Stop Thinking About It
This is the second in a series called “The Art of Now: Six Step to Living in the Moment” from an article I recently came across in Psychology Today. Today we focus what we’ll call “unselfconsciousness” — the idea that we spend far too much time thinking about what we’re doing and the possible ramifications (how others may react, am I doing it right, etc.) rather than simply enjoying the moment for what it is.
To improve your performance, stop thinking about it (unselfconsciousness).
I’ve never felt comfortable on a dance floor. My movements feel awkward. I feel like people are judging me. I never know what to do with my arms. I want to let go, but I can’t, because I know I look ridiculous.
“Loosen up, no one’s watching you,” people always say. “Everyone’s too busy worrying about themselves.” So how come they always make fun of my dancing the next day?
The dance world has a term for people like me: “absolute beginner.” Which is why my dance teacher, Jessica Hayden, the owner of Shockra Studio in Manhattan, started at the beginning, sitting me down on a bench and having me tap my feet to the beat as Jay-Z thumped away in the background. We spent the rest of the class doing “isolations”—moving just our shoulders, ribs, or hips—to build “body awareness.”
But even more important than body awareness, Hayden said, was present-moment awareness. “Be right here right now!” she’d say. “Just let go and let yourself be in the moment.”
That’s the first paradox of living in the moment: Thinking too hard about what you’re doing actually makes you do worse. If you’re in a situation that makes you anxious—giving a speech, introducing yourself to a stranger, dancing—focusing on your anxiety tends to heighten it. “When I say, ‘be here with me now,’ I mean don’t zone out or get too in-your-head—instead, follow my energy, my movements,” says Hayden. “Focus less on what’s going on in your mind and more on what’s going on in the room, less on your mental chatter and more on yourself as part of something.” To be most myself, I needed to focus on things outside myself, like the music or the people around me.
Indeed, mindfulness blurs the line between self and other, explains Michael Kernis, a psychologist at the University of Georgia. “When people are mindful, they’re more likely to experience themselves as part of humanity, as part of a greater universe.” That’s why highly mindful people such as Buddhist monks talk about being “one with everything.”
By reducing self-consciousness, mindfulness allows you to witness the passing drama of feelings, social pressures, even of being esteemed or disparaged by others without taking their evaluations personally, explain Richard Ryan and K. W. Brown of the University of Rochester. When you focus on your immediate experience without attaching it to your self-esteem, unpleasant events like social rejection—or your so-called friends making fun of your dancing—seem less threatening.
Focusing on the present moment also forces you to stop overthinking. “Being present-minded takes away some of that self-evaluation and getting lost in your mind—and in the mind is where we make the evaluations that beat us up,” says Stephen Schueller, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania. Instead of getting stuck in your head and worrying, you can let yourself go.
So . . . go ahead . . . let yourself go . . . live in the moment!