The rock-and-roll band I joined last year accepted my choice for a new name — “Magic Moments.” At the time, I thought the name particularly appropriate because most of our music is classic southeast beach, typified by the Drifters’ 1959 classic — “This Magic Moment.”

But now I have another, perhaps more important reason to appreciate our band’s name. By paying attention to the magic moments of our lives, we realize the simple and irreplaceable joy of our everyday existence. And in the process, we reduce the probability of personal injury.

After all, the past is gone (learn from it), the future may or may not be (set goals and anticipate), but the current moment is always a gift — a “present” to enjoy. So live in and be mindful of the present and your chances of enjoying a safe and pleasurable day on or off the job increase.

So what’s your story? How often do you shortcut the moment (and shortcut safety) and not only miss present pleasures, but perhaps put yourself at-risk for personal injury? Sometimes circumstances and other people set us up for thinking about what lies ahead rather than experiencing the pleasure of the process. I’m reminded of this every time I observe the hustle and bustle at an airport terminal. We’ve got to fight the urge to dive in and join the rat race, take a deep breath, reflect on the pleasure principle (and the safe way of getting work done), and experience (safely) where we are and what we are doing. Too often this is easier said than done.

Relevance to safety

I hope you can see how “living in the moment” connects with occupational safety and health. I suspect you already do. When we are mindful of and attend to our ongoing behavior in every respect, we are unlikely to experience personal injury. Living in the moment means we are using all relevant senses to recognize what we are doing and where we are doing it. Our antennae are fully extended. We fully encounter the present — at home, on the road, at work — and make a mishap unlikely.

The connection between personal safety and living in the moment is painfully obvious to me. I say “painfully” because the many injuries I’ve sustained over the years have been caused in part by me being inattentive to the present. Yes, I am definitely “injury prone.” From childhood through adulthood, I’ve had my share of serious injuries — many more than average. Why?

I’m convinced my continual, future-oriented mindset is a primary cause of my injuries. Just the other day, for instance, I tripped over my own feet while walking on campus and nearly fell flat on my face.

“You were not watching where you were going,” said a friend walking next to me. I had to admit she was right. I was not attending to the present; I was contemplating my destination and upcoming activities. I was thinking of my next step, rather than focusing on the ongoing behavior — my current step.

I defended my “near miss” by telling my friend a story I heard about Albert Einstein when he was teaching physics at Princeton University. After stopping and talking to a university colleague, Professor Einstein asked his friend which direction he had come from before stopping to talk. After his colleague pointed and said, “From over there,” Dr. Einstein replied, “Good, that means I’ve eaten lunch.”

Of course it’s a joke to link my problem with the genius of Albert Einstein. But both stories do reflect neglect of the present and as a result, potential for personal injury. Moreover, the actor in each story missed out on some pleasures of the moment.

“Plan ahead.” “Prepare for tomorrow.” “Create a vision of your future.” Slogans like these are common in our culture. They reflect a proactive and achievement-oriented mindset, and are basic guidelines for highly successful people. The benefit of these slogans cannot be denied. But I’ll argue for another perspective: “Live in the moment.” Today is all we’ve got. Yesterday is history, and tomorrow never comes. Let’s make today a safe and pleasurable one.

Figure 1. Appreciation of the present can be lost by a focus on the end result.

SIDEBAR: Cherish the present

In his new book, The Present, Spencer Johnson (author of Who Moved My Cheese?) advises us to learn from the past and plan for the future, but live in the present. Similarly, Paul Pearsall’s popular audiotape program, The Pleasure Principle, teaches the joy of living in the moment (not for the moment). The key point is that pleasure comes from experiencing the present — the situation we are in right now. Simply put, this means focusing on where we are and what we are doing, and thinking now.

To truly cherish the present, we need to use all of our relevant senses. When eating, for example, we should use more than our taste buds to savor the distinctive features of a meal. We live more in the moment when we appreciate the texture of the food, its aroma and the visual display. And, of course, the context of the eating environment should be treasured, perhaps with a focus on picturesque scenery and playful chatter with one or more companions. With undivided attention to the many pleasures of a simple dinner, you can get caught up in the moment and maybe even consume fewer calories — a healthy side-effect for some people.

Have you ever seen people shovel popcorn as shown in Figure 1? With kernels flying everywhere and mouths stuffed like Vermont Teddy Bears, the focus seems to be on the outcome of getting filled up, instead of enjoying each tasty piece of popcorn. Actually, it’s not farfetched to consider such rapid eating to be at-risk behavior. Have you ever choked on a piece of popcorn or another food particle because of eating too fast?

Be sensuous about simple everyday pleasures, Dr. Pearsall advises us. “Take time to feel the warmth of your bed, linger in your morning shower, savor the taste of your breakfast orange juice, reflect a few minutes on the setting sun, listen for the evening birds’ songs, and hold someone close at the end of your day,” he says.

Consider that depressed individuals typically dwell on past disappointments. “If only I had done that differently, or made another choice,” they ruminate to themselves. In contrast, many anxiety-ridden people live in pessimistic anticipation of the future. “What if I can’t pull this off?” “What if my support system crumbles?” “What if Murphy’s Law prevails, as usual, and I fail miserably? My future will be ruined.”

Depressed and overly anxious people are obsessed with the past or the future, respectively. They miss the pleasures of the moment that could help them relax and rejuvenate. Melancholy over the past and insecurities about the future can actually be cast aside by the rapture of the present, if only our hectic lives would permit us to let that happen.

Bottom line: Whatever your situation, wherever you find yourself, be there. You can never be there again, not under the exact same circumstances. Later it will be only a memory, now it’s enjoyment to experience.