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Creating Calm & Practicing Presence - Part III

In PART I, we identified the power of practicing "presence" to fully experience the joy that can be found in the little things around us.  We also discussed how our obsession with the past or future can get in the way of experiencing the present moment.

In PART II, we focused on dealing with the past.  We talked about creating a space to process the past so that we don't dwell on it.  We also discussed the need for routines like verbalizing thankfulness to teach our brain to search for the positive.

In this post we will focus on healthy goal setting to deal with the future.

If we want to learn to be fully present, we have to deal with the obsession we have with the future.  We can do this through prioritizing, setting goals, and practicing focus.  When we create daily practice around these things, we give structured space to the future and it helps our brain to let go of it when we need to.  If we don't provide structured time to think about the future our brain will simply go there on it's own.  Daily routines help keep us in the driver's seat.

Prioritizing - Pretty much every self help book that has every been published makes this suggestion, yet so few actually put it into practice.  Each day, you should have a set time to prioritize your daily tasks.  You may need to veer off to handle something that is urgent, but if you keep your task list small you should find success more often than not.  Some people that practice this will spend the first 15 minutes at work prioritizing.  I personally like doing it before work on my chalkboard wall, or on the drive to work.  I like the chalkboard wall because it is visual and helps me to see the day.  I like the drive to work because I find driving meditative.  I don't suggest always nitpicking all of the little things, but just picking 1-3 special projects each day that you can accomplish.  There are other days when I need to feel like I accomplished a lot, so if I am emotionally down, I will list off all the little things and check them off as I go.  Checking them off feels good, and there is a lot of science behind this.  Don't forget that this is helpful for your children too.  Start practicing prioritizing with them when they are young so that it is a habit when they are older.  To get started call a short family meeting on a weekend and discuss what each person wants to accomplish the most.  If it is a SMART goal (see below) then put one on the board for each person and then check them off as you do each on.  After using it for fun goals for awhile you can start using it for other things like problem solving, chores, and moral goals.

Setting Goals - I suggest having no more than 3 long term goals and 3 daily goals at a time.  I prefer to focus on 1-2 long term goals, but I know each person is a little different.  The point is to keep the number down.  You can't focus if you have too many.  I also suggest making SMART goals.  SMART stands for:
S = Specific: The goal should be very specific.  Generalized goals make for wishy washy action.
Non-specific example: I will write.
Specific example: I will write a blog post about practicing presence.

M = Measurable: You should know when you have completed a goal.  If you can't measure it you will never know when you completed it.  This can lead to obsessing over it, or ignoring it.
Non-measurable example: I will blog about practicing presence.
Measurable example: I will write a one page blog post about practicing presence.

A = Achievable: Goals should not be lofty, success if critical for the habit.  Make sure you are setting goals where you can achieve success.
Non-achievable example: I will write a one page blog post about practicing presence with everything anyone would ever need to know about practicing presence.
Achievable example: I will write a one page blog post about practicing presence with at least three examples of practicing presence.

R = Realistic: This is similar to A, but should include consideration about your own abilities and current situation.
Non-realistic example: I will write a one page blog post about practicing presence with at least three examples of practicing presence.  It will be the best post ever written on the topic with millions of views.
Realistic example: I will write a one page blog post about practicing presence with at least three examples of practicing presence.  It will add value to someone's life and I will receive at least one positive comment, email, or response from someone stating that it was helpful.

T = Timely: A goal without a deadline is just a pretty statement.  Tasks without deadlines get pushed to the back of the priority list.  You won't accomplish many tasks if you don't set deadlines.
Non-timely example: I will write a one page blog post about practicing presence with at least three examples of practicing presence.  It will add value to someone's life and I will receive at least one positive comment, email, or response from someone stating that it was helpful.
Timely example: By the end of the day I will write a one page blog post about practicing presence with at least three examples of practicing presence.  It will add value to someone's life and I will receive at least one positive comment, email, or response from someone stating that it was helpful within the first month of it's posting.

Every goal should be a SMART goal.  Long term, short term, it doesn't matter.  This is a powerful system for setting goals.  You will accomplish more and stress over it less.  It does take time to master the SMART goal format, but once you have it, it will be second nature.

Focusing - We need to learn to focus our attention intentionally to truly sit in the driver's seat of our own mind.  Meditation and prayer are critical for this.  Do you have a daily quiet time?  I suggest practicing two different types of daily quiet time.  You don't need to do each every day, but if you can it would be nice.  Neither need to be long.  The first type of quiet time is focused thought.  You pick a subject and you focus on it for a set period of time.  This could be as simple as practicing prioritizing each day.  The second type of quiet time is wondering thought.  We used to have our kids practice watching a river.  We would tell them to focus on one spot of the river and when a leaf goes by let it pass in and out of their vision without moving their eyes.  This takes way more focus that you think...try it.  Once they could accomplish this we would ask them to do the same thing inside their mind, watching a thought come in and go out without following it.  This is a practice of mindlessness.  You never stop seeing the thought, you only stop judging and discussing the thought.  This is a critical skill for practicing presence.  It will take practice though.

In Part IV we will finally discuss the technique we used to help our kids focus on the moment.  I think it will be just as useful for you as it is for your children & teens.  I know it was for me.

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