In July 2004 I had the privilege of speaking to 100 Adventist School Principals from all around the Pacific. As I listened to Barry, one of the first speakers, saying ‘Neglect yourself emotionally and you become toxic’, I had to agree. It led neatly to one of my topics – what I call Sanity Gaps – the piece that’s missing from the lives of people who burn out. (And that used to be me in years gone by, which is why I’m so passionate about the whole subject of time choices.)
In preparation I’d re-read a great book – and I highly recommend it – Stephan Rechtschaffen’s ‘Time Shifting’, Rider, 1996. Stephan talks a lot abotu the rhythm of society and how we have to break the ‘entrainment’ of everyday happenings in order to reconnect with ourselves, to give information time to be processed and to integrate, to allow our spirit space to flourish.
Something said by a lady in a public course in Auckland the week before also framed this. Wistfully she’d said, ‘When the children were at home we were busy, but we seemed to have time to enjoy life. Now they’re gone, there’s only my husband and I at home, we’ve got all the mod cons that are supposed to save time, yet we feel as if we never catch up – there’s just too much to do and not enough hours in which to do it. Why is that?’
It seems to me that society’s got the speed wobbles, and each of us has a responsibility to not allow it to happen, at least to ourselves. And as we take control of our own situation, that in turn has a ripple effect on society. Each action means something on the wider platform of life.
Here are six strategies to help you live life at a healthy pace.
1. Be present in the moment.
Mindful attention lets life pour in. Develop true awareness of what’s going on around you, instead of always thinking about the past and worrying about the future (which could be the events of the next 30 minutes). Empty yourself of busyness. Take a minute and just look deeply at a flower, a tree, a leaf, the sunset. Don’t think about anything else. Even just sitting with your eyes shut for one whole minute – noticing your body, your environment, how the chair under you feels, listening to the sounds around – is powerful. I had the principals do it, and the look of bliss on some of their faces was beautiful to behold.
2. Boundaried time.
Chunk out an hour a day, (if possible, but even 30 minutes is better than nothing) to do with as you wish. This is a powerful sanity gap – puts the juice back in the tank! Most people will create this by getting up an hour earlier (it’s the time of day I do my best creative activity, and why I’ve been so productive with my writing over the last few years.) It’s not a chance to get a jumpstart on the emails, or the day’s work. You
3. Spontaneous time.
Another speech attendee some years ago shared a great strategy. Every six weeks or so, the family had a ‘free weekend’. Anything that needed doing before the beginning of the following week (such as food shopping) was handled on the Thursday night. Then, on Friday night after they’d all arrived home from work or school (it worked when their children were at home as well as after they’d left the nest), they went into ‘spontaneous time’.
‘What shall we do this weekend?’ was the question. Sometimes they’d stay home and just chill out – no work, no duties or obligations. Other times they’d get in the car and just drive, stopping when they felt like it, staying overnight if they wanted to. She said it was a most freeing experience.
Some people would think that was too organised. Others might say that every weekend should be like that. (They haven’t got school age children if they say such a thing, I’m sure all parents will agree!) The reality is, time slides by unmarked or crowded with ‘busy stuff’ if we don’t put some structure around it. This lady highlighted a profound principle – out of structure and planning comes freedom.
4. Honour the mundane.
Many of us begrudge doing mundane tasks like dishes and housework. Instead of doing it with your attention elsewhere, and wishing you could get it done faster, focus on the task, do it to perfection, and enjoy the physical experience. For instance, doing dishes is a chance to be grateful for the food, the loved ones you’ve cooked for (if it was a shared meal), and the hot water (millions of people around the world barely have plates to eat off, let alone nice crockery and hot water to clean them).
5. Create rituals.
This could be thanks or grace before a meal or 10 or 15 minutes with your loved one when you both get home and before you get into the night’s routines. It’s anything that puts a framework around a parcel of time.
6. Monitor your language.
How many times do you hear yourself say, ‘I’m so busy’, or ‘I’m out of time’, or ‘There’s never enough hours in the day’? Change your language. Such statements only lock you into more of the same. I’ve now started saying, ‘I’m as busy as I want to be’. Why should being too busy be a badge of honour? Wrong honour, I think!