I was literally in the final aisle where you wait for the cashier amidst the store’s last-ditch effort to sell you one last item. As I am walking towards the cash register, I look to my right, where there are mugs on the shelf (see picture). Looking around for other personalized coffee mugs, I see none. Pausing for a few moments longer, I am amazed at the synchronicity for there in front of me are two mugs. One mug has one word, “Laura” and the other mug says, “Live Your Purpose”. Really?!

For those of you who don’t know me, my first name is Laura. I have spent a great part of my career in the arena of purpose, both individually and for teams, including working with some of the highest levels of executives in the world. I help these leaders figure out what is the work that only they can and should do, specifically, their true purpose. In addition, I’ve researched and written my first book on the topic of purpose. And my second book is now about to be published: A Pocket Guide to Purpose for Leaders: A Powerful Approach to Create and Unleash Greater Innovation, Engagement and Strategic Alignment.

I’m amazed once again at just how important it is to be present and recognize how many incredible things are around us here in this moment, right now, just a glance away.

The power and impact of being present is at the forefront of my mind since I recently returned from a leadership development program. One of the questions the instructor asked us to reflect upon was, “How much time do you spend in the past, what emotions do you think about and feel when you are there, and where do you feel it in your body?”. He then asked the same question as it relates to the present and the future? 

While seemingly simple questions, these statements stopped me in my tracks and helped me realize that most of my time had been thinking about the future (60%-70%), and the emotions are mostly around fear and anxiety. Only approximately 10%-15% of time was in the past and even less time in the present. At that moment, I decided to spend the next few minutes trying to be incredibly present, given it was practically a foreign concept for me.

I looked up from my pen and paper where I was reflecting upon the words that were being asked, and no more than four feet from me was a bush with beautiful deep pink flowers, where a movement caught my eye. It was a hummingbird. I haven’t seen a hummingbird that close in many years, and suddenly it landed on a branch – these tiny birds never seem to sit in one place, never mind deciding to rest a moment (kind of like my mind!).

As we were sitting together just resting a moment, I looked up, curious whether there was something else to be seen in this moment – up above were two red tail hawks circling, spiraling, weaving in each other’s path. Stunned, I looked back down and the hummingbird was gone, but the hawks kept circling– the light filtering through their tails an orangey glow as they glided effortlessly through the air. As I brought my gaze down again to the bush, they were now two hummingbirds sweetly sucking the nectar of the flowers.

How much do we miss that is right in front of us, literally?

Extensive research from the HeartMind Institute teaches us that our heart is 100 times more powerful than all the analytics that our brain provides. How do we translate this from a society that values so dearly the analytical mind? By understanding our heart. While the mind is a powerful tool, research shows the heart makes better decisions when it has coherence with the brain, that is, coherence occurs when we are feeling positive emotions. And therein lies the key. We have discord when the brain and heart are at odds (see picture). The top EKG/EEG were taken during a time of stress, compared to the bottom measures were in a time of appreciation. When our hearts and minds are feeling positive (like feeling appreciation) they beat in sync and we are far smarter, better decision makers, better leaders.  

To galvanize the power of our heart coherence, it is as simple as following these three steps to become present (and positive!):

1. Notice how you are feeling right now. Are you sad or remorseful, upset? Chances are that you are in the past reliving something that has already happened, of which you can do nothing about. Or you might be feeling anxious, fearful or worried. If so, chances are that you are thinking about the future, of which, once again, you can’t do anything about it at this moment.

2. If you are in a quiet place and feel comfortable, put your hands on your heart and bring yourself back to the present moment. This enables you to literally feel your heartbeat and the amazing miracle of what this organ does in helping you to breathe, circulate your blood, have a pulse – all without you having to think about it.

3. Take three deep breaths, inhaling through your nose for a count of five, holding for five, exhaling completely through your mouth for a count of five, and pausing for five more seconds. This is called box breathing (visualizing the inhale on the left side of the box, holding at the top of the box, exhaling down the right side of the box, holding for five coming back to where you started then repeat.) When repeated, 3 – 5 cycles provide our brain more oxygen and releases CO2. The military uses this technique when in stressful, high-stakes situations. 

Most of us keep our breaths so shallow that it puts our brain in a constant state of fight or flight, explicitly a stressful state. This simple approach can bring us back to the present, just by feeling our breath come in through our nose, fill our bellies and exhale through our mouth. So simple, so beautiful, like the hummingbird.

Just like the mugs I found in the store shared a message for me, what messages are being shared around you right this moment? Who is nearby, either in your thoughts or in your proximity, with whom you need to share something, or receive a message? What ideas are surfacing because of something you’ve been inspired by? When was the last time you were in nature or went for a walk and felt the sunshine on your face?

If you want to be less stressed, make better decisions, be more innovative, give these three steps a try and see for yourself. 

This moment has so much to offer. How are you going to fully take in and reap the benefits? May you enjoy this moment.