Pursue What Matters
Episode 2: Presence
Please excuse any typos, transcripts are generated by an automated service
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
Hello again and welcome back to the Pursue What Matters podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Melissa Smith. Do you ever feel like when you’re at work, you’re stressing about home and when you’re home, you’re stressing about work. The good news is you’re not alone. And the even better news is, we’re talking all about presence today. So let’s jump in.
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:19
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith, welcome to the Pursue What Matters podcast where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. Today, we’re going to talk about being present, what that means and how it shows up in your life. So one of the traps of balancing many roles and obligations is that you are never where you are. Who can relate to that you’re distracted worrying about work when you’re at home, or trying to take care of home when you’re at work. It can be incredibly difficult to settle in and be present when you are trying to balance so many roles and so many obligations. So one of my very favorite humans of all time, Eckert Tolle has a definition of presence as follows: “Presence is the arising of a dimension of consciousness from where you can become aware that there is a voice in the head, that awareness is beyond thinking. It’s a space of consciousness, where you can be the observer of your own mind, the awareness behind the thought processes for human beings to discover the dimension is extraordinarily important. It is in fact, as I see it, the next step in the evolution of humanity.” So that’s dense, there’s a lot in that definition. So let’s break it down just a little bit. So he talks about presence, as a dimension of consciousness, from where you can become aware that there is a voice in the head. And for many of us, you know, when we think about the voice in our head, or the thoughts in our head, we assume that the thoughts in our head are us or that they’re reality. And what totally is saying is that is not true. That is not accurate. And there’s lots of there’s lots of great research and theory in psychology that confirms what Tolle is also saying. So Tolle also says awareness is beyond thinking. It’s a space of consciousness where you can be the observer of your own mind. So awareness is behind the thought process. So we think about being the observer of the mind, the observer behind the thoughts. So the second thing that I want to just set the foundation here, as we, as we talk about presence is the concept of mindfulness. And there’s lots of talk about mindfulness these days, which I love.
Dr. Melissa Smith 3:27
So as a psychologist, you know, I’ve been familiar with mindfulness for many years, but it’s really starting to, to catch hold in our in our popular culture more and more, which is really great. And mindfulness and presence are related terms. So we won’t, we won’t heavily focus on mindfulness practices today, I would love to do an entire episode on mindfulness practices. And I will definitely do that upcoming but not today. But I do want to say just a little bit about mindfulness today just to help clarify things.
Dr. Melissa Smith 4:09
And so one of the simplest definitions of mindfulness comes from from the Merriam Webster dictionary, which is the practice of maintaining a non judgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment to moment basis. So I really like that definition because I think it is simple but it is also pretty clear in terms of a non judgmental awareness of your thoughts, emotions and experiences in the present moment, so in the now is really what we are concerned with. And so when we think about mindfulness Mindfulness is a function of presence.
Dr. Melissa Smith 5:04
One of the other terms that we often hear related to mindfulness is meditation. And meditation is one example of mindfulness. So meditation is a form of mindfulness practice, that can help you to be more present in your life. So hopefully that kind of helps you to kind of distinguish the differences there. So now that you have more of an idea of what presence is, and how mindfulness is a function of presence, let’s move on and talk about kind of the nuts and bolts about how to be more present in your life.
Dr. Melissa Smith 5:47
So the the reality for many of us is that we often spend our days stuck in our head, and stuck in our stories. So we’re always carrying on an internal monologue or an internal dialogue with ourselves. There’s a great book, written years and years ago, I actually never read the book. But I love the title. And the title is What to Say When You Talk to Yourself. And the premise of that title kind of says it all. And it is this assumption that we are always talking to ourselves, we always have this internal monologue going on with ourselves. And the problem, right, I often say this, the only mistake I’ve ever really made, is to believe my own stories. So as we talk today, I will use thoughts, beliefs, and stories all interchangeably. So there, I’m really talking about the same, the same thing. So we get caught in our beliefs and our thoughts and our stories about our experiences. So we have our experiences of life. And then we have our explanations, or our stories, or our beliefs and assumptions about those experiences, and that most of the places that we get tripped up, leading to unhappiness or anxiety, is in the stories that we create about the experiences that we have. So thoughts and stories that are focused on the past, primarily lead to depressive symptoms, such as guilt, blame, and judgment.
Dr. Melissa Smith 7:36
Let me give you an example of this. So thoughts and stories that are focused on past failures, for example, no one loves me, I’ll never succeed, you know, because I flunked this class, I’ll never be able to be successful in the future. Right, you can see how these beliefs really contribute to depressive symptoms, blame and judgment, thoughts, and stories that are really focused on the future tend to lead to anxious symptoms such as overwhelm fear and stress. An example of this is, you know, I’m afraid of taking this difficult class, or what if I can’t graduate? Or what if I, you know, what, if my boyfriend leaves me, so all of these fears about what could happen in the future, leads to anxiety. So all of these fears of overwhelm, and uncertainty, I often refer to these thoughts and stories as future tripping, right, that you spent all of this time and energy worrying about the future where you don’t have any control over the future. And as we think about the thoughts about the past, you don’t have any control over what has already happened. And this is the real key, about presence, the only moment where you have any power is this present moment. And it really is the power to choose to separate yourself from these stories.
Dr. Melissa Smith 9:24
So what happens for most of us is that we end up responding or reacting to our thoughts and stories in our head, rather than the experiences in our life. So this is often called mind reading. And usually we think we’re really good at it, but I promise you, we’re really lousy mind readers. So we don’t what happens in these situations is we don’t hear what the other person says. We only hear our projection of what the other person is thinking. So we read between the lines, we Often over interpret, we see, you know, a sideways glance, and we see that as evidence that they’re upset at us or that they’re judging us. And then we react or respond in response to our assumption or our story about what we’re seeing.
Dr. Melissa Smith 10:22
The other thing that happens is that we’re distracted, right? We’re stuck in our stories, we’re stuck in our head. And so we’re not hearing what people are saying. So we end up missing out on conversations and actually missing out on what people are saying to us. Another way that this shows up, is that right? In our mind, we’re kind of all over the place. And so in our lives, we’re kind of all over the place. And so one of the ways that this shows up is that, you know, when we’re at work, we’re worrying about home. And when we’re at home, we’re worrying about work. And so maybe we’re taking work home with us, we’re checking email at home or doing work in the evening, we’re taking and making work calls from home. So consequently, you never really get a break from work. So whether you are actually doing work or just worrying about work, you may get to the end of a weekend and find that you never really had any separation from your work obligations. And this really is a recipe for burnout and emotional exhaustion.
Dr. Melissa Smith 11:32
So now let’s think about solutions and some ways to take action, to help move towards some more balanced so that you really can pursue what matters. So first of all, set boundaries with yourself, one of the best things that you can do, and this is also one of the most difficult things to do, will be to limit or eliminate work at home. So no emails, no calls, and no work at home, just do a gut check right now and consider how difficult it might be to do this. So you know, I’m a small business owner, I’m an entrepreneur, this is a really hard one for me. And even though I firmly believe in the value of this, this continues to be really challenging for me, and I’m, I’m definitely working on it and the weekends that I’m able to do this, make a world of difference for me. So it’s, it’s, it’s a hard one, but a really important one. So consider limiting what you read listen to and watch that’s related to work. So give your mind a complete break from work related material. And this really gives you a chance to miss work, and re energizes you for the new week. So I also done this, and I love it. So you know, I’m always listening to something related to work. So whether it’s a business leadership book, or a podcast, that sort of thing. But on the weekends, I make a habit of not listening to those types of content. And I will listen to other sorts of content or read other material, you know, like books for leisure, that sort of thing. So they really can get an emotional and cognitive break from work. And what I find is that it really does re energize me and get me more excited to go back to work and to think about these things again. So don’t take your laptop home with you don’t take, you know, work material home with you, or leave it in the closet, out of sight out of mind. Disable email notifications on the weekend set and out of office response. One thing that I did is I just took off the email notifications on my phone so that I wasn’t getting that ding every time there was an email, because I knew if I got it, if I saw that ding or that notification that I had an email that it would be really hard for me to keep myself from checking it. So I just disabled that and it’s made it so much easier to not check email, on my phone or on the weekend.
Dr. Melissa Smith 14:26
So the second thing that we want you to do is to set boundaries with others. So let those you love and work with know what your boundaries are. So you know, a really great one is setting boundaries around phone calls and emails. So let people know your your acceptable hours for taking calls. So you know no calls before 8am or after 9pm or 7pm whatever that is To set it up with those you work with, and on weekends, and make sure that you also respect these boundaries. So if emails calls texts are made, there’s an understanding that there is no expectation to respond until the workweek has resumed. And this really goes for everyone. So I tell this to, you know, to my assistants, as well that, you know, don’t feel like you need to respond to my texts, or my emails, after hours, sometimes I will send an email, if it’s after hours, mostly as a bookmark to myself to read. So I saw I remember, like, Okay, I need to make sure that I don’t forget to follow up on this, but I always let them know, like, Don’t feel like you need to respond to that until that until the workweek resumes. And it’s just acknowledging that, you know, obviously, everyone deserves a break from work and that everyone will be more productive. If given that break and that refreshment as part of the boundaries with others, let your family know when you are available to receive calls and when you are not available. So before the start of the day, I typically check in, you know, with my husband, and let him know what my schedule looks like. And given the nature of my work, some days, it is not unusual for me to be totally unreachable, except for maybe five minutes at the bottom of each hour. So giving him a heads up about that really makes a big difference in terms of setting expectations. And it really helps to settle any frustration that he may experience. You know, if I’m not being responsive, I also do this with my kiddos, especially if they, you know, need a ride after school or something like that. So that, you know, they’re not concerned if they’re not hearing from me, and so that I know that, you know, they’re taken care of, and that, you know, that’s been communicated effectively. So we coordinate who they need to contact after school, and who may or may not be reachable. And so a little bit of advanced coordination can go a long way to, you know, free me up to be fully present at work, because I know that I’ve already communicated my schedule to my family, and that they know what to expect, and that they aren’t expecting something that I can’t deliver to them. And so I’ve found that that’s been very helpful and has actually helped to avoid a lot of potential difficulty.
Dr. Melissa Smith 17:41
So the third part with setting boundaries with others is to make plans. So if you tend to be a workaholic, and I may or may not be calling myself out on this one, you may find it really easy to let work take up all the margin in your life, especially if you’re an entrepreneur, because there’s always more to do, you never have enough time. And so if you’re like me, it’s like, you’re always kind of trying to fit in a little more work in the margins of your life. If If this is the case, it’s really essential that you create boundaries for yourself and your time. So make plans that force you to take a break from work. So for instance, I will plan a hike with my friend, because otherwise, it’s just too easy to get lost in a rabbit hole of content creation. And so I like to really focus my efforts around work. And when I’m working, like I want to be focused, I want to be present. And I, you know, I don’t have a lot of time for distractions or downtime. But then, you know, when that time is up, it’s been really helpful to have something to transition to because it gets me out of the office and doing something else. And that’s been good for life balance.
Dr. Melissa Smith 19:09
So let’s talk about the next solution. So so far, we’ve talked about setting boundaries with yourself. The second thing is setting boundaries with others. And then the third thing that we want to talk about is cognitive redirection. So cognitive redirection is a fancy term for self talk. So this is the idea of what to say when you talk to yourself, right? And it’s the acknowledgement that we’re always talking to ourselves. And so let’s let’s, you know, let’s be smart about what we’re talking about to ourselves. So the first thing is to learn to talk back to the stories or the thoughts in your head. One of the things that can be helpful is like if you notice that you’re distracted, or you notice that you’re worrying about something is to have a little reminder for yourself that can cognitively redirect you right can mentally bring you back to the present moment. So one of these cognitive redirection statements that I use is this, I will be more effective if I can be where I am now. Right. And sometimes it’s as simple as Come back, come back to this moment. And so cognitive redirection is a really very simple tool that can be quite effective for just helping you come back to the present moment. And so to remind yourself that the only moment you have any power in is this moment. So that’s the third solution.
Dr. Melissa Smith 20:48
The fourth solution that we want to help you with, in terms of being more present in your life, is as much as possible, we want to keep work at work, and home at home, this can be really hard, especially if you’re juggling a lot of roles. Like if you’re, you know, if you’re a busy Mother, you know, sometimes that’s not always completely realistic. I know, for me, it’s not always realistic. And so we want to be forgiving, and we want to, you know, we want to be flexible in that, but what I have found for myself is that as much as possible, if I can keep work at work and home at home, I do better because otherwise I find myself too distracted. And it just undermines my effectiveness in whatever arena I’m trying to function in. So in general, you know, I try to take care of at home tasks when I’m at home, so that when I’m at work, I can be totally focused on work. So for instance, like, I don’t, you know, I don’t try and pay bills, when I’m in the office, you know, pay bills for home, when I’m in the office, and I don’t try and you know, order, you know, things for my kids online, when I’m at the office, I really try and reserve those things for when I’m at home. And then the same thing, when, when I’m at home, I really try and reserve that time for at home tasks or leisure or just, you know, hanging out with the family.
Dr. Melissa Smith 22:26
So the sixth solution that we want to focus on to help you with presence, is to mentally close your work day and prepare yourself to transition to go home. And I want you to think about what that process might look like for you. So in our last podcast, I talked to you about Michael Hyatt and his full focus planner system, which I think is awesome. And he talks about a work day, startup ritual and an end of day, end of work closing ritual, and that this is really kind of the same idea that you can develop a little ritual that kind of helps you to both physically and mentally close your work day and prepare yourself for the transition home. And so I kind of think about it as like what are kind of the, the tidying tasks that I need to do kind of tying up the loose ends, so that I can leave the office, knowing that, you know, things are pretty much wrapped up. So, you know, for me, like if it’s a clinical day, you know that I’ve, I’ve written my clinical notes, I’ve you know, closed off loose ends with emails, I’ve, reviewed my to do list and, you know, set the direction for what needs to happen with that to do list. So it’s kind of mentally closing the loop on your day, so that you can really transition.
Dr. Melissa Smith 24:16
So the seventh solution is developing a mantra that you can repeat, or having specific music that you can listen to maybe utilizing a deep breathing exercise or having even a specific audio book that you listen to on your ride home. That helps you set your intention for the transition home. And I think this can actually be a really helpful way to help you kind of clear your day and clear your mind as you prepare yourself to transition home. And so, you know, as an example of a mantra might be, it’s time for me to go home now. And you know, when I think about this, how many of you saw this, I’m totally dating myself. But I grew up watching Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, which a lot. And you know, not too long ago, there was a documentary about Mr. Rogers, which is lovely. And if you haven’t seen it, you must see it, because it’s just, it will restore your hope, and belief in humanity. It’s just so lovely. But one of the things that he does at the beginning of that show, and you know, that show is such a great example of just predictability and consistency. And it’s just so soothing, and so nurturing, and there’s so much about that show, that is just lovely. But one of the things that he does at the beginning of each show, is he makes the transition from work to home. And he comes in and he takes off his work jacket, and he puts on his sweater, his cardigan sweater, and he takes off his work shoes, and I think he puts on his, you know, like his kids sneakers. And that represents one of these transitional activities to help with this, both physical and mental, and emotional transition. And so I want you to think about what that transition might look like for you. So it could be a mantra could be specific music could be deep breathing exercises, you know, a specific audio book that helps you to set your intention for your transition home.
Dr. Melissa Smith 26:44
The last thing that I want to talk about is a daily meditation practice. So we talked a little bit about meditation earlier, meditation is a form of mindfulness practice. And it is something that helps you to become the observer to your thoughts, right. So it’s a non judgmental stance, about your experience. And it really helps to increase awareness. And even 10 minutes of daily meditation practice, using a meditation app can make a big difference. The research around meditation is really strong. And it’s called a practice for a reason. Because consistent practice, and engagement is really essential for slowing the mind down and distancing yourself from your thoughts and stories, and learning to settle into the present moment. So there’s not any one right way to do meditation practice, the real key to meditation practice is non judgmental practice. And so the, you know, the the important thing is consistent willingness to engage. And there are lots of really great resources out there. For a meditation practice. There’s lots of apps, some of the popular apps out there include headspace, calm, simply been, there are lots of it several of those apps that I just mentioned, have a free versions and also paid versions with, you know, lots of additional features, I think they’re worth the investment to get the additional features depending on your needs and your interest. My personal favorite meditation app is Calm. I use it every single day, they have a specific daily calm app, which is it or sorry, daily, calm meditation, which is different for every single day. They also have sleep stories. And so it’s a really great resource. I love it. And I highly recommend it. But there are lots of other really great resources as well. There are also lots of free resources. So you can find lots of resources on the internet. There’s YouTube videos, there’s free breathing apps, so there’s no need to spend money on, guided meditation, but lots, lots of great resources out there. So 10 minutes of daily meditation practice.
Dr. Melissa Smith 29:34
Okay, so there you go. There you have it. We’ve got lots of solutions to help you integrate presence into your life more. So thank you so much for joining me on today’s podcast! Presence is a topic I hold near and dear to my heart, and mostly because it’s something I really need to work on. Since I have really made the consistent effort to meditate. And to be more mindful, set boundaries with myself and with others, and refocus to the present moment, I have absolutely been a better mother, leader, and just overall human. So when you’re present in your life you can you can really pursue what matters. And that’s really where the important stuff happens. So I could go on and on about this, but I’m going to end it there. Thank you again so much for being here. Make sure you head to our website to check out the show notes with all the great resources I mentioned in this episode at www.drmelissasmith.com/episode-2. One more time, that’s www.drmelissasmith.com/episode-2 as in the number two. I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work and love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care.
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