My waiter cannot remember the details of my order, and has to ask twice if I want sweetened or unsweetened ice tea. The Uber Eats delivery people entering my building stare at their phones and pay attention to little else while walking down the hallways. At the Airport, I find myself incessantly flipping back and forth between Instagram, Twitter, and my mobile trading app. I notice that everyone else at my gate is also staring at their phones, rarely looking up or acknowledging other human beings.
We are there in form, but we really aren't there. Never before in human history have we been less able to 'exist' in the present moment than we are today. We are escaping to somewhere else in our minds and increasingly unable to engage, connect, or hold a train of thought for any period of time. Social media has trained our brains to look at images, and read single sentence soundbites. We are easily impressionable and lacking any depth of thought or analysis.
Our youth are scoring lower than ever before on math and reading aptitude tests, and school teachers are lowering grading standards in order to avoid failing the majority of their students.
We want to be entertained, and we don't want to have to work hard or think deeply in order to receive this entertainment.
We are losing our minds, and our bodies, to our mobile devices.
Here are 11 ways in which I practice being present while doing my best to keep my brain and body healthy:
1. Practice yoga - Yoga is the union of the breath with physical movement of the body. The practice of yoga has been shown to lower stress hormones in our bodies while simultaneously increasing beneficial brain chemicals like endorphins and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). These feel-good chemicals help decrease anxiety and improve mood.
Life flows through the breath and yoga is the practice of mindful breathing while moving the body in ways that stimulate beneficial blood circulation and stress relief in the body and mind. No matter how stressed I feel walking onto my mat I always feel at peace and alive when leaving my mat.
2. Play chess - Playing chess helps to practice expanding our attention spans and forces us to be present. Chess also helps to improve our memory and practice critical thinking. Playing chess may also help to improve creativity and prevent Alzheimer's disease.
A picture of me playing chess with chess master and author James Altucher in 2011 (we played two games and the result was one win for me and one draw)
3. Go for a daily walk - Walking helps to improve circulation, lose weight, and always lightens my mood. I also often get new and creative ideas while going on long walks. Try to find new places to go on walks, preferably in nature without many cars whizzing by.
4. Microdose psilocybin or LSD - Microdosing can improve mood and reduce anxiety. I have also found that occasional microdosing can increase my creativity and curiosity. And I'll add that combining a microdose with some yoga and nature is a particularly effective trio. According to researchers, adults who microdose psychedelics report health related motivations and lower levels of anxiety and depression compared to non-microdosers.
(Disclaimer: please consult your doctor before taking any psychedelic substances as there could be significant contraindications for people who take prescription medications)
5. Turn off your phone(s) at night - I have noticed that I experience a deeper, more revitalizing sleep when I’m not thinking about my phone. Better yet, don’t even leave your phone in the same room that you’re sleeping in.
6. Spend time being fully present with other human beings every day. Engage someone in a conversation and be present without phones. Connection is healing. While our digital devices are powerful tools of connection, we also crave physical connection that includes eye contact and even physical touch. For thousands of years we experienced connection in the flesh, not via digital screens. Thus, we still crave real connection in the physical form.
7. Make an effort to learn something new as often as possible. The process of learning keeps our brains working and creates new neural connections (much like microdosing psilocybin.). Walk somewhere you've never walked before, read a book about a subject you know little about, try to tie your tie in a new way. Trying new things keeps life interesting.
8. Get regular massages - Physical touch is healing. There is nothing like a good massage for melting stress and feeling revitalized. I also always notice that my blood pressure drops after receiving a massage and I feel much less tense. I could also talk about how massage improves circulation and reduces muscle soreness but that should be self evident.
9. Listen to binaural beats and/or receive sound healing therapy on a regular basis - Would you like to float away to some other place while feeling calm and free? Try sound healing with an expert practitioner. I also particularly enjoy an indigenous Australian sound healing instrument called the didgeridoo (Pro-Tip: Try this with a microdose).
10. Solve puzzles, read a book, or practice solving math problems - A couple weeks ago I helped the daughter of a friend study for the math section of the SAT. I haven’t looked at an SAT math practice test in more than a decade. I noticed that I definitely needed to refresh some concepts and basic geometry formulas. After a couple hours of studying practice SAT questions it all started to come back to me and I felt increased blood flow in my brain. Solving math problems/puzzles forces us to be present and practice our critical thinking skills, two things that are both in short supply these days.
11. Cold plunge therapy - This is my new favorite way to melt stress, feel grounded, and reduce inflammation in my body. When I'm fully immersed in 42 degree water (5.5 degrees Celsius) I can't worry about much else other than breathing deeply. This creates a state of deep presence, and eventually results in a calming tranquility after a few minutes. Try it, you'll thank me later.
“Your entire life only happens in this moment. The present moment is life itself. Yet, people live as if the opposite were true and treat the present moment as a stepping stone to the next moment – a means to an end. The beginning of freedom is the realization that you are not ‘the thinker’.”
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