The Jeremiah Tolbert Method of Being Present
I am a scatter-brained type person – I have a tendency to live up in my own head more than some, and more than I should. Being “present” is something that I’ve struggled with for a long time. My wife constantly asks me “where are you?” At least, I assume she constantly asks me that, because I only notice the question about one time in five.
I have been refining a mental technique for getting myself to remain more present in my life. A “life hack” if you will, that reminds me that I need to stay focused and attentive to those around me, because this moment will soon be gone, never to be lived again. With my young child, it’s especially important to me. My son is only four, and I already feel like I’m losing my grasp on some of the wonderful moments of the early days. I look at this little person and sometimes, I miss the baby he was.
So this mental hack probably mostly works for science fiction fans more than ordinary people, but the way it works is, I try and pretend that I’m not living the moment for the first time. Instead, I’m revisiting it from the future.
The explanation varies – sometimes I pretend I’m dead, and in my version of the afterlife, I get to relive and witness my life again. Other times, it’s a bit of a Quantum Leap form of time travel – I’m elderly and hooked up to a machine that lets me re-live the past as a passenger in my own self. Doesn’t really matter. It’s all pretend.
The key is pretending that, no matter how mundane or ordinary the moment is to me now, one day, I may look back on it so fondly that I would wish with all my heart to go back to it. Because even at forty years, I know that the things we remember most and the things we think are important at the time rarely align – or at least personally, I’m more wrong than I am right.
Weirdly, this works for me. It grounds me in the moment by causing me to perceive things more sharply. I fix the moment in my memory better because of this too. It’s all nonsense, but it works. I see the world more sharply when I pretend this, and my busy brain quiets and lets me be there, with my family.
Something that has grown out of this as a coping strategy for stress and anxiety is a realization that, looking back on particularly anxious or troubled times, I somehow managed to muddle through. One of the worst things about anxiety for me is that it tends to make small problems seem enormous. Even when I’m in a moment now where a problem or worry seems insurmountable, the future-traveler me says “you’ve been through this before, you’ve been through similar, and you always made it out okay.” And a lot of times, that thought makes me feel some relief. Some problems seem big close up, but we rarely think about them once they’re receding into the distance in the rear view mirror of time.
That’s not to say that I don’t still need to do the work of addressing the problems I’m tackling now – certainly not. They don’t resolve themselves. But what I can do is spare myself the anguish of it all. I can take my problems seriously and not freak out about them. Sometimes, anyway.
My coping strategies are my own, and they may or may not be useful to others. But I thought that I’d share a couple of them just in case someone else can get some use from what it’s taken me so long to start figuring out.