The Power of the Present
Think back to the last time that you were in a waiting room. Everyone is sitting a few seats apart from each other. It is awkward. No one speaks until the person behind the desk calls out to break the silence that it is your turn.
What was your response to this uncomfortable setting?
Did you get on your phone?
Did you find one of those random magazines?
Or did you take a moment to be present with your thoughts and the people around you?
Blaise Pascal writes in his collection of notes, Pensées, on the inability that humans have to live in the moment, saying:
"We never keep to the present. We recall the past; we anticipate the future as if we found it too slow in coming and were trying to hurry it up, or we recall the past as if to stay its too rapid flight. We are so unwise that we wander about in times that do not belong to us, and do not think of the only one that does; so, vain that we dream of time that are not and blindly flee the only one that is. The fact is that the present usually hurts. We thrust it out of sight becuase it distresses us, and if we find it enjoyable, we are sorry to see it slip away. We try to give it the support of the future, and think how we are going to arrange things over which we have no control for a time we can never be sure of reaching. Let each of us examine his thoughts; he will find them wholly concerned with the past or the future. We almost never think of the present, and if we do think of it, it is only to see what light it throws on our plans for the future. The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means, the future alone our end. Thus, we never actually live, but hope to live, and since we are always planning how to be happy, it is inevitable that we should never be so."
This is true in the workplace as well and it can impact productivity (see: If You Aspire to Be a Great Leader, Be Present for more info). Being present with your people is more than just being in the same room. It is a mindset of focus. It is a commitment to attentiveness. The fact is, it is very hard to remain present. It is draining and requires us to focus more than we would like. This is why we rarely do it; why we pull out our phones in uncomfortable situations; why we turn on some music or the TV for background noise in the silence. We do not want to have to deal with the thoughts of the present because we have not reconciled the past yet.
The past is unchangeable and the future is unattainable without the present moment.
So how can you harness the power of the present?
Commit To Your People: The people that you encounter want to be heard, really heard. They can sniff out inauthentic behavior. Make eye contact. Listen and focus on the information that they relay to you before you form your response. This cuts down on the time it takes to make decisions as dialogue is not choppy and argumentative, but rather focused on and engaged with the situations at hand.
Rest: Due to this extreme level of engagement, it is important to take a break. In society today, this is taboo. A common phrase that I hear is "I'll rest when I'm dead." This is a poor strategy for life. Without rest, you forfeit your best leadership. Rest is integral into healthy, productive interactions.
Living in the present takes time and energy, but it is worth it not only for you and your personal productivity, but for your relationships.