Is your life spent dashing around, endlessly playing catch up, rushing and doing one thing after the other? Is the daily task list an endless one? Do you find yourself hurrying to finish one task while contemplating the next? Is your time spent taking phone calls, checking emails and organizing others? Is lunch a quick bite on the go and the home run punctuated with a stop off at the supermarket to grab some groceries? Finally, do you crack open that bottle of wine or can of lager pretty much as soon as you get indoors, in order to bring yourself down from 40,000 feet to 20,000 feet? If so, join the club, you and millions like you, are on this relentless treadmill, ticking off the days until the weekend only to start again like Sisyphus first thing Monday morning.
What kind of a life is this? Is this really what living is all about?
How does a life of peaceful simplicity sound? A life where you can really enjoy every activity and where you can feel a state of contentment in all you do. How is such a life possible I hear you say. Well, let me tell you how.
In essence, it entails a change in your attitude.
It doesn’t mean giving up all the things that you love. Just taking the time to make a few small changes can really enhance your quality of life. This in turn can really benefit both your physical and mental well- being. Don’t wait until you are at your final destination before you make such changes.
Here are ten suggestions to start you on your way. See this as the “long game,” where, little by little, you will be letting go of stress and replacing it with peace and contentment.
1. Decide what is really important to you. The things that are really important in your life. Consider what it is you want to achieve, how you want to spend your time, who do you want to spend your time with, what do you want to accomplish at work. Make a short list, say, 4-5 things you want to achieve (forget the 50 item bucket list!), 4-5 people important to you, that you want to spend your life with, 4-5 things you want to accomplish at work, etc…
2. Look at all the things you commit yourself to. You can’t possibly do everything that you have committed to doing. If you’re reading this, it is probably because your life is way too full in any case. Once you accept that you can’t do everything
then you have started to make change. They say, ” If you want something done, ask a busy person.” Don’t let this person be you.
3. Start by letting go of some things. Is there anything you can leave off your to do list? Anything you do out of “duty” perhaps that you can let go of. Anything you don’t like that you can pass over to another, or at least another day. If your daily list consists of 8 items, try cutting it to six and ultimately aim for 4. Failing to complete items on a daily list frequently leads to a sense of frustration. Do less, succeed more.
4. Space things out. Leave gaps in between tasks, that way if things take longer you don’t end up feeling rushed and stressed out. Instead, your aim should be to adopt a more leisurely pace. I recall my accountant suggesting I put my fees up just a little. What this meant was that I did not need to see so many people, thus I was less rushed, had more energy for those clients I saw, and the quality of my therapy improved.
5. Slow down and do things mindfully. Whatever you are doing, whether it is taking a shower or preparing a cup of tea. Take time to perform each action deliberately with thought, instead of going through the motions like you were on automatic pilot.
6. Forget about multitasking, it is so passé anyway. Do just one thing at a time and do it well. It is impossible to multi-task anyway. People may think they are, but they are not. What they are actually doing is one thing then the next in rapid succession, paying attention to one thing and then the other. To prove my point look at both the black and the white image below at exactly the same time. You will see that your attention shifts first one way and then the other, and then back again.
7. Create time each day for solitude. It is all very well slowing down, enjoying the tasks we do, doing less of them but you really need time for yourself. I get up an hour earlier than my family and this gives me quite time for quiet contemplation, writing, checking mail and planning my day. Sometimes I suggest people stop the car by some trees on the way home from work, taking 10 minutes just to listen to the birds and take in nature. I like to think this serve as a “de-compression chamber” in between work and home.
8. Incorporate mindful breathing into your day. Use a cue, such as the chiming of a church bell, sound of an emergency vehicle siren in the distance, someone coughing or walking by with a drink of coffee to remind you to practice being present and focus on your breathing for a minute.
9. De-clutter your world. Look at everything around your workstation or place you reside in. Is there anything that can go? We often get used to things and keep them long after their “sell by date.” People often hate throwing things away, whether it is that old cardigan with the holes in or ornaments gathering dust on the mantelpiece.
10. Finally, look across your life at all the things that are a source of stress. Start eliminating them now. This should be a “work in progress,” an ongoing commitment to change. I started “de-stressing” my life twenty years ago by starting my working day an hour later. What this meant was that each morning I took my little dog for a walk in the woods before I left for the office. It gave us some quality time with nature before venturing into the hustle and bustle of daily life. My commute both to and from work was less stressful as I now missed the rush hour. Checking emails twice only, morning and end of day, leaving my phone on voicemail, simple things but things that gave me a sense of control and order. Above all, simple stress reducers.
Good luck with your aspirations to make your life more peaceful. If you have any tips you wish to share please comment or email.
Until next time, Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist.
Main ref: Thich Nhat Hanh – “Peaceful Simplicity: How to live a life of Contentment.” Zen habits.net [Accessed 21/02/12]