This post is part of a series on slowing down you can find the rest of the series here – Slowing down.
For me even the term slowing down was something I didn’t really like. Slow to me seemed like less. If I slowed down, was I giving up? Was I taking an easier option?
When you look at the definition of slow it seems pretty blunt:
moving or operating, or designed to do so, only at a low speed; not quick or fast.
But when you look at the synonyms for slow, there is much greater subtly:
synonyms: unhurried, leisurely, measured, moderate, deliberate, steady, sedate, slow-moving, slow-going, easy, relaxed, unrushed, gentle, undemanding, comfortable;
That is more like how I view my slowing down and I am still very much a work in progress on this. I see it as a living my life in a deliberate and unrushed manner. While it can seem like semantics, for me getting my head around this was super important to make more changes in my life.
At the start of this year I realised that I could very easily create myself a feeling of busy. Just because I am trying to slow down, doesn’t mean I don’t have days that see every hour accounted for and me traipsing around the suburbs getting kids to all their activities.
While there might not be much over those days I have control over, I do have control of my mindset. Previously when I would wake up I would mentally run through every single thing I needed to do, what preparation I needed to do for each stage, what potential problems there could be, how I might solve them, etc etc etc. I would then proceed in my mind to continually think about how busy the day was and the more I would think about this, the more I would feel my stress levels rise and the more busy I felt.
Now when I see one of those days coming, I will write a more detailed to do list the night before, allow my brain to dump out everything that is worrying it and let it go. Then when the morning comes, I stay focused in the moment and just getting through each task as it comes. I don’t allow myself to waste mental energy on worrying about things in advance.
My mindset is “yes the day is full and I can do it”. The difference between this and talking myself up into a stress ball is huge on how I cope with the day and the type of person I am to be around!
The importance of thoughts and mindset was summed up beautifully by Mahatma Gandhi:
Keep your thoughts positive, because your thoughts become your words.
Keep your words positive, because your words become your behavior.
Keep your behavior positive, because your behavior become your habits.
Keep your habits positive, because your habits become your values.
Keep your values positive, because your values become your destiny.
ACTION: Stay present even on the days when you are overloaded. Keep your thoughts on the task at hand. Straying into the past or the future will create more stress and leak mental energy. I know this sounds a little woo-woo but it really works!
The reality is if you want to slow down, then something will have to give. In my journey I have cut back work; yes that has meant less money, but by choosing the right activities to prune, it hasn’t been substantial and for the time I have gained for the loss of revenue incurred I am very happy.
To work out what I activities I needed to drop, I used the Pareto Principle also known as the 80/20 rule. What this principle asserts is that roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the cause. You see it applied most commonly to business examples like:
- 80% of a company’s profits come from 20% of its customers
- 80% of a company’s sales come from 20% of its products
But it can apply equally to home and personal life:
- 80% of your stresses will come from 20% of your activities
- 80% of your happiness will come from 20% of your activities
The key to pruning is you need to know how you are currently spending your time and determine what activities are leading to 80% of your happiness and success. Keep those going and work on pruning the others that are not.
This does mean saying no a lot more and that is something most of us find hard, me included. If you haven’t read Practical Perfection by Kelly Exeter yet, I can highly recommend it, as it is a great read. Kelly shares how she overcame overwhelm and her difficulty in saying no by using these six words:
“Let me get back to you.”
It gave her the breathing space she needed to work out if it was indeed something she wanted to do and fitted in with her values.
ACTION: Conduct an 80/20 assessment of your life. Work out what needs to go and create a plan to remove those activities from your life.
I shared recently how I have built a meditation habit this year – Monthly review – building a meditation habit and it has been so helpful in my slowing down process. (If you have never tried meditation check this post out as it lists apps etc that have helped me.)
Like most of us, I have a busy mind. There is a lot of talk in my head. Lots of ideas, lots of worries. As I spoke about with mindset above, I could get myself feeling stressed by overthinking about the day to come.
The way I have been able to learn to overcome this is through meditation. There are times when it starts to happen – I begin rattling off activities in my head, but I catch myself and I stop. I focus on my breath and I focus on being present. I have learnt this through meditation and it is a skill that allows me to be calmer and make better decisions.
Meditation doesn’t always mean sitting for an hour on a cushion in silence. From my very basic learning it is about coming to a state of thoughtful awareness. The online medical dictionary defines meditation as:
Meditation is a practice of concentrated focus upon a sound, object, visualization, the breath, movement, or attention itself in order to increase awareness of the present moment, reduce stress, promote relaxation, and enhance personal and spiritual growth.
Learning to meditate has taught me a knew skill which I can now bring it into my daily life to slow things down and calm my mind. I am still meditating daily. I will find guided meditations to help me work through emotions that I am feeling and manage stress. Spending 10 minutes a day on mediation pays great dividends for such little investment.
ACTION: Try meditation! Check out the resources here and set yourself a goal to meditate for at least a week or two and see the benefits.
One of the biggest lessons I have learned over the last two years is that slowing down isn’t just about the act of doing things, it also requires a change of mindset and learning to slow down what is going on inside your head.