Note: This is a guest post from Elissa Joy Watts of Simplify Magazine.
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” —Mary Oliver, excerpt from The Summer Day
What did you long for most from your childhood summers?
For me, it was freedom. Delicious freedom from predictable schooldays. Freedom to lay in the sun, devour ice cream, and float for hours in a turquoise pool.
My summer longings have not changed much. A sun-drenched break from the routine sounds too good to be true, honestly. As a working mom, however, I know poolside paradise will elude me. Instead, the season will welcome busyness.
From where I sit, summer’s two major opponents are sky-high expectations and the pressure to “do it all.” Corporate socials and family get-togethers. Planning a picture-perfect getaway or entertaining kids from dawn ‘til dusk (and then some). Then there’s laundry and groceries and shouts of “who left the screen door open again?!”
The tension is palpable. Often times, our knee-jerk reaction is to purely survive. Sanity, money, rest—these are common sacrifices on the altar called Summer.
But believe it or not, a simpler more satisfying summer is within reach, regardless of our individual situations. The pursuit is straightforward and anyone can start today.
It boils down to pausing before the chaos and tuning into your desires.
In his timeless book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey implores us to begin anything with our desired outcome in mind. His commonsense principle yields positive gains regardless of context.
In this case the question is simple: What do you hope to achieve by summer’s end?
- Do you want to feel rested?
- Are you hoping for quality time with family?
- Are you ready to get ahead on your creative project or invest more in your community?
To enjoy summer and avoid becoming a slave to stress and obligation, this is the one thing to accomplish today before things heat up:
Define your happy ending.
A simple way to pinpoint your happy ending is to choose a word to epitomize that which you seek. The word will serve as a mindfulness cue, sort of like a North Star as you navigate obstacles and opportunities.
For some people, choosing a word is as simple as pouring a tall glass of water. Their spirits are thirsty for peace.
Others wrestle to clear their head and consider possibilities. If you’re in the second camp, here are some worthwhile ideas:
When a word hangs in the air and calls for a refreshing sigh, you’ve nailed it. If not, think about what’s lacking in your world. What would revive you this season?
The practice of choosing a single word is an increasingly popular alternative to New Year’s resolutions, but I think it’s most effective in the midst of hasty seasons like summer.
Sometimes all one can do to regain clarity is call forth a single word.
The beauty of this practice lies in its ability to distill complex decisions. Once a word becomes a primary focus each day, many affairs take care of themselves, provided we maintain fortitude and navigate life accordingly.
Each and every sunny day will run away from us if we aren’t careful to hold its hand and enjoy its company. What do you desire for your summer? Undue stress? Debt? Broken summer toys and dizzying schedules?
Or would you prefer breathing room and mindful memories? Once you get in touch with your summer longings and capture them in a word, paring down summer is much simpler. The key is to focus on your desired outcome and seek out ways to embody it as much as possible. After all, it’s your wild and precious life.
In the spirit of practicality, allow me to help you on your way. Think about this:
How might you embody your word at home and at work? What will you hold space for? And how will you move through your day in a way that honors summer’s spacious spirit?
Embodiment looks different for everybody but there are some fundamental principles behind this exercise. Temper possibility with reality. Slip inspired moments into the everyday routine. Be intentional with marginal time. And try to avoid heaping more onto your brimming plate.
Here are some ideas to spark your imagination:
- Create a peaceful morning playlist to set the tone for your day
- Block out one afternoon or evening each week to protect life-giving downtime
- Commit to eating lunch outdoors alone, away from your computer
- Set a curfew on your phone to hold yourself accountable to get ample sleep
- Create a short bucket list of simple weekend activities and pencil a few in right away
- Do the things you loved doing as a kid: flying a kite, water play, bike riding, popsicles
- Take advantage of local summer festivals
- Make time for board games at home
- Plan a low-key bbq with neighbors
- Set a simple recurring event with a few close friends
- Shop locally and get to know your neighborhood vendors
- Initiate an evening childcare swap with friends
- Hit the library and use the early morning sun as reading light
- Choose new podcasts to enjoy on your commute
- Visit a local museum and chat with the curator
- Follow your children’s curiosity and teach them something new
- Get back to doing something you once loved: a hobby, a book, an activity
- Work through a cluttered area in your home to clear your space and mind
- Chip away at a lingering household project
- Prioritize one or two simple weekly self-care rituals
- Initiate a low-key summer weekend tradition
- If you’re a parent, give your kid(s) an opportunity to plan one big activity each
- Make picnics a thing
- Set up a tent and vacation in your yard
- Borrow inspiration in the form of magazines from the library
- Pick up a simple new hobby
- Take advantage of the extra daylight and get up early to do something you love: writing, drawing, scheming
- Stock up on sidewalk chalk for the kids
The key to making this choose-your-word practice successful is to stay focused as you navigate your days. I’m leaning toward renewal.
Which word will you focus on this summer?
Elissa Joy Watts is the Managing Editor of Simplify Magazine, a quarterly, digital publication addressing some of the most pressing needs of the modern family.