Present-moment awareness

Tightrope Walker

Present-moment awareness is both the starting point and the ending point of becoming antifragile.

Once you are antifragile, nothing will distract you from your focus and priorities: not political crises, not demonstrations, not wildfires, shootings, or floods. Not even Covid-19 — at least not for very long.

So although it might not seem very sexy, if you want to become antifragile you have to start by building this foundation. You have to start by building your capacity to generate and deepen your present-moment awareness.

Doing this fully takes three steps: Centring, Grounding, and Connecting Deeply with what matters most to us

The first of these steps, centring, creates entry-level present-moment awareness.

Present-moment awareness means not dwelling on the past, not worrying about the future, and not thinking about other 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, not as you are imagining it.

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.

Repeat this cycle as many times as you find useful.

As you do so you are likely to notice three things:

— First, the more we become a detached observer of our thoughts and feelings, by describing them to someone else, 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 think about and interpret those events. And if it is us who are causing our own inner churning, then that means we can change it.

Once we have achieved this centring/centering, the rest of the Inner Leadership antifragility process will be about grounding ourselves ever 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 make that happen then the secret to our peak performance will be our ability to achieve present moment awareness. Because — as any tightrope walker knows — present moment awareness is what enables us to do what needs to be done now — and in every present moment that follows.

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 your focus, or the focus of the people around you, more to 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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