Written by: Heidi Albritton, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
Most of us would agree that the idea of ‘being Present’ sounds appealing. And we’ve probably heard anecdotes, podcasts/and or articles about why we should prioritize the practice. But what does that mean in our day-to-day lives? What are the real benefits of mindfulness, and how can you begin to work on being fully Present?
In our fast-paced, modern world, the ability to be fully Present is becoming increasingly hard to achieve, and therefore a skill that is more important than ever. We live in a state of constant distraction, with smartphones buzzing, emails pinging, and an ever-expanding to-do list. Coach and Speaker Rasmus Hougaard calls this the PAID reality (Pressured, Always On, Information Overloaded, Distracted). Amid this chaos, the concept of cultivating Presence has emerged as a beacon of tranquility and a gateway to a healthier, happier life.
Let’s take a closer look at the profound impact of presence in combatting this PAID reality, and its positive effect on well-being with 5 simple but impactful reasons you might want to start using that Headspace or Insight Timer app and prioritizing getting Present!
1. Presence as a path to mindfulness
Presence as a state of being, is the ultimate goal of a mindfulness practice, and you can think of it as—a state of active, open attention to the present moment. It involves observing thoughts and feelings without judgment, allowing us to experience life more fully. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a pioneer in the field of mindfulness, defines it as "paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally." The ‘nonjudgmentally’ part is especially important, as when we suspend our judgment, we open the possibility of curiosity.
Curiosity is like having a key to an otherwise locked door. When we approach life with a spirit of openness and curiosity, (instead of judgment and frustration), it’s as though a whole new world opens up to us. We notice things we don’t typically notice, we become aware of options we didn’t previously see, and we allow ourselves to fully inhabit our reality, free of the restrictions of pre-determined perceptions.
Jon Kabat-Zinn’s work on the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) model has demonstrated time and time again that by actively cultivating presence through mindfulness practices like meditation, individuals can foster a greater sense of calm and emotional resilience, and even reduce their experience of physical pain and addiction. Learning to be fully present to what ‘is’, is the secret sauce to living a fully engaged and impactful life.
2. The science behind presence: Rewiring the brain for well-being
The field of Neuroscience has provided meaningful glimpses of the impacts of mindfulness on the brain, revealing its ability to induce positive structural changes. Dr. Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School, conducted groundbreaking research demonstrating that regular meditation can lead to an increase in gray matter density in the hippocampus, a region associated with memory and self-awareness. By engaging in a regular mindfulness practice (daily works best) we can activate these healing patterns of growth in our brains. Greater self-awareness allows us to make better decisions, to fully appreciate our options, and to draw from a fuller and richer experience of our own mind’s potential. “If, instead, you focus on the present moment, on what needs to be done and what is happening right now, then much of the feeling of stress goes away,” Lazar says. “Feelings become less obstructive and more motivational.”
Similar studies have also shown how mindfulness practices have been linked to changes in the amygdala, the brain's center for processing stress and emotions. A 2011 study by B.K. Hölzel et al. using neuroimaging found that individuals who participated in an 8-week mindfulness program exhibited changes in the amygdala that correlated with reduced stress levels. These scientific findings highlight the transformative potential of presence, illustrating how it can literally reshape the brain to promote emotional well-being. That means that you are building stress-reducing parts of your brain as you work on your mindfulness practice in the same way you build your other muscles at the gym. Think about that!
3. Presence in relationships: Building deeper connections
As our lives get busier and even more overloaded with non-human inputs, it’s easy to overlook the importance of being fully present in our interactions with others. Yet, the quality of our relationships is deeply intertwined with our ability to be attentive and engaged in the present moment. It’s almost impossible to connect with other people without allowing ourselves to be fully present. Imagine how it feels to be in a conversation when the other person isn’t even looking you in the eye! That’s the destructive impact of distraction and being fully present is the anecdote.
Eckhart Tolle, renowned spiritual teacher and author of "The Power of Now," emphasizes the role of presence in fostering deeper connections: "As soon as you honor the present moment, all unhappiness and struggle dissolve, and life begins to flow with joy and ease, When you act out of present-moment awareness, whatever you do becomes imbued with a sense of quality, care and love."
Presence can bring us closer together in both our personal and professional lives. Whether we are working to be more present at home with our loved ones, or striving to be better at work, cultivating presence has immense benefits to building trust in our relationships overall. The linkage between presence and trust is both critical and strategic. We all want to feel seen and heard, and when we embody this learning, the result is powerful! Think of how good it feels when someone really listens to you, or you feel the power of someone fully appreciating your contributions. It’s rare and memorable!
4. Stress reduction: The protective power of presence
Chronic stress has become a pervasive issue in modern society, contributing to a range of physical and mental health problems. The practice of presence offers a potent antidote to the stress epidemic, providing a sanctuary from the ceaseless demands of our busy lives.
In a 2017 study by Hoffman and Gomez, practices such as MBI (Mindfulness-Based Intervention) can contribute to reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression. Present-moment awareness can take our minds off of the worry and fear of an unknown future, as well as the regret or pain of an unresolved past. Learning to fully inhabit the present moment can have a very real and powerful impact on our health and vitality.
5. Enhancing physical health: The mind-body connection
The mind and body are intricately connected, and the benefits of cultivating presence extend beyond mental well-being. Studies suggest that mindfulness practices can lower blood pressure, improve immune function, and even enhance the body's ability to heal. Dr. Herbert Benson, a pioneer in mind-body medicine, coined the term "the relaxation response" to describe the physiological changes that occur during practices such as meditation, leading to a cascade of positive effects on the body.
The mind-body connection emphasizes that the benefits of presence extend far beyond mental health, influencing our physical well-being in profound ways.
Embracing presence: A call to action
In a world that often glorifies multitasking and constant busyness, embracing the importance of presence may seem counterintuitive. However, the evidence is clear—cultivating a state of mindfulness and being fully present in our lives can lead to transformative changes in our mental, emotional, and physical well-being.
Being fully present gives us real and meaningful access to our full selves and the full reality of our lives. Using the tool of Mindfulness to become Present is the most powerful way we can access this otherwise unnoticed or neglected reality. In a recent article, Dr. Lori Ochoa emphasizes the importance of fully inhabiting the present moment through a mindful approach to life. “Mindfulness allows clients to objectively notice and change their relationship to their unwanted thoughts by looking AT their thoughts, rather than FROM their thoughts without judgment.” When we stop judging, we can truly see. It’s through having an openness to clarity of observation and awareness, that we can truly see all of our available options and potential.
As you embark on your journey to embrace Presence, consider incorporating mindfulness practices into your daily routine. Begin with short periods of meditation, gradually increasing the duration as you become more comfortable with the practice. Apps like Headspace and Insight Timer offer guided meditation sessions, making them accessible for beginners.
Remember the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk: "The present moment is the only moment available to us, and it is the door to all moments." By stepping through this door and cultivating Presence, you open yourself to a world of possibility—a world where stress diminishes, relationships flourish, and well-being thrives. Take the first step today and discover the transformative power of presence in shaping a healthier, happier you.
For more information about overcoming stress, distraction and burnout go here, and sign up for our ‘Top 10 High-Performance Habits’ pdf and other Mindfulness, High-Performance programs and resources.
Heidi Albritton, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Heidi Albritton is a dynamic Coach & Trainer, with over 20 years of experience in operational excellence and transformative coaching. Notably, she pioneered Mindfulness coaching at a global non-profit, contributing to the creation and facilitation of an organization-wide Mindfulness & Resilience program. A certified expert in Corporate-based Mindfulness, Advanced Enneagram Dynamics and High Performance Coaching, she's dedicated to helping individuals uncover their potential, manage their emotions, and lead a life of impact. Heidi's personal journey, marked by resilience in the face of Lyme's disease and cancer, fuels her passion for mindfulness and authenticity. Her mantra, "Change your mind, change your life,"