Have you ever spent an hour on the trail and then realized you can’t remember if you passed that waterfall viewpoint or not? Or recall more about the podcast you were listening to while setting up camp than the campfire you sat around all evening?
Of course. It happens to all of us, at least occasionally. Yes, there’s something to be said for allowing yourself to zone out or let your mind wander during your time outside. But doing that every time you’re outside can mean that you’re missing out on truly special moments or, worse yet, putting yourself in harm’s way.
We've all got distracted minds, and it can take real effort to allow ourselves to live in and focus on the moment. Here are our top five tips for feeling present and a part of your own outdoor experiences:
What if I fall? Does it look like it's going to rain? Ugh, I'm so hungry!
All of these worries that cross your mind while outside can be avoided with a little preparation. Before you head out, take an extra few minutes to check the weather, pack the basics (food, water, first aid kit, extra layers), and let someone know where you're headed. A little preparation frees up your mind to engage in other things...like what's happening right this second.
This one is pretty obvious, but it can be a tough one. Many of us have become so accustomed to snapping a picture of the "fun" we're having for Instagram, texting our friends while walking, or streaming podcasts while doing daily tasks that it can take a conscious effort to leave the headphones behind or phone in your pack. The distraction of headphones on the trail or focus on taking amazing pictures can mean that you're missing something truly spectacular, or that you're missing a hazardous situation in your path.
Well, hopefully, you do this without this reminder. But this is more about using your breath to help your focus. Take a deep breath. While you hold it, notice and name five things you can see, feel, hear. New studies have shown that the tiniest interactions with nature (think the tree at your bus stop) can have a positive impact on overall mood and stress.
Take this time to make the most of these encounters - whether it's a weekend in the woods or a walk in the grass outside your office. Touch the grass, notice what it smells like, listen for natural sounds around you, savor the taste of your trail snack. By really focusing on each of your senses and breathing calmly, you'll take yourself out of the typical hamster wheel of thoughts that can cycle through your mind during "idle" time.
If you're on a camping trip with friends, canoeing with buddies, or just having a cookout in the park, make the effort to actually engage with them. It sounds so silly, but sometimes we can be with people without even feeling like we're with them. Take this time outside, disconnected from electronics (see No. 1) to connect with each other. Get the good times going by playing an old school game (Eye Spy!) or throwing out a story prompt (my most amazing morning was...). Playing goofy games that you'd never play in your everyday life can be awkward at first, but the payoff (memories, even if goofy, with friends) is worth it!
Try a different s'mores recipe, hike a different trail, test out a new activity, or try to cook that camp meal with your non-dominant hand. Not only can this be extremely entertaining and enjoyable, but by doing things in a new way, your mind is forced to focus on the activity at hand. And you may just discover something new that you never knew you'd love!
How do you get yourself to stay in the moment in the outdoors? Tell us in the comments!