I enjoy downtime.
I don’t believe that cramming my life full of commitments and possessions is the key to anything other than stress and an empty wallet. I like having the time to be able to read a book or go for a long, rambling walk around my neighborhood. I like spaciousness. I like to have time for the things that matter most to me: my family, words, and well-being.
But like many of us, my life doesn’t always support that spaciousness. I have kids and a job, a husband and a house, friends and family. Plop all of that down in a culture that places a high value on busy-ness, and that roomy, slow-paced life doesn’t come so easily. I have to fight for it.
Here are five tools I use to carve out a slower life—and to keep it that way.
Declare a day of Sabbath.
In our family, we try and set aside at least one weekend day where we have no plans. We might use that day to catch up on the ever-looming laundry pile, or we might just lounge around, watching movies and reading. Regardless of how we fill that time, it’s restorative to have a day where there’s nowhere we have to be and nothing we have to do.
Technology and social media tend to perpetuate an overbooked life—at a glance, we can see all the adventures our friends are having, feeding the myth that a busier life is a better one, and creating fear of missing out.
Taking periodic social media breaks or simply cutting down on the amount of time we spend on our devices can help us reset and focus on what we actually want to be doing with our time—as well as giving us back the time that we otherwise would spend scrolling Facebook or Twitter. Even small steps like leaving our phones in our cars when we head into the grocery store or for a visit with friends can be a step toward reclaiming a calmer life.
Harness the power of “no.”
People will ask us to do things—like join committees, attend gatherings, or take on extra work. It can be surprisingly hard to turn down these invitations—they might flatter our ego or press our guilt buttons.
But we can say no.
When I’m considering taking on a new commitment, I ask myself a few questions: Does this commitment contribute to my top life priorities? How does my body feel when I considering saying yes to this request? When I consider saying no? Am I thinking of saying yes out of unhelpful emotions like guilt? Is there another commitment I can ditch if I say yes to this one?
Without regular weeding, our lives can easily fill up with commitments that don’t really fuel us. Saying no can be challenging but necessary if we crave a more streamlined life.
Ask yourself this.
I’m a self-care junkie. It takes a lot to keep me feeling healthy and balanced. If I had no external commitments, I’d get up and journal while sipping coffee, meditate, then maybe go to a yoga class or take a long walk before settling into the rest of my day.
But my life today doesn’t allow that to happen. So most days I ask myself this: given the amount of time I have, what is the best way I can take care of myself today? Often the answer is a yoga class, as I can fill up my spiritual bucket, quiet my mind and strengthen my body all in one hour. Other days, the clear answer is a quick walk around my neighborhood, or a five-minute meditation break. When we’re trying to slow down our pace, determining which choice will give us the most “bang for our buck” can be helpful—and efficient.
Build in downtime on busy days.
On the days when I need to work for long chunks of time, I’ve developed a quirky habit to help keep me motivated and avoid burnout. Each hour, I’ll set the timer for ten or fifteen minutes and spend that time reading a book I’m really into. The rest of the hour I’ll work. This built-in cushion of pleasure is my reward for focusing the rest of the hour, the dangling carrot to keep me going.
This probably won’t be viable if you work in a more traditional setting, but taking a few minutes every hour to walk around the block or just sit and breathe can help us feel less rushed.
Slowing down our lives isn’t always easy, but it can mean less stress and burnout and an ability to give our attention to what matters most to us.
Author: Lynn Shattuck
Image: Paul Gilmore/Unsplash
Editor: Catherine Monkman