I think it’s safe to assume that most people would prefer to live a slower-paced existence, but feel boxed into certain lifestyles by a modern-day affliction best described as “too many things to do, places to be and people to please.”
Way too busy myself for many years, I used to dream of pausing the world around me, working like a machine to catch up, then resuming life as usual – only with clean closets and junk drawers, the garden properly tended, a fresh coat of paint on the walls and every neglected bullet point from to-do lists of old made right, fulfilled and checked, once and for all.
With or without a magic pause button, this “hurry up and slow down” mentality simply doesn’t work. It’s an illusion perpetuated by our progress-obsessed culture that keeps us slightly on edge, discontent in the now and forever focused on tomorrow for the balance we seek.
Equally futile is the accumulation of things to help us slow down. The latest gadgets may very well make some aspects of our lives easier, but the more conveniences we chose to rely on, the faster we are able to live. Likewise, that new set of patio furniture or stainless BBQ grill – on sale or not – will not ensure you’ll be sipping sweet tea in the shade every weekend. Most of us can be assured, however, that to afford these luxuries we’ll be putting in longer hours (which, consequentially, equals fewer BBQs).
So what does it take? Is it really possible to significantly slow your life amidst all the busy? Absolutely. But like anything else, you have to want it bad enough to make sacrifices. Much like losing weight or sticking to a budget or quitting a nasty habit, in order to slow down, you have to retrain your brain. Until you are ready, you will continue to make excuses and hold tight to what is familiar. You’ll know when you’re truly ready when you’re willing to let things go.
How to Slow Down Once You’re Truly Ready
- Be radical in your prioritization. Next time you have five minutes to spare, make a list of what keeps you busy. Determine which items are essential and which ones aren’t. Then, create an objective – a concise description of your top few priorities in life right now. Compare the two. Does your “busy list” reflect your stated priorities? My current objective reads something like, “To slowly build a writing career while keeping life simple, prioritizing the well-being of myself and my family and speaking as much Spanish as possible.” Anything that falls outside of this is secondary and may or may not make the cut. By saying “no” to things less important to me, I have time and energy to invest in what I value the most. (BTW, the “keep life simple” part helps me let go of a lot of appealing opportunities that could easily make me busy again.)
- Detach from your stuff. Take a look at your relationship to things. How much time do you spend buying them, organizing them, thinking about them and working to afford them? Do they bring you enough joy to justify this much investment of yourself? How might your life look different if you purged half of your stuff? How much less could you work if you lived in half the square footage? Mind you, it is possible to become equally obsessed with the notion that you will be happy once you are free of your things. The key is to take an honest look at whether you own possessions or your possessions own you.
- Examine your motives. Do you commit to do things when you’d rather not? If so, what unexplored needs are you trying to meet? Do you say “Sure, I’d love to!” out of genuine desire or perceived obligation? Some people are afraid to slow down because their identity is wrapped up in a busy-body persona. Others keep moving to silence unresolved pain or dissatisfaction with their circumstances. Still others live in fear of not doing enough for their children. Many a well-meaning mother has run herself into the ground trying to give her kids “the very best” (yep, that was me). But are music lessons, soccer practice, art camp, and horseback riding really more important than down time, family meals and an unhurried, balanced home-life?
- Slow your mind. The way you live your life is usually a pretty decent indicator of the peace, strength, love, angst or turmoil inside you. Slowing your mind creates space to invite desired emotions and part with those that no longer serve you. It takes some intention, but once you have a practice in place, you’ll begin to crave the silence. Yoga, meditation, prayer and time alone outside are also some of the best ways to retrain your brain to live in the now.
- Don’t worry over how your choices appear to other people. You can be sure that the decision to step out of “life as usual” and slow down to a healthier pace will raise a few eyebrows. It’s okay. Simply explain your intentions and let it be. In the words of the infamous Dr. Seuss, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” Besides, you never know who you might influence or affect by your example.
“Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going to fast – you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.”
– Eddie Cantor