P is for Present. Why being present is a valuable #balance habit. This post is part of our blog series, The A to Z of Being Babyproof, a celebration of the attitudes and behaviours it takes to balance career and family – because “babyproof” is not a destination, it’s a blueprint for having it all and making it work.
“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, nor to worry about the future, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly.” – Buddha
Busy equals success?
Do you associate busyness with success? Do you subconsciously equate the number of hours you work with how busy or useful you are? Do you wear busyness as a badge of honour?
If any of the above ring true for you, I can definitely relate. Having always been goal-driven, I grew up believing that being super busy meant being productive and ambitious and that not being busy was somehow lazy or shameful. Bringing up four kids, running a business, managing the home, maintaining relationships – keeping these multiple plates spinning had become my busy badge of pride. The way I saw it, if you were passionate about achieving a successful career and raising a family, how could you not be busy?
It doesn’t help that in today’s fast-paced society, the very idea of being busy has become conflated with the idea of being successful. For all the talk and popularity of mindfulness and being more present, most of us are so caught up in the busyness trap that we view these tools as optional indulgences that we’ll get round to trying someday. When we aren’t so busy. When we have time.
Busyness has a cost
But constant busyness comes at a cost to our mental and physical health. While we are so busy doing and striving, we are at risk of becoming exhausted, anxious and overwhelmed. As long as we hold the belief that success and happiness will only come from getting things done and through our future achievements, we are missing out on one of the simplest and most powerful techniques for increasing our sense of balance and improving our quality of life: being present.
Being present makes you happier
It is being present and being mindful rather than ‘success’ that really makes us happy. A recent trial by the University of Surrey, School of Psychology studied the effect of an online Mindfulness Behaviour Cognitive Therapy course (Be Mindful) on depression, anxiety and perceived stress. Results published in the Journal ‘Mindfulness’ in May 2018 showed that participants who completed the course reported a 63% decrease in depression, a 58% reduction in anxiety and a 40% reduction in stress.
In this blog then, I’d like to show you how it’s possible to begin to transition from a life defined by busyness, noise and endless striving to a life of calm, contentment and balance. The first thing that’s needed to start the journey, is a change of mindset.
‘Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.’ — Lao Tzu
Being present for working parents
For working parents in particular, being present and mindful can be highly beneficial in the quest for happiness and balance. Why?
- Because when you notice the details, you enjoy the experience more
- When you’re present with your kids, every minute becomes quality time
- Because being present creates space for creativity, ideas and solutions
- Because when you slow down, life slows down and you become less anxious about the passing of time
- Because being present is restorative and energising
- Because being present can make even the dullest of tasks – washing up, filing papers, sorting laundry – pleasurable and satisfying. (Research shows that when we focus solely on a task, we are 50% more productive and that when we are productive, we are happier.)
- Because being present will improve your listening skills and so have a positive impact on your relationships.
So how does it work in practise? Let me show you how it works for me, and perhaps you’ll be inspired to be more present in your life.
Being present at home and work
Interactions with kids
When I am interacting with my kids, to be fully present I encourage myself to get totally absorbed in their worlds. I notice every detail from their beautiful long eye lashes and their gap-toothed smiles, to the different sounds and tones of their voices – whether it’s the high pitches of my 7 year old Maxwell, or the deep baritone of my 15 year old Dylan. I don’t manage it all the time, but when I do, when I remember to be fully present, a simple exchange can lift my spirits and keep me elevated for days, as well as leaving me feeling more connected to them.
Interacting with others
At work, I try to be be fully present when interacting with others, whether they be clients, contractors or people in my network. Being present when meeting someone for the first time is a powerful way to build an instant connection.
Taking a break
When taking a tea or coffee break, I take time to register the tantalising smells, the varying colour and consistency and the sensation of warmth it spreads as in my mouth and through my body. When I take a few minutes to stretch my legs I take time to notice my surroundings, paying attention to what I see and hear around me, as well as the sound and feel of my breath within me.
At work, I am often guilty of getting lost in a project for hours, postponing breaks (even loo breaks!) and ignoring the pain creeping into my shoulders and legs from being hunched over the computer for too long. Reminding myself to be more present helps me correct these unproductive, unhealthy and unrewarding tendencies. And when I’m stuck trying to find a solution to a problem, being more present with the problem, instead of being distracted or swept up in my fear of not being able to solve it, means I have access to more ideas and creativity for solving it.
One of the biggest challenges with work is being under pressure from competing priorities, trying to do everything, multi-tasking to feel productive, but ultimately being less productive. Reminding myself to be present can help me focus on single jobs, switch off distractions such as phone and email and get on with completing the task at hand.
Frustrations and failures
Being present also helps with resilience. When I experience frustrations and failures, being present gives me better perspective and helps me get through the pain quicker. It makes me alert to my inner critic which only wants to judge and chastise me, and I am better able to recognise and credit myself for the things I did well while being able to learn from everything else.
Being present is hard to achieve 100% of the time, but making an effort to be more present in our daily lives at least some of the time is worthwhile both mentally and physically. We are all human ‘beings’ after all! Fancy having a go? Then download this week’s freebie ‘how to be more present’ and let us know how you get on in our closed Facebook group.
Caroline Flanagan is a Keynote Speaker, Babyproof Coach and Author of Babyproof Your Career, The Secret to Balancing Work and Family so you can Enjoy It All. Caroline believes passionately in the dream of having it all, and founded Babyproof Your Life to train and prepare ambitious career women for the marathon of working parenthood so they can find their own way to #enjoyitall and #makeitwork. You can reach Caroline at firstname.lastname@example.org