Like most people I’m constantly rushing through my days frantically trying to get things done and, with the added bonus of anxiety, my mind tends to go at an even faster pace. It can be exhausting sometimes. When I’m aware that I’m functioning like that I promise myself I’m going to slow down. I manage to stick to my promise for a few days but suddenly find myself racing like a manic again. Things get better when I dedicate some time to practice mindfulness and I’ll keep persevering.
It took me a while to learn that a frenetic modus operandi is not the way that leads to a fulfilling life. After going at full speed for a few years you get accustomed to it, it just feels normal to operate in that way. Now my challenge is to notice when I’m going at full speed as this still feels natural to me. I’ve noticed that observing nature helps me become aware that I’m going too fast. Sometimes just looking at the trees on my brisk walk to the station makes me slow down the pace. Occasionally I actually stop and smell the roses in the neighbourhood’s front yards. It feelsl like nature is asking me “why the rush?”
The messages we hear in our post-industrial world are always about accomplishing more or doing things better and we try to match that with extra effort and going the extra mile, a bit faster each time. But this doesn’t necessarily equates to feelings of fulfilment, contentment and happiness. I think for our own sanity we need to pay attention to nature a bit more and see how slowing down can relieve the pressure from within. This quote from Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu says it all: “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”
These are photos of a deciduous tree in from of my house. When Autumn arrives it seemingly goes into shut down but after a good trim early in Spring it starts to produce leaves again and by Summer it will be giving us good shade. I took photos of this tree every week for four weeks. The tree just stood there deeply rooted in the ground as I noticed that slowly changes began to appear – the first week only new leaves, now in week four it has exploded into an amazing array of greenery. Calmly, one step at a time.
I feel I’m getting better at slowing down so watch out, if you see a loner smelling the roses in your neighbourhood it could me…
This morning at home we were talking about the warm season and the accompanying bushfires and my son asked: “mum, if our house was on fire and you could only grab one thing on your way out what would it be?” Without hesitation I said “my marathon shirt of course!” The kids went for their tablets and my husband for his guitar.
My answer got me pondering how I’ve grew so attached to a piece of athletic apparel with no commercial value. Is it really more precious than my new notebook that carries gigabytes of my life? I guess it is, and my answer reveals a lot about my values and stage in life.
The items in my list of most treasured material possessions have changed considerable overtime. I remember that as a child I would rescue my oldest dolly from the flames in a blink and in my adolescence my extensive stationery collection would not be left to burn. In my early twenties I was very fond of my cassette tapes (yes, I’m that old!) – I could not go a day without them. When I moved to Australia, my passport topped the list and later for a while my computer or laptop were the top priority. Now, the marathon shirt – a bit worn out and the print beginning to fade. I treasure this shirt so much I’m now economising it. I only exercise with it once a week.
In our consumerist society we are encouraged to desire more and to buy more and frequently – things that we sometimes don’t even need, cluttering our homes and lives with mindless purchases. I haven’t read any research on the topic but my gut feeling is that people are not that attached to most of their possessions. They may get the high from these purchases but once the feeling is gone it’s just one more item in their already overstuffed drawer. I think if asked, most people would rescue from the flames things that have an emotional value to them rather than their latest designer jeans.
My marathon shirt was hard earned. Lots of precious hours and hundreds of kilometres of training rain nor sunshine. There was also pain involved, specially the final two kilometres when my body was giving up and my mind kept me going. It was an amazing experience that has been hardwired in my brain. I don’t actually need the shirt to remind me of that moment but it represents for me a symbol of mission accomplished and a reminder that the mind is capable of great feats.
What is your most valued material possession?
Time is something we experience every moment of our lives. We have 24 hours of it every single day but it never feels like we have enough of it. “If only I had more time I wouldn’t be so busy” – that’s what we hear from others and tell ourselves again and again. But honestly, I think if we were given a few extra hours in the day, we would still continue to fill up every moment with physical or mental activity.
That’s why this fantastic book, Overwhelmed, spoke to me in so many levels. The writer, Brigid Schulte, is a frenetic working mother that goes on a quest to find out why everyone, including herself, is so busy and investigates solutions to mitigate the overwhelm. The book paints a precise picture of my own life; always running around adding one thing and another thing to my to-do list and feeling like time evaporates before I can accomplish anything substantial.
Schulte recounts stories of women that work to the point of exhaustion caught in the illusion of becoming the “ideal worker” and “ideal mother”, confused with so many pressing demands that they can no longer decide what’s really important. They are left feeling ambivalent, half-hearted about everything they do.
Women have so much on their plates that their minds are always occupied and preoccupied with their endless to-do lists. Scientist call this “time pollution” or “contaminated time” – time is never set exclusively for one task, there are always other activities happening in the back of our minds. I can attest that this is exhausting and mentally draining. No wonder women are left with no time or energy for leisure, love or play.
But Schulte also came across women that seem to have found a good balance in their lives. These are women that neither try to live up to impossible ideals nor set unrealistic expectations. They know what’s really important in their lives and have made this a priority. After speaking with some of these women, several scientists, social researchers, psychologist and life coaches, Schulte learnt a few things that she then implemented in her own life to move “from the chaos if living fast, feeling breathless, and stuck on a storm of Time Confetti” towards time serenity. Time Confetti is what she calls our fragmented lives that seems to be scattered all over the place – in her words “one big, chaotic burst of exploding slivers, bits, and scraps” that never amount to anything. So, one of the first things Schulte did in her Journey to time serenity was to stop the Time Confetti. She worked with a “productivity expert” to help her regain focus of what was import and prioritise it.
The book gives some very good recommendations – most of them are pure common sense but when we are caught in the overwhelm we don’t really make sense of a lot of things – an some of them I’ll implement in my own life like:
- Accomplish one thing in your day, don’t try to do everything in your to-do list
- Take breaks between tasks: give your brain some breathing space
- Sometimes it’s good to settle for ‘good enough’
- Find role models and mentors, I’ve been really bad at this one
- Put your to-do list on paper. The book says that in this way “your brain doesn’t have to expend energy to keep remembering it”. I’ve found additional benefits. Maybe because I’m a visual person, seeing my to-do list on paper makes me realise that sometimes the tasks ahead are more doable than I thought and some of them can be delegated, postponed, etc. Just seeing them written down makes it easier to manage them.
There are plenty more advice and inspiration that you get from Schulte. Reading this book was definitely a good investment of my time. Now I’m on my own journey to time serenity.