“There’s more to life than increasing its speed.” – Mohandas Gandhi
It’s summertime here in the Coachella Valley where I live, and because it is the desert southwest, it is expectedly hot outside. While we locals have certain tricks and techniques to stay cool, most of the time the heat of the season makes me lethargic and under-motivated. While none of us like to think of ourselves as lazy, me included, maybe the season is both an invitation and permission to slow down, relax and enjoy life. After all, pushing yourself when it’s extremely warm (or cold) outside isn’t SMART no matter how you look at it.
The problem is, most of us are addicted to busyness. That’s right. Unless we are busy doing something there is a little voice inside our heads constantly driving us to do more, be more, and have more. That voice of criticism is quick to point out that we will never get everything done if we pause for more than five minutes. It tempts us by leading us to believe that we can’t possibly be happy if we neglect to finish that project, make that last phone call, return that last email or whatever it is you think you need to get done. Of course, there is always more that needs to be done, and before we know it, the day is over and like Jackson Browne sings in one of his songs “I’ll go home and lay my body down, And when the morning light comes streaming in, I’ll get up and do it again.”
Unfortunately this isn’t just an individual problem, it is a cultural problem. Americans work more every year on the average than workers in any other industrialized nation. Even those who are lucky enough to get a paid vacation don’t get nearly as much time off as other countries. Typical full time workers in Europe take between seven and eight weeks of vacation and holidays every year. Much of this comes from a US corporate mindset that repeatedly sends out a message that says, “We aren’t rich enough to treat workers well.” In spite of the fact that American productivity has mushroomed, most Americans have not been able to experience the rewards of such growth. Instead, most of us have blindly accepted ongoing messages of lack and limitation, which drive us to work harder and longer with no end in sight. Once we accept the practice of constant productivity, we find it difficult to slow down or take it easy, even when our health demands it. Sadly, with no awareness of our addiction, we allow the loop to take over our lives. As Lily Tomlin joked, “The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.”
So, what do we do about it? Just like any addiction, it is useful to recognize the problem and then attempt to include steps towards recovery. A few pointers I intend to use include:
- Practice mindfulness. This first step is critical to recognizing when and where you let busyness run your life. You can’t stop it if you don’t even recognize it is happening.
- Recognize your excuses. If part of the hypnosis of busyness is a voice loop in your head telling you that you can’t slow down for even a minute, then stop, listen to that voice, try to identify whose voice you hear and then tell your self the exact opposite. For example, if the voice you hear is your mother/father/boss/ etc. then speak up in your own voice with an equal argument that promotes slowing down. One of the best arguments I know is that no matter how hard you work there will be something else tomorrow so I might as well take a break. Or, be sure and remember that it is scientifically proven that multi-tasking is less productive and effective than doing one thing at a time.
- Do daily prayer/meditation/contemplation. This step might seem like just another “to do” on the busy list, but I can assure you that if you train yourself to spend 10-15 minutes in this way it will remind you of what is really important. Sending one more email won’t seem as important. Doing one more load of wash will be put into perspective. Actually, in this step we are training ourselves with a good habit instead of a rat-race habit.
- Turn off the electronics. This is a difficult one for me because I happen to love my electronics! I can’t imagine life without a laptop or iphone. But all those things take time to manage, and they also keep me going from one thing to the next. Sometimes the low-tech option like reading a book is the best way for me to unwind and slow down.
- Spend time with people who already know how to slow down. Ever been to France, Italy or Mexico? In many countries besides ours, people know how to slow down and enjoy their lives. Ever taken a three-hour lunch? How about a siesta? Hanging out with other people who seem to embrace relaxation and enjoy slow living is a powerful way to slow down yourself.
- Set your priorities. How many people do you know who say, “My family/ health/relationship/etc are the most important thing in my life,” but in contrast, everything they do is something unrelated? If your family/health/relationship/whatever is truly the most important thing in your life, then live every day like you mean it!
- Just say no. If you were raised to be a good boy/girl, then it might seem rude or unkind to just say no if someone asks you to do something. I find it especially hard if the approval of the person asking me is important to me. Unfortunately, if we go through our entire life attempting to please others instead of ourselves, we will never find the peace we seek.
- Don’t “should” on yourself. That’s right, if you do what you do on a regular basis strictly from a sense of “shoulds” then chances are your shoulds are just the voice of your addiction. Instead, every time you think I “should” do that—stop, breathe and ask yourself why?
- Stop spending money you don’t have. (That includes buying things on credit!) When we overspend for any reason then we are climbing into a rat cage and starting to spin that wheel. You will never feel free to slow down if you constantly have to work to pay for things that you never should have bought in the first place!
- Stop rewarding yourself by over committing or buying things you don’t need. Do you really need a $1,000 handbag? Do you think a $20,000 barbecue cooks better than a $400 one from Lowe’s? No and no. Unfortunately, far too many people think because they are working so hard that they deserve to have special things. Unfortunately, the high that comes from buying something cool quickly becomes passé and before you know it, you need something else to give you a “high.” Yep, that’s an addiction. Recognize it and take whatever steps needed to stop.
I’m certain that if each of us practiced these steps on a regular basis we would have plenty of time to sit and relax sometime during every day. Still, until we make as many of these steps a habit, we are likely to continue to suffer from busyness. If it seems too overwhelming, just try one step at a time. Ultimately, the freedom and joy that comes from slowing down will more than make up for any perceived loss. A SMART life is one where we celebrate moments of peace and contentment, and we can only do that when we have permission to slow down each and every day.