo – Uh oh, I’m drifting, thinking about how sad I am that Steve Jobs is gone. I have to pull myself back.  My black bookshelves right next to my desk look so good against the tomato orange of my walls. Across the room is my antique drop leaf table with that black and lime-green felted bowl I made. I should make more bowls. Ooops, I’m drifting again. I can hear the washer spinning, the traffic outside, and one of my dogs barking. I wonder if the mail came yet and whether that check arrived.Ooops, I catch myself from drifting again. I take a deep breath; feel the bones in my spine lengthen. I’m back. Right here at my desk, in my office and writing this blog post.

Now you try it. First do it right where you are at this moment. But later, tomorrow, next week try it again and again wherever you are and whatever you are doing where you want to be present. Begin to notice the increased percentage of time you are able to be present. I’m up to about 85%, maybe more. You have to practice this. And build off of and add to your success. You won’t just wish this and have it be.

The biggest rewards for me are: calmness, experiencing my life fully – the good and the bad – and my increased ability to create from what is (both what I want and what others bring), which is so much easier than imposing. I no longer reject life out of hand, or detach from it to get through it. I don’t have to use my energy to try controlling it, which it turns out I can’t succeed at anyhow. Instead I’m able to appreciate what’s right in front of me.

You, too can be engaged with your life, respond to it and shape it.

What benefits do you notice? How does it help you? What have you learned? What’s possible when you’re present? I would love to know how this exercise and practice worked out for you.

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