“Be In the Moment”: What Does It Really Mean?

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IMG_1879Meditation has become extremely popular and with good reason: The benefits for body, mind and spirit are well researched and well documented. Although I have practiced meditation since 1977, I recognize that phrases used in teaching meditation, such as “be in the moment,” can be difficult to understand.

Being in the moment is described as being fully mindful of our experiences as they happen, not focusing on the past or future with our thoughts.

I became much more skilled at living in the moment when I consciously made major changes to my personality and behaviors that I write about in my book “Pack Leader Psychology.”

While meditation can be helpful in developing this skill, I believe it is also important to thoughtfully choose to become aware of and eliminate certain habitual thoughts. Specifically, when I was struggling to improve my self-worth, I learned to become less judgmental of myself and others. I told myself consciously that these self-critical thoughts were not emotionally healthy and I chose to stop thinking them. This now allows me to truly engage in what I’m doing or who I’m with without an inner commentary that distracts me from that experience.

Most mindfulness practices, such as Buddhism, involve lessons on compassion for self and others. This is key to living in the moment.

As a psychotherapist I work with people who lack self-compassion. People with low self-worth often experience a constant stream of critical internal messages about themselves. It’s hard to live in the moment with those messages wafting through one’s brain.

People who are not self-compassionate also tend to look externally for approval, making them  fearful of judgment by others. This means they do not live in their own experience, but are overly worried about the other person’s experience. I recall spending a ton of emotional energy worrying about things like: “Do they like me? What does he want me to say? Am I wearing the right outfit? She is touching her hair a lot — maybe she’s telling me my hair is out of place.”

Clearly, I wasn’t really in the moment, experiencing the full person authentically. I wasn’t just being myself, but was more concerned about the other person’s opinion of me. This meant I was not emotionally or physically attuned to other person. Research shows that people can unconsciously sense this lack of attunement. Parts of our brains are used to sense the emotions of others. This helps us get along socially in a group and allows us to sense fear in others so we can react quickly to a physical threat.

I believe that when I was so distracted during a conversation it sent two signals to the other person. The first is a signal of fear. This made the other person anxious, which isn’t exactly a relationship builder. I also unintentionally sent a signal that I did not really like the other person. Because if I was fearful, could it be that I was fearful of her? She didn’t know the cause of my fear, she only sensed the emotion, so this would make her also tense up, even if she did not consciously understand the cause of her reaction.

The irony is that as a “Submissive” or pleaser type of person, I was trying desperately to get this person to like me. But, in reality, the exact opposite occurred. My not being in the moment probably felt cold, distant, fearful and inauthentic because I wasn’t fully present emotionally.

We all have a natural need to belong. But when our lack of self-acceptance and low self-worth lead us to be overly eager for approval, we may be triggered into a fear state and go overboard to seek acceptance. We may spend too much cognitive and emotional energy thinking of what the other person wants us to be, rather that just living in the moment and being authentic.

I now have much less concern for what others think of me and I am much less judgmental of myself or others. I have turned off those messages in my brain that worry about whether I am wearing the right outfit or saying the right thing. And the interesting thing is that by being authentic and in the moment I often relax, fearless, and say and do exactly the right thing at the right time.

 

Give “Pack Leader” Skills for the Holidays

packleaderpsychologycoverLooking for a great gift? Consider giving my book “Pack Leader Psychology!” Just $4.99 for e-book or $12.99 print. Full of useful information readers can apply to their lives immediately to help improve relationships of all kinds, especially that most important relationship — with oneself. For a quick link directly to the book on Amazon go to www.PackLeaderPsychology.com. Also at www.BN.com for Nook and in print. Happy Holidays to everyone and thanks for all your support over this past year.

Dogs and Kids: It’s NOT how they were raised

This article has good information on our attitudes toward dogs who come to us with a “past.” Sadly, dogs who have been in fight rings, abused, neglected  or otherwise “raised wrong” are often rejected as adoptable because people have been told that behavioral issues can’t be changed. In other words, people believe the myth that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

But that myth is exactly that — wrong! Dogs can be trained, no matter their age,  and that is because they live in the moment. They can forget past experiences if the owner does not allow those negative memories to bring on feelings of guilt, pity or a presumption that the dog is forever “bad.”

As I often find, the exact same is true for people, especially for children who have been labeled as “bad.” My experience as a family therapist is that once parents have a few problems with a child, they label this child a “problem child” and seek professional help. (When all he really needs is a calm, firm Pack Leader parent!)

Then once parents talk to a school counselor or psychiatrist, they usually blindly accept the “diagnosis” that their child has been given — ADHD, ODD, depressed, bipolar. And they believe the lie that this “diagnosis” is a lifelong “illness” that must be medicated and that is the only possible “treatment;” there is no “cure.”

This biomedical model for behavioral problems must be discarded as incorrect and harmful. There has never been a biological cause found for any of these “mental disorders.” These diagnoses are mere behavioral and emotional concerns, not biomedical “illnesses.” And the child’s misbehavior can be traced directly to improper parenting.

But the good news is that if these are behavioral problems, that means they can be changed! Just like dogs, children like to live in the moment. They can move past unhealthy behavior patterns if parents do so first. Pack Leader parents know that each day is a new day and they have to discard negative presumptions about a child and bring a positive, forward thinking attitude to each situation.

Dogs and people very often sense the attitudes being sent their way and live up — or down — to those opinions. Live in the moment.

 

Fight or Flight Causes “Mental Illness”

“Fight-or-flight” is a concept I discuss in depth in “Pack Leader Psychology,” because I believe this primal fear response is key to understanding human behavior. This natural survival instinct is also a powerful driver of human emotions and interactions, yet psychiatrists and psychologists seem to have ignored this important fact when developing diagnostic and intervention theories.

I believe we in the profession and in the general public should talk more directly about the fear response. As a psychotherapist, I believe that if we more routinely label these behaviors people will not only begin to understand them, but the behaviors will be normalized. By calmly and clearly explaining a behavior, such as anxiety or depression, as a normal, primal response, perhaps some of the mystery about human behavior and psychology will be removed. It should not abrogate responsibility for these behaviors, especially the violent, abusive behavior that often accompanies the “fight” response, but at least it will increase awareness.

I believe the psychology profession has, for too long, used obscure, confusing terminology. What could be more primal and clear than “avoidance, freeze, flight and fight?” These are behaviors that every animal understands at the level of the survival instinct and to label these reactions as “mental illnesses” is incorrect, stigmatizing and may reduce the effectiveness of therapy.

I routinely explain the “fight-or-fight” response to clients in therapy and many have heard of it, but never applied it to their own behavior.

In “Pack Leader Psychology” I also add new layers of understanding to this concept, explaining why people today are so quick to flip into a fear response in today’s world and how to stop this behavior.

The Dog That Taught Me About Leadership

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Reilly, the Muse for “Pack Leader Psychology”

As I say in “Pack Leader Psychology,” a growl instantly moved me from pack member to pack leader with my dog, Reilly. But if I hadn’t had a dog that understood how to be a pack member, I might never have learned this lesson. And I might never have made the connection that being a pack leader to people might also be a good thing for my interpersonal relationships as well.

The story begins when I got Reilly as an eight-month-old dog. She had grown up in an outdoor kennel with her birth pack and several adult dogs. Living for so long with this normal dog pack taught Reilly how to recognize and honor the pack leader or leaders — probably her mother and father.

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