Absentmindedly bumbling through life - four ways to stay in the present, or at least try to.

Image of pink brain exploding
Clare Gunning
Wed 11 Dec

I’m one of those people who is always looking ahead. I find myself adding up how many weeks to Christmas, creating a to do list for the weekend that includes time not thinking about to-do lists, and spending far too long considering my next hair appointment – how great my life will be then! 

At some point during my contemplation of the future I find myself standing on the street wondering why am I here? And not in a life purpose type of way, but more on a practical level – I can’t remember what I left the office for.

If you struggle to stay present, you’re not alone. 

 And maybe it isn’t a problem if you don’t mind occasionally finding yourself standing on a curb with no memory of how you got there. But if you feel that on balance life is a bit better when you’re actually, you know, here – I’ve collated the four simple things I do to bring myself back to the present.

  1. Know your patterns

If you watch closely there will be a pattern around the time of day, day of the week, and even month of the year when you find you are more or less present. For example, I am more present in the morning, with my kids, and at big events like a birthday party. I am less present in the afternoons and on a Friday. Knowing this helps me schedule things when I need to be present – like an important call with a friend, and also to be kind to myself when I need to chill out and live in my head a little (hello Friday arvo ‘planning’ time). 

  1. Practice grounding exercises 

Particularly useful for those of us who are forward planners, grounding helps you come back to earth from the future. A simple exercise I use is closing my eyes, bringing to mind someone I love, turning the love into a colour, breathing the colour in through the crown of the head and out through the feet, imagining the colour spreading into the ground, and repeat. It only takes 2 mins and you can do it anywhere – even at your desk. For other grounding techniques check out https://www.radicaltransformationproject.com/the-best-grounding-techniques-for-anxiety/

  1. Compare yourself with who you were yesterday, not with who someone else is today.

This is one of Jordan B Peterson’s 12 rules for life and it reminds me to stay with myself. Yes, that girl in the office next door has the perfect blonde. No, you’re not doing too badly compared with the mean neighbour who shouts at small children. But in the end, these are not worthy comparisons as the only person you can really measure yourself against is the best version of you. You do you sister (or brother). 

  1. Know the signs of needing extra help

 A little bit of day dreaming is totally normal, but I know for myself sometimes my inability to stay present is actually anxiety pulling me into a never ending spin about what’s coming next. Usually I can tell because I have physical manifestations of my thoughts like lifting my feet off the ground, fidgeting and breathing quickly. When this happens I do a grounding exercise and then ask my anxiety what it is trying to tell me. While this often works, sometimes I need some further help from a friend, family member or a professional. 

So that’s four things that work for me, and I’d love to hear what works for you.

Remember to always be kind to yourself, you can’t bully yourself into the present – it’s more like convincing a toddler to play a game that you know they will love once it gets started – do it with love and empathy.

After all, now is now.



Clare is currently the Director, Campaigning at the Business Council of Australia. Prior to this she was the Assistant Commissioner, Public Affairs at the ATO. Clare has held a range senior communications roles in the public sector including with the NSW State Government, federal regulatory agencies such as the Fair Work Ombudsman, and policy agencies such as the Treasury. Clare holds a Bachelor of Communications, Advertising and Marketing from the University of Canberra. Outside of work, Clare enjoys spending time with her young family and running.