A consultant’s life is tough.
To onlookers, it appears glamorous. After all, what could be better than getting paid to dish out advice?
In reality though, my job is just five percent glamor. The remaining 95 percent is sheer grit, boredom and frustration.
My clients are business owners, responsible for the functioning of their organizations. The lion’s share of my work involves handling their fears, their frustrations, perceptions and mindsets. The trackers, automation and processes… those come later.
When I started consulting, this is what I did.
I detected a problem and immediately offered solutions, half expecting my clients to drop to their knees and thank god for my existence.
Instead, what I got was resistance. (Ungrateful buggers!)
The clients didn’t apply my suggestions. They even refused to accept them. A pattern emerged. Every client said, “This won’t work for us.”
Head. Meet wall.
I had two choices.
One, I could assume the client didn’t want to listen because he was stubborn.
Two, I could assume the problem lay in me, because I couldn’t make the client agree.
Either way, it meant one party was at fault. From this thought stemmed negativity which led to Cold Wars that would put USA and USSR to shame.
Then I discovered a third choice. It was to look beyond this negativity and ask myself, “How can I help my client?”
The third choice was the best. But it was also the toughest. To genuinely help my clients, I would have to:
This meant I had to approach each day with an open mind. Now, knowing how much mental baggage I carry, this was like training a wild horse to cooperate.
But I had to do it. I had to change. So I began to work consciously on a trait which would help me get there. I began training myself to live in the present moment.
No past, no future, just The Now.
“The mind is its own place, and in itself,
Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n.” – John Milton
What Living in the Present Means
Living in the present moment means responding to the situation rather than your emotions. It means giving this moment your best.
It means focusing on your current task instead of thinking about what happens next on Narcos.
It means making yourself one hell of a partner instead of fantasizing about what ‘true (fairytale) love’ is like.
Even if you have it all — a good job, a wonderful partner, money, friends, and an enviable social circle — life will feel empty if you don’t live in the present moment. It’ll feel like a constant tug of war between the future and the past. Sometimes one side becomes stronger, sometimes the other.
But no side wins. Ever.
In all this, you lose out on the most precious part of your life, the only part which matters… the present.
It’s a vicious cycle!
But rewiring your brain to embrace present-moment awareness is immensely rewarding. Here’s how:
- It increases your self-belief to handle stressful situations.
- It makes you respond according to your values rather than circumstances.
- It teaches you to avoid stressful events in the first place.
- It makes you appreciate finer aspects in life.
These benefits make you feel in control of your life. And research states that people who feel a sense of control are 66 percent likelier to feel happy. Don’t ask me how the numbers came about. I’m just stating what research says.
You agree with these aspects, don’t you? In fact, you might know about some of them already. But the bigger question looms.
Can you stop your mind from wandering?
Can you train it to live in the present moment?
You’re probably thinking, “I’ve tried, but I can’t.”
God knows you’ve tried. You even tasted success for two days. But that feeling was as temporary as a wave formed over water. In less than a week, you reverted to your original mindset — worrying, negative self talk and riding the emotional roller coaster.
You read every personal development article, but nothing worked. In fact, the more you read them, the more depressed you felt.
But it doesn’t have to be like this.
Every person in this world dwells on the future and the past. We’re all born with this trait which has helped our species evolve over a hundred thousand years. But that doesn’t mean we must surrender to it forever.
People who are happy have learned to bypass this limitation and focus on the present moment. You can learn it too. To add to it, you can even use this ability to improve yourself each day.
Don’t worry. You don’t have to wake up at 5 am every morning, or remove sugar from your diet. Nor do you have to deactivate your social media profiles.
All you have to do is take five straightforward actions every day.
1. Become Aware of Your Actions
Last week, I went on LinkedIn to post a quick update and return to my work. Since I was online, I figured I might as well check the cricket match score. From there, I jumped to “quickly check” how many upvotes my latest Quora answer got. Then I remembered I had not checked WhatsApp in all of fifteen minutes. What if someone had posted some fake news which I didn’t outrage over?
I can list these actions because I caught myself in their midst. And boy, was I pissed with myself! I had a task to complete, but instant gratification was successfully seducing me like dark chocolate.
Your mind is the only tool which will make you live in the present. Train it.
Instead of fumbling over a hundred tasks, ask yourself every hour, “What should I be doing right now?” If you find yourself doing (or thinking about) something else, pull yourself back to the present using the Five-Second Rule.
How will you figure out what you should do?
2. Follow A Routine
All successful people have one trait in common — a routine.
It’s no coincidence.
Energy, like a muscle, depletes with each rep. A ‘rep’ here means every decision you take. Successful people know this, and guard their energy like Heimdall guards the Bifrost Bridge. A routine lets them know what they should do in advance. It saves them tremendous amount of mental energy, which they direct towards their tasks.
When you stick to a routine, you reap the following rewards:
- You focus your energy on important tasks because you don’t decide what to do on a moment-by-moment basis.
- You pull yourself back when you begin drifting because you already know what you should be doing.
Every morning, visualize how you’ll spend each chunk of your day. Plan what you’ll do, when you’ll do it, when you’ll relax, and how. During the day, keep tallying your actions with your mental image.
Do a few things, and do them well. And then do them again. Consistency in specific actions brings positive results. It also makes you better at living in the present moment.
The key to what you want in life is not hard work, passion or productivity. And it’s definitely not talent. It’s momentum. You build momentum by getting a little better each time.
— Vishal Kataria (@Vishipedia) January 8, 2018
Exercise should be an important — nay, essential — part of your routine.
Research proves that people who exercise regularly eat healthier and curb their spending impulses. Exercise also trains your mind to push harder.
During a workout, my mind gets tired before my body does. So, each time my mind says “enough,” I push myself to do two more reps. These two reps don’t just strengthen my body. They also show my mind that I’m capable of more.
When I ‘take a break’ from the gym, the negative effects become visible quickly. My mind wanders all the time. I feel lethargic. All I do is sleep.
But when I’m regular at the gym (3—4 days a week), I can concentrate better on other tasks too.
Push yourself to do ‘two more reps’ whenever you feel exhausted. You’ll teach your mind to listen to you. Then, pulling yourself back to the present moment won’t be half as tough as it appears now.
4. Enjoy Getting Bored
Adam Marlin, a member of the Knesses Yisroel congregation has a unique goal — to decipher one Talmud page each day. Despite being an entrepreneur, Marlin believes THIS is the toughest part of his day because it demands intense concentration.
Concentrating is both difficult and crucial. You cannot develop it if, at the slightest sign of boredom, you seek out instant gratification.
Constantly switching between tasks depletes your energy. At such times, do something which is allegedly harmful: get bored. And enjoy it.
Getting bored is not a crime. It might feel like one today, but it’s a recommended exercise to strengthen your mental muscles.
Here’s how you can get bored constructively: Leave your phone at home and go to a park. Think about a problem. When you find your mind wandering, bring it back gently to the current problem, just like you would do while meditating.
This action won’t present you with the solution 100 percent of the times. But it definitely will give you a way forward.
Renowned music composer Steve Reich said:
“If I can get in a couple of hours of work, then I just have to have a cup of tea, I have to run an errand to get a little bit of a break. And then I come back. But those can be very fruitful pauses, especially if there’s a little problem that comes up. The best thing to do is to just leave it and put your mind somewhere else, and not always but often the solution to that problem will bubble up spontaneously.”
5. Reflect on Your Work
In the dawning age of Artificial Intelligence, you can stay ahead of machines only if you can take good decisions. Things will keep changing, and you’ll have to keep up.
Learning will play a crucial role if you want to achieve this. But how can you learn if you have no idea about how you’ve performed?
In an academic paper, the authors studied whether individual learning could improve when subjects thought about their work also. Their observation was:
“[T]aking time away from training and reallocating that time to reflection actually improved individual performance.”
Reflecting on your work turns experience into learning.
Don’t touch your smartphone first in the morning. Don’t touch it last at night either. Spend the first ten minutes of your day visualizing your routine. Spend the last ten minutes reflecting on your day and what you learned.
Soon, patterns will emerge. You’ll understand yourself and your quirks better. Use these notes to strengthen your daily routine and your mindset.
Remember how carefree you were as a child? You felt engrossed in every activity — coloring, playing, building or sleeping… everything except eating food.
But as you grew older, your brain developed two abilities — to recall the past and expect the future. These were crucial for mankind to survive. But they also made our minds wander, which became the root cause of unhappiness.
It sucks that you can’t be as carefree as you were in your childhood. But it doesn’t mean you can’t retrieve a large part of that happiness.
Imagine not depending on someone else — even your partner — to pull you out of a low state of mind. Imagine taking care of your life yourself. Imagine ‘being there’ in the true sense for people you love. Imagine going to bed knowing you gave today your best.
You’ll get all of this when you learn to live in the present moment.
Life gives as good as it gets. Give it your best. Stop being at its mercy. Stop letting it decide how happy you can be. Go on and make your own happiness.
Your life is your journey. It’s filled with millions of moments. Make them count.