Most of us live hectic lives, trying to cram into a day all the things we feel we have to do and a lot of what we want to do. It is a formula for stressful living that starts in school where we are expected to achieve, and continues when we go to work where we are urged to do more, more, more! In trying to do more, stress becomes an everyday presence in our lives, leading to health issues and relationship problems.
But what would happen if we just slowed things down? What if we didn’t check off everything on the to-do list? What if we were able to just focus on what really matters and let go of the rest? It’s not about slacking off, it’s really about being realistic about what your can do, and at the same time taking care of yourself physically, mentally and emotionally. It’s about spending your time in a way that is most meaningful to you and those you love.
To be able to slow down you will have to do some thinking about what is really important. And then shift your thinking from having-to-do-it-all, to being ok with doing just what matters to you. And it doesn’t mean you won’t set goals for yourself and work toward them. But slowing down can make life better while you do that!
Here are some things to help you get started:
• Just do less. It sounds so simple, but just stop scheduling so many things in your day, and leave a little time between appointments to catch your breath. Commit to doing fewer things, but make those things the ones that you really want to do. Learn to say no when it comes to taking on new obligations.
• Don’t jump right out of bed in the mornings, and don’t grab your phone or check your email as soon as you wake up. Start your day by waking up slowly; notice how the sun comes through the window blinds, listen to the sounds of the rest of the world waking up. Stretch like a cat.
• Do one thing at a time. We like to think we are good at multi-tasking but we’re really not. Sure, we can do two or three things at once, but we don’t do any of them very well. Do one thing at a time and just stay in the moment with that one thing.
• Stop checking your phone every few minutes. Now this may come as a shock, but you don’t even have to carry it around with you all the time. Cell phones are really wonderful things, but they can also be distracting and demanding of your time. When you feel the urge to check your phone, see if you can put it off another 10 or 15 minutes…then do that again when you feel the next urge.
• Play. Be like a kid and just do something because it is fun. It’s even better if you can do it spontaneously. Run through a sprinkler, dance, roll down your car windows and sing really loud, lay in a hammock and watch the clouds go by. Find joy in little everyday things.
• Eat more slowly and mindfully. Take time to cook your meals and experiment with new flavors and spices. Really taste what you are eating and focus on the different flavors and textures. This is not only a way to slow down but it also helps to keep us from overeating.
• Whenever possible, walk or ride a bike instead of driving. Pay attention to things along the way. Whether your route takes you through the city or through the woods there are always interesting things to see.
• Make new connections and strengthen the ones you have. Spend time with friends and with the people you love. And don’t forget the friends you haven’t met yet – smile at strangers and say hello. Be tolerant of cranky people, we don’t know what they might be going through and it doesn’t cost us anything to be kind.
• Just breathe. When life seems to be moving too fast, take a few slow breaths and bring yourself back to the present moment. When you find yourself worrying about what you “need to do,” breathe in and bring yourself back to the moment.
It won’t be easy to change the mindset of doing more. But look at how you really spend your time and you might find you are not as productive as you think you are. You can slow down and still accomplish what you want to. And we learn that the world is not going to end if we don’t check off every item on the to-do list. Get enough sleep, get some exercise, eat healthy and connect with the people you love. Be present in the moment. The past is already gone and the future hasn’t happened yet, so the present moment is the only one we can be present for.