Get Back Here!

During particularly busy times, (and when are they otherwise?) especially when we are feeling overwhelmed, it helps to remember that we are most effective when we are fully present. We can only be truly effective in this moment. Often, though, there are so many things competing for our attention that it feels impossible to sort through them and focus on one thing. Some of these distractions are external, some internal.

inh exh

External distractions include piles of paper, long to do lists, e-messages, i-alarms and other alphabet-prefixed things that harangue us. All of these compete for our limited attention and dissipate our focus. Our thoughts become fragmented and scattered and our anxiety about not getting anything done is increased.  To bring your focus back to this moment can be very simple: pause, take a deep breath with a long exhale (to engage the parasympathetic nervous system for you science types) and focus on that breath. Repeat until you feel present, grounded and ready to focus on one thing.

in the moment cartoon

To enhance your ability to focus, create an environment that limits distraction, a zone in which you can be fully present. This can be anywhere, any time. Remove everything from your range of sight and hearing that might distract you and allow yourself to come into present moment awareness.

This means turning off all the bells and whistles on your brilliant phone and fancy lap top, moving

research paperOr remove 
yourself from a hectic environment to a place where you can focus, distraction free. For some people this is a library or quiet space outdoors. For others, the ambient, non-specific sounds in a coffee shop provide a space in which they can focus. You’ll know it when you find it: a space that leaves you free to focus on your writing, reading, blogging, or other creative pursuit so that you feel supported and grounded, like you are in flow.monkey mind Bringing your attention into the present is an ongoing discipline, because our monkey-minds are constantly wandering off to investigate bright shiny objects.away the piles of reading, the to-do list and everything else that is cluttering your space and “yelling” at you.



twain worry

Reminders to “get back here” posted where you can see them frequently, can help. Internal distractions come down to two categories: worrying about the future and revisiting the past. Either place is guaranteed to bring your focus and productivity to a grinding halt.  Bringing your focus back to the present, to this moment, will not only enhance your effectiveness, over time it will re-wire your brain so that your mind is more resilient and your sense of well-being improved. As you enhance your present moment awareness, remember that nobody on the planet is fully present all of the time. It’s a practice for all of us. Be kind to yourself as you work on being more present. Finally, it makes sense to feel grateful to be living a life in which we need to find ways to focus and stay present. Beats the alternative, yes?

This month, try posting the reminder to “get back here”. When you become aware that your thoughts have wandered to something bright and shiny or into the past or the future, practice bringing them back to what’s right in front of you. Take a deep breath, and remind yourself that you are only really alive in this moment. What difference does it make for you when you are more focused and fully present?


Jon Kabat-Zinn is an acknowledged leader in helping folks to sharpen their ability to be fully present. Anything that he has written or recorded is a great place to start.

A powerful set of tools for helping to clarify priorities and spending time effectively is found in Getting Things Done, by David Allen.