I had a few unexpectedly busy weeks that left me feeling a little frazzled. Nothing bad happened. I got a few extra gardening jobs, several friends wanted to get together, I was finishing projects and starting new ones, I was taking an online class while revamping my website, and a certain cute second grader I know was showing up at my door several times a day looking for attention. It was all good stuff. I just hadn’t anticipated most of it so I felt like I was jumping from one thing to the next, which is not a feeling I enjoy.
I tend to prefer a slower pace of life. That doesn’t mean that I don’t like doing things. I love to travel, go hiking and camping, and get out to parks and gardens often. I enjoy seeing friends for short and long visits. I always have several projects going on inside and outside the house. My houseplants and gardens are always happy for attention whenever I have time for them.
I’m not a lazy person. I just prefer to have flex time in my schedule to relax and give my brain space to think. Part of this is that I’m an introvert who needs time alone to recharge. If you are an introvert too, you know what I mean. No matter how much fun you are having, there is a point at which you need to stop talking and get some space from people.
But there are a lot of other reasons why I like a slower pace. Here are a few I’ve been thinking about this week:
Less stress: I just don’t like to feel stressed. I want to hang out with friends knowing that I don’t have to rush off to the next thing. I like to buy birthday gifts based on what someone wants, not by what will get here in time (this happened recently). I like savoring my garden trips without thinking about what needs to happen before I have to leave for my next activity. I want to be on time so others don’t have to wait around for me. I don’t want to feel like any little thing could go wrong and ruin my whole schedule. The only reliable way I’ve found to eliminate stress is to have less to do.
Time to listen to my body: I’ve learned over the past ten years that my body is talking to me all the time. It knows what it needs and it isn’t afraid to tell me. When I listen, it will tell me how to stay healthy, what is or is not working in my life, and what I need to create my best life. I can get the basics even when I’m on the move (I’m tired! I have to pee!), but to really get the deep details I have to stop what I’m doing and listen carefully. Sometimes I can listen while driving down the road or working in my garden, but there are times when I really just need to relax in my hammock or on my couch in order to really hear what my body has to say.
Process emotions: This is actually related to the previous item, because often I can’t fully process emotions until I’ve felt them in my body. There are a lot of ideas behind this that I talk about elsewhere on my blog (here is one place to begin), but essentially we (in the West) are taught that emotions exist separately from mental and physical levels of existence. In reality, they are all completely intertwined. Emotions are felt in your body as much as your mind or heart. One of the first things therapists do with trauma survivors is get them to reconnect with their bodies. Once they are able to feel their bodies, then they can start to process the emotional trauma that is physically stuck inside. If you are dealing with trauma, you need quiet time in your life to work on dealing with those old issues. On a day-to-day level, processing emotions in the here-and-now keeps them from getting trapped in your body to deal with later. This is why I like a lot of processing time in my life. Sometimes I can just name an emotion and let it go (Check out this blog post for more on this). At other times I have to feel it in my body and interact with it on a more physical level. However I tackle the emotion, the reality is that I actually do need to engage with it and release it so it doesn’t become another layer of stuck energy I have to deal with later on.
Decide what I really want to do: One thing I’ve learned about myself is that I should never EVER say yes to doing anything on the spur of the moment. Everything sounds like fun when I first hear of an idea. The problem is that later when I start to think through the details of that activity I realize that there are a whole lot of external things that I may or may not want to deal with. This includes things like packing, driving, scheduling, shopping, crowds, money, etc. A few years ago I decided that I would never say yes to anything unless I had taken time to think about it first. Bigger commitments (going away for the weekend) take longer thought time than shorter commitments (taking a walk). If I’m asked in person about doing something I say, “That sounds like fun. Let me check my schedule and get back to you.” If I get a text or an email I walk away from it for a while before I respond. Then I spend that thinking through all the details of what will need to happen. I will also check in with my body and see how it feels. Only then do I make a decision. Since I’ve started this, I’ve made a lot better choices about what I do because I only agree to do things that really sound enjoyable to me. Interestingly, today I was listening to the book The Highly Sensitive Person’s Complete Learning Program by Elaine Aron where she describes this as a typical trait of Highly Sensitive People. HSPs process things deeply, so we need time to play out all those details in our minds and make sure we know what we are getting into. In the book she talks about how she plans trips and it sounded EXACTLY like what goes in my mind when I stop to decide what I want to do. It’s nice to know I’m not alone.
Spend less time running around and more time doing things I love: There is nothing I hate more than going to the grocery store and then realizing the next day that I should have picked up stuff to make something for the event I’m going to the next day. Or that I just got back from the bookstore and forgot to get a card for the next birthday coming up. Or didn’t pick up the materials I need for the project I’m working on. This is partly because I hate shopping and partly because I’m very ecologically conscious about driving my car as little as possible. I find that the busier I am, the more likely I am to not look ahead at my schedule or forget to write something down on my shopping list that I need. What I prefer to do is sit down with my calendar at least once a week and think about what is coming up and strategize about how to get everything done as efficiently as possible. Shopping and running errands is a necessary part of life but one that I prefer to minimize. With those things quickly off my to-do list, I have more time to do things I love like kayaking, reading in my hammock, or taking last-minute walks with friends. I find that a slower pace of life allows me to be more intentional and allows me to do more with less fuss.
I could probably keep going on but I don’t want to repeat all the usual stuff you hear about spending time with loved ones, making memories, etc. Many people like slower lifestyles because they like spending time by their fire pit, or cooking, or watching movies. If you are interested in creating a slower lifestyle, start by asking yourself why you want it. What are you trying to find more time for? What do you want to spend less time doing? Once you find your why, then it is easier to strategize your schedule to get what you want.
Of course, there are a lot of things in my life that make a slow life easier to create. Two big things are that I’m single and don’t have kids. They are lifestyle choices I have made based in part on wanting a quieter life. However, I know people who have kids and spouses and work full time jobs and still manage to create slow times for themselves to process, organize, relax, and de-stress. Having a busy family life does not necessarily mean you can’t have quiet space for the things I’ve talked about above. It just means you need to be extra intentional to make it happen AND you need to get your family on board with creating that lifestyle. It’s easier when your kids are young to set those expectations, but you can make a switch later in life. There are lots of people who can speak more to this than I can, so go ahead and search for some advice to help you get started.
If you don’t have a partner and/or family right now, then this is certainly something to consider as you think about your future. I’m seeing more and more stories of people who, like me, choose to stay single or get married but choose not to have kids because they like the lifestyle. It’s kind of hard to imagine this in a society that obsesses about relationships and having kids, but these are legit choices. Wanting a quiet life isn’t selfish or self-centered. It is a way of being in the world that promotes your mental/emotional health as well as the health of those around you.
So take a look at your life and ask yourself, would slowing down a little change anything for me? Would it help me create more health? More balance? More joy? Less stress? What can I remove from my life to start creating more space? What can I streamline? What decisions can I make now that will open up space in the future?
A slower life is possible in this crazy 24/7 world. You have to choose it first. Then you can make it happen. If you want some help identifying your why or strategizing how to make that kind of life happen, you can always contact me through my website. I offer coaching work to help you identify and meet your goals so you can create your best life. Send me a message today and we can talk!