Sometimes life can feel like an endless To Do List. This weekend, while I contemplated relaxing, got eaten up instead with household chores, entertaining and childcare.
Suddenly it's Monday again! The have-tos start as soon as the alarm goes off and the week can easily be absorbed with task fulfillment and checked boxes.
When this happens, my life begins to feel like a treadmill.
I walk, run, sprint but am on this endless go round. That’s when a little thought enters my mind and suggests it might be time to stop and do... nothing.
That's right, I said it, do nothing.
This is like the antithesis of the American way now. In fact, think about how we meet and greet people. More and more often we say, "Hey, how ya doin'?" or "What did you do over the weekend?" We're conditioning ourselves to be rewarded by accomplishments, achievements, lists completed.
Isn't it a little embarrassing to walk into work after a long weekend and in response to "What did you do?" your answer might be "nothing." Do we not want to admit that? If we do we might be perceived as lazy, a slacker or even an avoider.
And it isn’t just weekends, Americans take less time off than any other workers in developed nations.
Not only do we have less vacation days than other countries -on average Americans get 10 paid days per year and 6 paid holidays versus a minimum of 20 in the EU. Studies also indicate that 51% of American workers don't even use all of their vacation time. What's more 61% actually work while they're on vacation. So even when we do finally take a few days off, it’s pretty common to be on the phone or checking email. Like we just can’t turn off or unplug.
For the past year, I've consciously made an effort at being less of a Do-er. Trying to slow down and check out.
To transition myself, I’ve been actively working on two concepts:
The first one is busyness.
Somehow because Americans have become these formidable Do-ers, we derive our self worth from that: doing- accomplishing, achieving, crossing all the items off the to-do list. When I’m trapped in that cycle I never have enough time. There's always too much to do. I run from task to task feeling rushed and anxious, knowing I'll never get it all done.
My first step was getting off the busy ride.
I decided it was okay not to get everything done. I was going to survive if I sent that email tomorrow, went to the post office on Friday or delayed a meeting until next week. The sky didn't fall, the business didn't close, and no one seemed put out.
Slowing down and being more realistic with my "have tos" has made my life feel increasingly peaceful and less stressful. In fact, I’m even learning how to say no! As in, it's ok not to do everything!
The second lesson as I keep moving away from busy is toward relaxing.
At first I implemented this just with my schedule. I started limiting the hours that I worked in a day adding more down time, exercise time, and trying to find a balance that felt good to me. I no longer wanted to feel like my life was so heavily lopsided by work.
It's been about a year since I've implemented this and overall, I accomplish as much if not more than I did rushing and feeling stressed. But I don't feel nearly as much anxiety, worry or tension.
Now the next phase is relaxing even more into the flow.
What I mean exactly is that I tend by nature to be impatient. I want everything done yesterday. Because of this, I can push, push, push instead of allowing something to unfold.
As part of my year exploring trust, I’ve come to understand that relaxing into life is really an exercise in trust. If I trust that my outcome is assured, or that only good will come to me then I can relax and not worry. I don't have to constantly shore up, fixate or feel the need to do, do, do. I can relax into knowing.
Last week I read a line in A Course in Miracles that says, "who would attempt to fly with the tiny wings of a sparrow when the mighty power of an eagle has been given him?"
And to me, that's relaxing into trust.
Why should I constantly try to flap with these mini wings, pushing with all my might when the Universe (or God or whatever word you like) can do it for me?
This feels so much better. It doesn't mean I lie on the couch ALL day, reading and watching movies. But it does mean that I smile more, am clear about how to cherish everyday and enjoy the ride that is this amazing journey of life, knowing that it’s all happening in the perfect time.