Ever notice that more stuff seems to happen in the first few weeks of school than in the next six months? So many people to meet and events to check out and flavors of ramen to try. All that activity can be a blast, but it can also be overwhelming. It’s easy to get anxious, worried about missing out, or afraid of making a bad impression. Sometimes we get so fixated on the future that we forget to savor the present.

Are you going to be in your head (not that fun) or in the moment (way more fun)? You can choose.

How to gently help yourself stay in the moment

“All his life he looked away to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was! What he was doing!” —Yoda (bad grammar, good point)

When you start to spin off into anxious thoughts about the past or future, this technique lets you catch yourself and come back to the present. It’s an old meditation practice, and it works as well today as it did a century ago. Here’s what you do:

  1. When you notice you’ve gotten lost in a thought about the past or future, give it the mental label “thinking.” Just say “thinking” in your head. Not “thinking about my reading assignment” or “thinking about what I’m wearing tonight.” Just “thinking.”
    The labeling should be gentle, like touching a soap bubble with a feather, says Pema Chodron, a meditation master and all-around cool lady. That’s all it takes.
  1. Return to the present by bringing your attention to your senses. For example, notice your feet on the floor, or feel your stomach rise and fall as you breathe, or take in the sounds around you.
  1. That’s it!

This technique may seem weird at first, but it quickly becomes second nature. It can be very powerful. Getting caught up in our worries, fears, and judgments is totally normal. It’s going to happen. This labeling technique can help us untangle ourselves from all those mental knots and come back to the now—where the good stuff is.