Summer often feels like it gives us permission to slow down – the days are long, the nights are fun, and school is out. So as we head into the fall, I found myself wondering how I could bring that feeling to the rest of the year. I spent the last week of August at Cape Cod, and I was surprised to find that Halloween decorations had already filled the store. No wonder we have a hard time slowing down – the world is often encouraging us to live in the future. Get ready for the next holiday! Look at this great TV show starting in November! Ready for next summer’s blockbuster? All of this makes it so much harder to live in the moment.
I truly believe that slowing down and living in the present moment is not only possible, but makes life so much better.
Slowing down is a practice, and it’s not one we can develop overnight. It takes time, energy, and sometimes the Universe giving you a hint. We all know that we should slow down, so let’s talk about some of the ways to do it.
Unplan Your Time
It is hard for many of us to do “nothing”, because what does that even mean? We are constantly in a state of moving forward, of doing better, learning more, experiencing life. When we find ourselves with free time it can become paralyzing. What do I do? I think I’m bored! Oh no, I have to do something. Then all of a sudden hours have gone by, you’re left feeling unaccomplished, and you’re bummed out. Try creating an un-task list. Block out at least one or two times a week on your calendar for unplanned time, and create a list of things you might like to do for fun. Think: meditation, writing a poem, sitting outside on a bench going for a slow walk (not for exercise). This is not the same as planning a day hike or a friend date. This is truly unplanned time that includes a few starter ideas. Then, when the time comes, spend the first two minutes asking yourself what you want to do for the next hour or however long your time block is. Want to catch up on your guilty pleasure show? Do it. Want to bake a cake? Crank up that oven. Trust in your gut and you’ll find that what you do in that moment is exactly what you need.
Get It Done, Today
Most of us want to improve. We feel like we will be happier when we get that next promotion, when we move into a bigger place, when we make more money, and so on. If we think like this, we are going to be waiting a long time. And spoiler alert – for every incremental change, like a new house, that new outfit, a 2% raise – we are going to feel like we really can’t be happy until the next one. What can you do to make yourself happy TODAY? If you feel like you will be happier when you move to a bigger apartment or house, I challenge you to think about what one project in your house is preventing you from loving every second you have in it. Picked it out? Then fix it today. If it’s not something that’s DIY, make an appointment with a contractor today. If you are going to be happier when you make more money, sit down right now and look at your budget. Are you allocating things the way you want to? Maybe if you ditch the cable bill, you’ll have enough money to buy that yoga studio membership that would make you happier. When it comes to happiness, slow down and take a moment to think about what you can do today to make your life just a little bit better.
Ditch Your To-Do List
Who doesn’t love a good, color-coded, beautiful to-do list? Yes, to-do lists can make our lives much easier, and allow us to feel accomplished as we go through our days. Some of us are great with to-do lists and can use them well – for others, our to-do list can begin to own us. The second you start feeling like your to-do list is dictating your life, it’s time to make a change. I challenge you to throw out every list of things you have to do. Right now.
Now, start creating a list of the things that you want to do. We will always have things that we have to do – and lists can be great reminders for them. I try to put them in my calendar, so I don’t need to think about them until the day I actually need to do or start them, and this has been an incredibly helpful way to slow down. Focus on the list of things that you truly want to do, that will bring you joy, and start there. You’ll probably find that many things on your to-do list won’t be quite as important anymore. And for the non-negotiables, they’ll be in your calendar, reminding you when you actually need to do them, freeing up precious space in your mind for the much more important things.
Gratitude has been a hot topic lately, and I’m grateful for that (pun intended). I’ve been working to develop a practice for the past couple of years, and while I certainly don’t do it perfectly, I am getting better at thinking about what I’m grateful for every day. In addition to practicing gratitude, starting and/or finishing your day with a quick reflection can be very useful – as long as you can do it in a way that doesn’t feel like a chore. We all have good days and bad days, days that fly by and we don’t have a chance to think, and days that we actually feel like we’ve slowed down successfully. Capturing these experiences in writing can actually help us see patterns and understand what we can do to get better at enjoying more slow days. Reflect on what went well each day and what you want to do better tomorrow. Don’t focus on trying to understand or judge what you did today – just focus on changing it for tomorrow.
My last point is simple. Practice saying no. We’ll never have a moment to slow down if we are saying yes to everybody but ourself. Practice saying no to new commitments that you don’t really want to do, and be okay letting go of current commitments that aren’t feeding your soul or spirit. Saying no is okay, and will give you the time and space needed to really slow down. More on this point in a future blog post, because it is so incredibly important.