Enjoying Life in the Slow Lane

“There is more to life than increasing its speed.” —Mohandas K. Gandhi

78.4 years isn’t much time.

Even at my age, I can feel the pressure to pack my life full of activity and maximize my time by doing all I can.

In school, we’re encouraged to join as many clubs as possible to make the most of our educational experience. At work, it’s expected that we’ll be uber productive and take on more and more responsibility. Even at home, there’s a never ending to-do list of things that need maintained, fixed or upgraded.

And we go on living as if there’s nothing wrong with this system. As if the natural progression of humankind is to become the most efficient life form on earth.

If there’s nothing wrong with this system, then why are so many people unhappy? Why are so many on medication to control anxiety, stress, and depression?

Isn’t this a more telling sign of our “progression” as a species?

All this busyness has overloaded our minds. And we walk around with this nagging sense that there’s something we forgot to do. Or we feel guilty when we actually do take time to do nothing, be lazy with some friends, or watch a worm inch its way across the sidewalk.

There’s just no rest; no sense of completion. Ever.

And its eating away at us from the inside. Making it impossible to find a reason to smile, or be joyful, or just be.

But life doesn’t have to be so crazy. The craziness ends when people embrace the alternative: slowing down.

Slowing down is radical in this day and age. An age where…

…we burn with frustration if a website doesn’t load instantly.
…we think taking a nap is a sign of laziness.
…we check our email, facebook, twitter 15 times a day.
…we eat instant oatmeal for breakfast, frozen meals for lunch, and order takeout for dinner.
…we lose sleep over an upcoming deadline.
…we even take our own lives because the pressure to perform is too much to handle.

Breaking these habits can be difficult. But why is that?

We fear that something bad will happen if things don’t get done. To calm that fear we work harder, and longer, and harder, and longer only to realize that there’s more to do.

It never ends.

If you’re tired of the grind, let me suggest you step back and take an honest assessment of what needs to be done. Letting go of the compulsion to do all things can be an awesomely liberating high. Simply choose what’s most important, and do that. Even simpler, choose to do the things you are passionate about, and drop the rest.

If life in the slow lane appeals to you, here are some easy steps to escape the rat race and enjoy a slower, simpler, happier life:

  • Choose 3 things to accomplish each day. I know, you could probably come up with a list of 100 things, but don’t. Keeping the list this size will force you to decide what’s really important. When you finish the list, the rest of the day is yours to relax. With this approach you’ll be completing 21 important tasks a week. If you have more than that, seriously reevaluate your commitments.
  • Learn to say “no.” Stop taking on more responsibility. That’s what got you reading this article in the first place. Sure, volunteering is a noble way to spend your time, but stretching yourself too thin can rob you of joy. And the world needs joy more than anything.
  • Be unproductive. Even if you can only manage 20 minutes a day at first. Don’t read anything to further your career or impress your friends. Do something useless like skipping rocks across a pond. Or making mud pies with your kids. Or climbing a tree. Dig back into your memory bank, because most of this stuff is stuff you probably did as a kid.
  • Only check your email twice a day. That includes twitter, facebook, stocks, sports scores, blog stats – anything. Checking these sites can become an addictive habit which steals time you could spend doing stuff that actually makes you happy.
  • Embrace quality over quantity. Instead of joining every organization, subscribing to every blog, or taking every opportunity you get – try doing fewer things, but choosing the ones that really add value to your life. Pick 3 or 4 blogs and follow them closely. Choose one organization making a difference, and support them. Embracing quality over quantity will make your life less stressful and your experiences more satisfying.
  • Find a hobby. Try something new, you don’t have to be good at it. As long as it excites you and taps into your creativity. Try these: yoga, rock climbing, running, wood work, surfing, reading, blogging, gardening, chess, painting, making music.
  • Spend time with people you love. This is it, the one piece of advice I’d give you if I could only give you one. Relationships form the backbone of a purposeful life. Sharing secrets, fears, and hopes with another human is the surest way to slow down and enjoy life. Without close contact with other people, we grow into cold, lonely beings. Make time every single day to spend with loved ones, and you won’t end up with a single death-bed regret.

***

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Mike Donghia.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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Comments

  1. says

    Great post, Mike. I was just pondering the same thing and writing about being in search of more time myself.

    I can’t think of a single person I know who isn’t tired ALL the time. It’s a shame really. Currently I’d have to say that is true of myself as well, but I’m working hard to clear things out of my life so that’s no longer the case.

    - Faith

    • says

      Thanks Faith!

      There are few people who get it all right. Myself included.

      But with the short time we’re here on earth, you’re right, It really is a same that we’re living this way.

      Keep fighting the good fight!

      -Mike

    • says

      Good for you Bernice!

      I’m proud of you for not going back. And realizing that you do have a say in your own happiness.

      Take all the time you need to answer those important questions.

      -Mike

  2. says

    I have slowed down my life pace considerably the past couple of months and am loving life in the “slow lane.” Thanks for the reminder of why I have slowed down. The hardest challenge for me has been disconnecting from email, social media, etc. But I am getting much better. I haven’t made it to the two times a day yet, but hopefully in the future! Kristen

  3. says

    Great post, Mike! I too, like Kristen, have slowed down my life a bit in the past couple of months. I have much more time to reflect on my actions and choices now! It helps keep me more grounded. It’s really wonderful. Still, I often get caught up in the grind, feeling a tug to keep doing something, stay busy. Thank you for this reminder to step back again.

  4. Kathleen says

    As a young wife and mother, I lived the frantic life. The pressure to be the perfect wife and mother was intense. I was the perfectionist, strong, capable woman. The house had to be immaculate, meals healthy and inexpensive, and I felt pressure to be at my kid’s school all the time as a volunteer. Then I had a surgery at 37, that changed everything. I could no longer do what I was doing. I had to stop all my activities, except the basics of life. I learned that it was extremely freeing to say, “No”. I actually took the time to read books. I spent lots of time with my kids who were 10 and 14. I began to heal physically, but also mentally and emotionally from the disease of franticitis, that so many women (and men) live with daily.

    That was 20 years ago. I am so enjoying my life as a Grandmother of 3 amazing preschoolers. We play and snuggle and do things that I did not take as much time doing with my own preschoolers. Time is about people………family, friends, and people whose lives we intersect with each day. Now I do what I want to do. I am still a perfectionist, but I don’t drive myself nuts keeping my house perfect. I do real all the time. And when I volunteer it is out of a sense of joyful service, not expected duty.

    Life is so short, and we don’t get a “do over”. When we are old and our short term memory is gone, we will only remember our past. What will we remember? What we did and how crazy life was? Or will we remember the fun times, the people we loved, and the joy we felt just being alive? That is what I learned and practice daily.

    Kathleen S.

  5. David says

    I retired early last year. I like life in the slow lane.

    Even on my ‘busy’ days, there is time to relax and enjoy. Still a couple of items on your list that I could do better at. Will get there in time.

  6. Chuck says

    Absolutely spot on. So much of the stress these days is self-inflicted because of an abnormal need to “keep up”. The best thing one can do is to get done what one can during the “work” day and then enjoy life after the work day ends. That means not working weekends. The alternative is insanity and/or early death.

    • says

      I’d like to add that there might be another option as well. I’ve seen some amazing people quit their day jobs and pursue start pursuing their passions. Making them into a career.

      Not for everyone, I know. But there are people out there (more than most of us think) that are doing jobs they love, everyday.

  7. says

    I really enjoyed this post after I had time to go back and read it again. I am at the beginning of a busy (some irony here, lol!) weekend at a bloggers conference. Ironic that the post I had already written and scheduled for friday morning is 10 ways to not be so busy! And I really liked the diagnosis that Kathleen posted ‘franticitis”, I know I have suffered from it in the past. My psychologist even used it to define how we saw me, as frantic. Even now I can feel it start to come on me again, even though I have very few responsibilities right now. It becomes a habit, almost a drug, I feel.
    Bernice
    http://bernicewood.wordpress.com/2010/09/24/10-ways-to-stop-being-so-busy/

  8. says

    Another insane thing when you have a young family and an involved lifestyle is that you end up regularly, with all the best of intentions to avoid this, howling at the children you love most dearly to hurry up and get in the car before we’re late for ‘whatever’!

    Children just don’t live in the fast lane naturally. And the activities truly are enjoyable ones, yet having them scheduled puts such pressure on all of us.

  9. says

    We think that the education system promotes children to be in fast lane. If you look at the college application, there is a whole section for students to list their activities. We have seen kids having a long list of activities, so many that it makes us wonder how they have time to do all of those things. We know they usually say that time-management is everything but we all have only 24 hours a day. With too much activities, even time-management wouldn’t work. Being in a fast lane is good and all but isn’t quality still better than quantity? We have seen people so busy every minute of the day but we don’t wish to be them. They may be busy but they might be just squirrels running in a wheel after all. By the way, we include a story about the squirrel running in a wheel for your entertainment. It will take you like 8 seconds to read it. Enjoy.

    http://e-fables.com/2010/06/the-squirrel-and-the-thrush/

  10. Jeff S says

    Does anyone else feel that the whole minimalist/simple living movement has run out of things to say? All websites are the same and all rehash the same old ideas/articles.

    How to cut debt, how to do nothing, how to say no, how to clear a cluttered room, how to not be distracted… This movement really needs some fresh thought and new thinking. Also, why the heck is everything always in list format?

    • says

      If you don’t like it, why read it? There are some of us who do, and we need these reminders, and there may be some who haven’t heard these ideas yet..
      Maybe you should start your own blog with some fresh thoughts and new thinking if you have some ideas.
      I know what you are saying, but if you already have it all down, maybe you should spend time only following 3 or 4 blogs that actually apply to you as Mike recommended. :)

  11. says

    I work on highway construction in the summer. We work 12 to 14 hours a day 6 days a week. I am laid off right now for the winter and I have so much work around the house to catch up on, but I am just being lazy. I am 55 so I figure it’s time to take it easy until summer comes and the “crazy season” starts all over again. Now I spend time with the grand children and do very little around the house unless it’s an emergency. Once work starts I will not even see the grandkids that much so I am taking it easy.

  12. Awtfell says

    Yes we are on this earth for a short time,

    - I have when I give…
    - My life is not about me, but about those around me…
    - I am not a singular being.

    QUESTION: What is our collective purpose?

  13. Terry says

    Thank you very much for the daily inspiration! I have been following for a few weeks now and so many changes have begun to happen! Applying the things that that are being learned a little bit at a time are making a difference in the way I look at life, love in my relationships and learning to be happy just to be me. Im so excited for the changes that are still going to take place!

  14. says

    Thanks for this inspiration, I needed to hear it. Even today, a Saturday, I feel the need to get busy! I love your blog, and will choose it as one of the few that I continue to follow. I’ve been making gradual progress towards getting rid of “stuff” and saying no to volunteering more. I use to find my identity in doing those things, and thrive on a stressful busy life, but it’s taking its toll on me.
    I was raised by a Stay at Home Mom, and that’s what I’ve always wanted, but have taken part time jobs off and on over the years due to finances, or that feeling that I should be doing something more.
    Currently, I’m stressing over the decision of whether to go for a full time job, or get a degree so I can get a good job within a couple of years due to the fact that over the past 4 to 5 years, my husband has been laid off about as much as he has had work. With 4 children, the oldest two are on their own, and have children of their own now, and I babysit a LOT for them. My youngest is 14, yet I really don’t know that I’m capable of handling a full time job and the work load at home. As a busy perfectionist, I have a hard time finding balance and keeping things done as it is.
    I find social media a way to escape from my hectic life, but I do need to cut back. Thanks for a great article!

  15. peggy says

    I have been doing this for a long time. Maybe it is my age (59) or my personality. I don’t carry a cell phone..i was just given a NOOK from my 16 year old neice who had too many tablets…i am sad for that DIS-connected generation. CONNECTED to technology and no human beings. I do like to read on the nook. Keep up the great posts…if just one sinks in..it can change someone’s life!

    Peace,
    Peggy

  16. says

    Excellent!
    After working 70-100 hours per week for the first half of this year I ended up at the doctor’s office who prescribed muscle relaxers 3 times a day and pain killer @ max dose 2 times per day.
    Yeah. I said “time to slow down” and took the month of July to transition from work-a-holic to life-a-holic (which incorporates much of your list above.)
    I still work about 30 hours per week – and my goal is to get down to 20 hours per week…maybe less if I can swing it!
    I’m pleased to say – I am now living instead of surviving one day at work after another.

  17. DONNA says

    I am so happy I found your website…….I don’t have anything profound to say at the moment ..but I did want to say that I was in tears at the end of this post because I have been so anxious this morning about what I ‘needed’ to accomplish today…My BF once asked me ..’you don’t know how to relax ,do you ?’…guess he was right

  18. Laura says

    I recently resigned from a company I was with for 21 years. The last two years, being the most challenging to simply get there. I have not taken another job but rather am taking time for myself right now. I have been surprised at the number of times in a day where I feel I have to be doing something and feeling uncomfortable with just being. This revelation has been a source of introspection and hopefully a guiding force for what comes next. Your post is timely. Namaste.

  19. Robyn says

    I had the benefit of a dad who worked at home raising cattle and selling used farm equipment. He lived his life without getting caught up in the rat race. He enjoyed each day to the fullest and always made time to literally smell the roses or marvel at the birth of a new calf. I talked to him 3 nights before he was killed in a tractor accident on his farm. His last words to me were: when Momma calls you one of these days to say she’s found me dead under my tractor, don’t be sad. I had the perfect life and wouldn’t change a thing. I became determined to follow his example. We never allowed our children to be in more than 2 extra curricular activities. Sundays were for church and family. No company, no going anywhere, no talking on the phone. Family dinners at least 4-5 nights a week. Playing with my kids was more important than a perfect house. I have regrets but fewer than many I’m sure. We’re now retired and make plenty of time to smell the roses.

  20. Elizabeth says

    I love my naps. I love to curl up with a book. I have a relationship with my husband to work on, 3 young kids to love and bring up, a house full of pets to care for, a house to clean, a job to keep, friends to see, a parent to care for, volunteer obligations to meet…but I love my naps! The work will ALWAYS be there. The love and opportunities to play, nap and read will NOT! So…take the nap!

  21. says

    Great post, As I sit here in my bed on Sunday morning, and allow my children and grandchildren to sleep in! My wife has already ask me what I was going to do today, and make sure everything got accomplished with the family. The Holidays have been great, and I’m on purpose going slow into the new year!

  22. Pam says

    This is most excellent. Re-reading it this morning. It is one of three blog posts yesterday that spoke to me greatly, in answer to a morning’s prayer request yesterday. I love how God answers quickly, when we need it so. Your blog has been very inspiring and it is refreshing to hear the important messages brought forth with clarity, hope and encouragement. When weeding out my subscribed blogs, as the author suggests to do, yours will be one of the keepers!

  23. Joan says

    thank you for the inspiring message…i read your daily topic…i just submit resignation to a job whos not making me happy plus the fact my managers are smoking in the office… money is not everything…also excercise and taking things one at a time…this minimalistic attitude plus prayer is my daily routine now…

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