“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.