When the speed of daily living becomes too much to handle, it's time for a major reset.
A friend stopped me on the beach last week and suggested that I slow down. She was referring to my overall lifestyle, which lately has felt frenetic and crammed with kids' summer camps, soccer practices, gym workouts, and my tendency to host non-stop social events.
As soon as she said it, I knew she was right. I came away wondering how to slow down. What practical steps could I implement in my daily life that would help me to regain the calm and quiet that I'm needing?Shortly thereafter I found a helpful article by Tanja Hester, author of the Our Next Life blog that I've mentioned several times on TreeHugger. The article was titled "Relearning How To Live Slowly" and in it Hester described her efforts to build slow-living skills, now that she has been retired for six months (at age 38).
One might think that retirement is pure ease, but transitioning from a busy, stimulating workplace to the stillness of home has its inherent challenges. As Hester wrote,
"After years of gold star seeking and commitment to do whatever is necessary for the job, I’m wired to hurry. So many things have been so urgent for so long that that feeling of urgency just transcended everything... Hurrying became my mental script, and it was hard to shut it off. Of course, I caught myself doing these things, and I’d slow down, for a moment anyway. But as soon as my attention was elsewhere, the force of habit took back over. And so that’s where I am now, trying hard to break that impulse to walk faster than necessary, to feel urgency for no reason, to constantly wonder what deadline I’m forgetting about."
She listed her "slow life training regimen," some of which I'll share below. Also included here are some ideas from Cait Flanders, another slow-life experimenter, as well as my own thoughts. The result is a list of small practical efforts that I am now striving to implement in my own life to slow it down.
1. One appointment per day, maximum
This seemed so simple and logical when Hester spelled it out, but amazingly it had never occurred to me to put a limit on the number of appointments in a day. Usually I just figure it has to happen, so I cram it in, but the result is predictably disastrous -- a workday that gets extended into the early and late hours to make up for lost time, a rushed dinner and bedtime routine for the kids, and a whole lot of logistics. Furthermore, Hester strives for a block of unscheduled days:
"I need whole blank days, preferably a few in a row. It doesn’t mean I won’t get anything done those days, but just that there’s nothing scheduled that I must remember not to miss... I have felt most connected to a sense of slowness when I’ve had three appointments or fewer per week, leaving at least four days completely unscheduled."
2. Think of the 'to-do' list in a different way
My to-do list feels like a weight on my shoulders, and though writing everything down in my paper planner helps, I put pressure on myself to tackle items on a daily basis. Hester solved this problem by creating weekly and monthly to-do lists. This makes her feel less guilty about taking days off to sleep in or go skiing. Another helpful tip is to set big picture goals that look at an entire season. Decide what you want to accomplish by the end of winter or summer and chip away at a comfortable pace.
3. Read from a real book every day
This tip comes from Cait Flanders and resonates intensely with me, a passionate booklover who often finds myself going days without touching whatever book I'm reading and returning unread books to the library; this would have been unheard of in the past. I rarely have large chunks of uninterrupted time for reading, but it's amazing what a half hour can do. I make decent headway in a book, while feeling relaxed yet rejuvenated.
4. Develop a new hobby
I recently started taking guitar lessons and it's wonderful. In the evenings after putting my kids to bed, I am eager to take the instrument out of its case and strum away for 30-45 minutes, practicing chords and songs and melodic pieces. I feel as though I'm exercising a part of my brain that doesn't get used over the course of a typical day. It is rather pointless; I'm not on track to become a performer, but I do it just because I like it.
5. Go on a low-information diet
This might seem incongruous for an online environmental news writer like myself, but it's precisely because news is my job that I actively try to avoid it outside of work hours. That doesn't mean I'm not researching and absorbing ideas for my work, but I try not to fill my head with headlines and scandals and the latest Trumpisms because it would drive me crazy. As Cait Flanders wrote,
"The most important lesson I took away from [my month-long slow technology] experiment was that, when it comes to social media (and technology as a whole), you’re allowed to create your own rules on how to use it. In fact, you should."
6. Implement slow evenings
Something I know I desperately need, but fail repeatedly to have, are slow evenings. It requires saying no to social obligations and outside fun, but the gains are sufficient sleep, financial savings, a sense of accomplishment from doing other valuable activities like reading or cooking, and investing in my marriage by spending time alone with my husband. Flanders shared her goals for an experimental month of slow evenings:
- no work / social media after 7pm
- after work, write down the next day’s schedule / to-do list
- no TV / phone after 8pm (and definitely not in bed)
- read a book every night (probably in the bathtub)
- create / practice my new bedtime routine
Do you wish you could slow down your life? If you already have, what steps have you put in place to ensure it stays that way?