Life today can be a dizzying carousal ride. We rush to catch a plane. We run to hail a cab. We race to work so we’re not late, and then we try not to rush to get through our work. We cut sleep so we have more hours during the day. The young rabbinical intern at the Jewish New Year service Barbara attended relayed a story in her sermon about how more people are starting their days earlier—think 2 a.m. so they can have lots more time to exercise and meditate before starting the “real” day at 8 a.m. or so. Absurd? You be the judge. And how productive is anybody after so much activity in the wee hours?
It gets messy when you rush. You get messy. Forgetful. Make mistakes. Why does your hair and makeup look untidy? Why are you so hyper and frustrated by midday? Look at those bags under your eyes from lack of sleep and listen to yourself bark at your sweet co-worker or maybe your writing partner. Hmmm.
The last thing you need is someone to say to you: “Relax. Breathe. Chill,” so we’re not going to say those words. We have other suggestions at the end of this blog for dealing with life in this crazy digital age where information and ideas are thrown at us like a fast pitch and we never feel on top of what we want to do.
We try to squeeze in too much, from work to meetings, driving kids, caring for aging parents, and then we attend more meetings, travel for work, take on assignments we might reconsider. At night, we feed ourselves, feed the kids, bathe them, talk to our husband or partner or good friends, get the kids into bed, ourselves into bed, sleep, toss and turn, and start the same routine the next day. Feel a bit exhausted reading this? Probably, so you grab some coffee and think you’ll have more energy to continue your run, run, run.
Think about a little break, even short. Most concerts, plays and some long movies have an intermission. Where is ours as we strive for self-improvement at every opportunity, even in our down time? We cleanse, walk 10K steps or try for 15,000, which is Barbara’s routine now. We do yoga, Pilates, exercise, meditate, multi-task even in our free time— (How about Margaret who used to walk on the treadmill and answer emails; she’s not alone). And we’ve heard from all the experts: If we don’t slow down, detach from all the screens and stimuli around us, at stake is our sanity and our physical health. Certainly, more mistakes will be made. Barbara realized she had messed up a dinner date with friends—she was a month ahead! And that was because she wasn’t focused on writing down the right day because she probably was talking on the phone and emailing at the same time.
Margaret’s guilty, too, and probably will be more so since she’s moved to a busier city with a more frantic pace. The other day, she was rushing to catch a crosstown bus. She raced to the bus stop and ended up waiting 15 minutes. Two women at the bus stop said to her, “Slow down. There is no need to rush in this city like everyone else. It’s so unhealthy. There will be another bus soon.” Margaret thought to herself, “Why do I rush? What’s the point, I’m going to get there eventually? If I’m a bit late, I’ll text whomever I am meeting and let them know.” Fair? Absolutely since she isn’t routinely late.
But Margaret rushes beyond just catching a bus. She is trying to pack in everything she can in her new city. She rushes to an appointment in the morning, buy a latte at the coffee house nearby, works hard to finish work and meet a deadline, heads to lunch, gets her hair colored, attends a lecture or concert, sees a new exhibit at a museum, tutors, takes a class, sees her sisters and older son, moves boxes since she’s still unpacking. And on and on.
Barbara spends many of her weeks rushing back and forth from her home in the Hudson Valley into New York City to help care for her mother and then does it all over again. She rushes to a painting class and tries to calm down so she can enjoy the three-hour session, jumps in her car to drive four hours away to give a talk and sign books, comes back and races to Baltimore to see her daughter and two grandchildren, rushes back home to work on articles, races back into the city to check on her mom and cook her favorite foods. It never seems to end. Is there a reason she messed up that dinner date? You decide.
Why is it that we can’t just do nothing? Somehow doing nothing equals laziness and guilt. Being idle means we’re sloths. Setting goals and doing, doing, doing makes us feel good. But we’re here to be the poster-gals for doing nothing, which we’re trying. We are finding that it can be uplifting and regenerating. Sleep as late as you want some days, exercise when you feel like it, visit with old friends you don’t get to see nearly enough and talk leisurely. Barbara went to a new gym/spa and after a yoga class—she only checked her watch once, went into a relaxation room with fireplace and read the newspaper slowly. She felt a little bit restless in her new routine but is determined to do it again. How long does it take to break bad habits? We’ll let you know.
The bottom line? It’s time to stop and smell the roses before we’re too old and we can’t. Take some time to savor the more enjoyable aspects of life, especially when you’re overworked or stressed. If not, what is work for? Or exercise or do any of the things we rush to do. Slow down, take time to see where you are and where you are going. Hug your kids, grandkids and friends. This winter, when the days are shorter and darker, join us in our movement to slow down. Be good to yourself. We’re not suggesting a let’s-turn-the-world-upside-down movement, but a quiet defiance against rushing all the time. Give yourself the freedom to take your time and join us. Here are six tips that may help you to do so:
- Start your day right. Play some classical music to soothe your soul, perhaps before you even get out of bed. Play it on your iPhone or iPad. It will help set the mood for the day and slow you down. It can put you in a good head space. It works well for Margaret most days if she’s not rushing to get somewhere early. Barbara likes to enjoy a cup of coffee slowly and read the newspaper before she starts the day.
- Make your home a place to relax.That’s not the reality for many of us. You go home from work or a meeting, but still have a bunch of to-dos. Use your “business plan” to be efficient. Make a list of what must be done at home and what can be put on hold or eliminated. Perhaps, your child doesn’t really need to be driven to both dance and gymnastics classes. Pick one. Maybe, order groceries delivered rather than do a large grocery shop yourself. Perhaps, eliminate the yoga class at night and do some exercises on your own in front of a TV. Pick a room you love, sit, do nothing, enjoy your surroundings.
- Set aside “sacred” me-time at night or day. You might use it to meditate for 10 minutes, take a warm bubble bath (and meditate), do your nails, read a novel you’ve been trying to start or finish, watch your favorite TV show, chat or cook with your partner or …you fill in the blank.
- Remember how your parents lived before technology. They took time to enjoy vacations, would ignore or unplug the phone, read, nap and treat themselves to a matinee during the week or a card game with the guys or gals at night. We know you can’t go back but adjust for today’s world. Turn it off and put the phone in a drawer at dinner time or close your computer at a certain time each night so you can relax or spend time interacting with your loved ones and avoid the blue screen. Rather than chat on social media, make a phone call or set up a date to talk face to face to a friend.
- Hold a meeting each week with yourself. Look at your life as a business and manage it that way. Make a list of what you do every day for a week. Come up with your own mission statement that includes better time management. Look at your budget. Reconsider your goals. Give yourself a raise and buy something special for yourself periodically.
- Hold a weekly review with yourself to consider these four questions: What worked well in your life this week? What went wrong? Where do you want to improve? What do you think might work better in the coming weeks or months?
- Do an annual assessment. Before the New Year and time for resolutions, kick your new plans into high or even low gear. Make a list if that helps, check it occasionally. Don’t fault yourself. And as Barbara recently heard at a lecture, feel gratitude. You’re lucky to be thinking about making changes, even if you can’t do some or all.
Try it for a week or two and see if you are more relaxed and in control. Feel free to share your ideas about ways to slow down by commenting at the end of this blog.