Staying present is the art of being fully aware in the here and now. It’s the secret to maximally empowered living. And if it were easy to do, everyone would do it. But it’s definitely not easy to do. To be sure, it’s a fairly simple and straightforward task. But that doesn’t equate to easy.
Many things can keep us from staying fully present and aware. There are those mental laundry lists of things to do on our minds. There are things that worry and concern us, keeping us mentally occupied. And most of the time, we operate fairly reflexively. We act out of habit, on “autopilot,” so to speak. And we multitask, doing and thinking about many things at once. So it’s a real challenge to stay fully ocused exclusively on the here and now.
Trauma survivors can have a particularly difficult time being fully present and aware. Trauma can leave deep emotional impressions and scars. And past hurts can haunt a person. Future worries can preoccupy, too. And when one is used to having feelings discounted, exploited, or stomped upon, it’s natural to supress them. Accordingly, survivors tend to lose touch with themselves. And they have a difficult time feeling safe in the present moment.
A Simple Method
I mentioned last week that all successful truama treatments have one thing in common: experiencing the present moment in an atmosphere of safety. (See: Empowered Living in the Here and Now.) But there’s a quick and simple method, too. And it’s solidly grounded in cognitive-behavioral psychology.
We know that what and how we think affects our feelings and actions. (For more, see: A Primer on Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy.) And we also know that what we do and the consequences that flow affect our thoughts and feelings. So, if we change our thoughts, it can help us change behavior patterns. Similarly, if we change behavior, in experiencing the results our thinking and attitude changes. It’s as simple as that: changing our thoughts or behavior in the here and now.
Changing Thoughts or Behavior Successfully
Trauma survivors often experience a barrage negative and insecure thoughts. And they become so used to this that they sometimes forget they can change them. Besides, even when they try to change them, the thoughts only come back. So it’s easy to just stop trying. It’s easy to give up, believing that nothing will work. But here’s the reality: in any given moment, you can change a thought. You unquestionably have that power. Sure, an unwanted thought can come back in mere seconds. But you still have the power to change that thought. You have the power to do it again, and again, and again!!
Now, changing thoughts or behavior successfully and more permanently requires practice. But the more you do it, the easier it becomes. And the real secret to making lasting changes is remembering to reinforce efforts. That’s right! All learning requires reinforcement to take real root. That’s what folks too often forget. It’s easy to focus on how hard it is to change. And it’s easy to focus on how frustrating it is when negative thoughts and behaviors return. What folks don’t focus enough on is self-reinforcing every effort. Every time you change a thought or behavior it’s worth an internal pat on the back. And that’s what makes it more likely you’ll do it again. It also makes it more likely you’ll persist when setbacks occur.
The Secret in a Nutshell
So the secret to empowerment is simple, although not easy. When a negative, insecure thought occurs, you change it to a positive, secure one. When a memory drags you back into the past, you re-focus your attention to the present moment. If an old avoidance behavior repeats, you do the very thing you have long feared to do. When future concerns worry you, you refocus on your present efforts. And you start small, reinforcing every effort. It’s that simple. With time and practice, it becomes easier to do this more routinely. And here’s the kicker: focusing your attention this way is also the secret to staying present.
More to Say
There’s much more to say about this self-empowerment method of restoring joy. So I’ll be talking about the mechanics of covert self-monitoring and reinforcement over the next couple of weeks. (See also: How Did We End Up Here?) I know there are some trauma survivors out there who can profit from these methods. And I’ll be sharing how I came to know how effective these techniques can be.