Present-moment awareness

Tightrope Walker

Present-moment awareness is both the starting point and the end point of inner leadership.

When the world around us is churning with political crises, demonstrations, wildfires, shootings, and floods it is easy to find ourselves churning inside, distracted from our priorities.

So the first steps of Inner Leadership are to Centre, Ground, and Connect Deeply with what matters most to us. Then we can decide how to move forward.

The first of these steps, Centring (/Centering) is about letting go of any inner churning we might be experiencing.

One of the simplest ways to achieve this is through present-moment awareness.

Present-moment awareness means not dwelling on the past, not worrying about the future, and not thinking about things that might (or might not) be happening on the other side of the world. Instead, present-moment awareness is about focusing on what is actually happening, right here, right now, in this present moment: in reality as it truly is.

To achieve this, pause for a second. Sit or stand still. Breathe in and hold your breath for a count of three. Then let it out slowly and do the same again.

Now bring your attention to what is happening around you. What can you see, hear, feel, taste, or smell? Describe it to yourself as if you were describing it to another person.

Now shift your attention inside your body. Take another deep breath and let it out slowly. What are you feeling in your body? Where? Describe the feelings as if you were describing them to another person. Are you experiencing any recurrent thoughts? What are they? Describe them as if to another person. Take another deep breath and let it out slowly.

Now bring your attention back to your surroundings. What is happening around you in this present moment? What can you see, hear, feel, taste, or smell? Describe it to yourself as if you were describing it to another person.

You can repeat this cycle as many times as you like. And as you do so you are likely to notice three things:

— First, the more we become a detached observer and describer of our thoughts and feelings, the less likely we are to get caught up in them. We can realise that whatever we are thinking or feeling now, it is different from what we were thinking or feeling 2 days ago and it is different from what we will be thinking or feeling in 2 days time. We don’t have to get wrapped up in whatever we are thinking or feeling now: our thoughts and feelings are just experiences we are having for a short time, they are not ‘who we are’.

— Second, the more we notice the details of the reality around us the less we get caught up in the imagined fantasies of our minds. This centres us and reconnects us to reality as it truly is.

— And third, we begin to realise that most of the churning we experience is not caused by the events outside us but by the ways that we interpret those events (especially when we are remembering the past or imagining the future). And if we are causing our own inner churning, that means we can change it.

After we have achieved this centring/centering, the rest of the Inner Leadership process is about grounding ourselves more deeply, making clearer sense of the situation, and finding a way forward that inspires us (and others) to do what matters most.

And when we are working to achieve that then (as any tightrope walker knows) present moment awareness is the secret to peak performance: because it enables us to do what needs to be done, in a calm and focused way, now, in the present moment, without being distracted by the past or the future. It enables you to do the most that you can do, and be the most that you can be, now, and in every present moment.

How much time do you currently spend worrying about the future, or dwelling on the past? What about the members of your team? Would it be useful to shift yourself or the people around you to spending more time in the present moment?

Adapted from Inner Leadership: a framework and tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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Photo By Noel Reynolds via

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