Getting Present with the Past


One of the most difficult challenges in focusing on the present is that our minds are so often “hooked” by the past-memories, emotions, and thoughts are all embedded in our mental networks and easily triggered. A helpful way of reminding ourselves of these hooks is the acronym I’M BEAT. If you notice you are being pulled from the present moment, see if you didn’t just get hooked by Interpretations, Memories, Bodily sensations, Emotions, Action urges, and Thoughts of other kinds (such as predictions and evaluations). Once you make yourself aware of them, you are back in the present! Said another way, the way to get unhooked is to bring full awareness to the hook itself. Almost always you will find the hook inside the I’M BEAT list (which is not a bad acronym since without awareness, these reactions will beat you down). Here’s a great exercise for learning to counter the pull of the hook.

Deliberately bring a memory to mind and then say to yourself, “Now I’m remembering that….,” continuing the statement by briefly describing the memory in one short sentence. For example, you might say, “Now I’m remembering that my boss told me I would never amount to anything.”

As you do this, be on the lookout for any emotions triggered; any bodily reactions, such as a tightening of your gut; thoughts that may arise; or an urge to do something. Also be alert to other memories that might pop up. When you’re done with the statement of the memory, attend to these emotions, thoughts, and other sensations one by one, saying, for example, “Now I’m having the emotion of sadness.” If you had the thought, “That should never have happened,” you should state it as “I’m having the thought that that should never have happened.” If you lost track of the responses you wanted to describe, o back to the memory and restate it to capture them again if you go can. For other memories that pop up, go through the same exercise.

This simple phrasing “I’m having the thought that . . .” is a powerful means of bringing defusion into mindfulness, creating a little distance from our thoughts and emotions and impulses that allows us to be in the present moment with them. The thought or feeling may be about the past, or the future too, but by these tags you are alerting your mind that this reaction is occurring in the now. Cultivating that awareness develops a powerful habit of mind that can help us stay on course even when the most difficult memories, thoughts, and emotions present themselves.