Several years ago, I had the opportunity to work with an incredible mentor and spiritual guide. During my initial journey with her, I was so thirsty for personal growth and development. I was still a Naturopathic Medical student, and wanted to start my career and my “life” off in the right direction. I wanted so badly to let go of the illusions of our culture of vanity, greed, and ownership.
I believed at the time that I needed to make radical changes to stimulate growth. I resigned that, on top of my 50-hour work week and family commitments, I needed to schedule at least 4 hours weekly on my yoga mat, daily juicing, and an additional 30 minutes daily meditating. Looking back, I realize now that my distorted expectations were only a symptom of the North American mantra; do more, make more, achieve more, be more.
I wanted to invite peace and abundance into my life by driving myself to burnout with an unrealistic schedule. In my meetings with my mentor, I would express my intentions to her. I would share how I envied her infallible sense of serenity. The wisdom she shared in return was always consistent: “Tara, to have more, you need to do less”.
Huh. Simple enough, right? But at the time it was tremendously difficult to comprehend, and even more impossible to incorporate into this Western lifestyle. I just wanted to feel peaceful now. No, in truth I wanted to feel peaceful YESTERDAY!
Six years and several vision boards later, it is slowly starting to settle in. Slowly. It began with a commitment to pare down. To prioritize what I truly needed and want for my life, for my relationships, and most importantly for my health. To set small boundaries in my personal time so that I had the space to hear the voice within.
I’m far from where I strive to be, but am far from where I have been. I now know that it is the small alternations we make along the way that inspire big changes. If we want to love more and resent less, accept more and judge less, cultivate peace and reduce busyness, then we need to “do less”.
A beautiful quote from one of the most inspirational authors of our generation summarizes this pilgrimage so eloquently.
“I’ve come to believe that there exists in the universe something I call “The Physics of The Quest” — a force of nature governed by laws as real as the laws of gravity or momentum. And the rule of Quest Physics maybe goes like this: “If you are brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting (which can be anything from your house to your bitter old resentments) and set out on a truth-seeking journey (either externally or internally), and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue, and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher, and if you are prepared – most of all – to face (and forgive) some very difficult realities about yourself… then truth will not be withheld from you.”
Recently, I came across a blog, among the hundreds that I am bombarded with each day on social media. This one hit home for me, and I felt compelled to share since it is so easy to distract our time with fruitless habits. This short article provides practical suggestions to “do less”. Take a look at this short list, commit to one item for the next six months, and observe the transformation that will enfold.
1. Nap. According to some studies, our minds may be hardwired to shift between sleep and wake more than once a day, even dating back thousands of years we find evidence of society embracing an afternoon nap. And if you think you need to find 30-60 minutes to find this space, you may be over-thinking it. Even a 10-minute nap sitting upright in a chair immediately enhances performance— and does not result in the grogginess of a longer nap.
2. Wake 15 minutes earlier. Many of our days begin at breakneck speed. We wake with just enough time on the clock to get ready, quickly eat breakfast, and catch the next bus in time. Or we wake and are immediately placed into the throes of life trying to get kids, spouses, and ourselves ready for the day. Meanwhile, the full brunt of the day has yet to even begin. Find some extra space by waking on your own terms, even for just 15 minutes. You will find peace and calm there. And for the next 23 hours, you’ll be glad you did.
3. Get outdoors—even for a short walk. Embrace the value of the outdoors during evenings and weekends. But additionally, spending short bursts of time outdoors over lunch breaks or afternoon breaks can provide downtime for our minds. The fresh air affects our senses in important ways. And the change in environment provides greater opportunity for our minds to shift away from work-mode for a few short minutes.
4. Flip the off switch. Much of our downtime is being wasted and traded for the intake of even more information. The average person now watches 34 hours of television each week. For various reasons, I am a big fan of deciding to watch less. Yet, the very reason many of us watch television (to relax, rest, unwind) may be the greatest motivation to simply turn it off. As a result of flipping the off switch just one show earlier than normal, we may be able to discover the true downtime our minds have been requesting all along… or at least an earlier bedtime.
5. Salvage the commute. Many of us have commutes that are literally killing us. In addition to increased cost and wasted time, according to the New York Times, commuters suffer from sharp increases in blood pressure, body weight, waist circumference, blood sugar levels, cholesterol, and heart disease. Lengthy commutes were also associated with greater degrees of exhaustion, stress, lack of sleep, and days missed from work. If the commute can be avoided, it should be. But if it cannot, salvage the commute by using it to create extra space. Turn off the news channel (especially the one that only makes you angry), the cell phone, or the abrasive attitude. Try sitting in silence. Enjoy the calm as best you can. And use the space for your mind to sit quietly with yourself.
6. Take a longer lunch. If possible, establish a longer, more deliberate lunch routine. While some do not, many of your workplaces do indeed allow for longer lunch breaks—yet we often trade them simply to feel important or get more done. Try taking a longer lunch. And don’t feel guilty about it—personally or corporately. Because of the downtime, your work in the afternoon will be more efficient. I always took a brown-bag lunch to work. I found rather than rushing to the fast food joint down the road for food, having something pre-packed allowed more time for downtime during my scheduled lunch. Plus, I learned it from my dad.
7. Enjoy an afternoon tea. There is good reason some of the most advanced societies in our world take time for afternoon tea. Along with some health benefits, afternoon tea relaxes our mind, replenishes our spirit, and nurtures our soul. No wonder it continues to be one of our longest-lasting memories of experiencing different cultures. We would be wise to embrace some of its routine in our daily schedule.
8. Set aside time for meditation. Meditation benefits the soul. Properly used, it centers our minds, our pursuits, and our passions on those things most important to our well-being. Additionally, some studies cite specific positive physical changes in the brains of those who consistently make use of the practice. And while there is benefit in even short-term meditation, the more we embrace the practice, the greater the outcome. Whether you discover this practice during yoga, alone in solitude, or meditating on spiritual writings, it continues to remain a highly effective tool for creating space in our lives each day.
9. Take a longer shower. If you are one of the those people who believe you have your best ideas in the shower, you just may be right and science may finally be proving it for you. But even if you don’t do your best thinking in the shower, intentionally taking a longer one may be just the right formula for slowing down and enjoying a little more distraction-free living. Your water bill may not thank you for the practice, but your mind just might.
10. Test out the Pomodoro technique. The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s based upon the idea that our minds work best in 25-minute bursts. The technique goes like this: Decide on a task to be done; set a timer for 25 minutes; work on the task until the timer rings; take a short 3-5 minute break; and every four intervals take a longer break (15–30 minutes). Personally, I have found the technique to be more advantageous during some projects/days than others. But if your drive to succeed is constantly keeping you from slowing down, this time management technique may be helpful in both creating space and accomplishing more.
11. Remove mindless Internet. According to this study in the National Bureau of Economic Research, for every 10 minutes people fool around online, they spend: 2.9 minutes less on all other types of leisure, 2.7 fewer minutes working (or a more dramatic 3.75 minutes, for people in their 30s), and 1.2 fewer minutes on personal care, including sleep. Multiplied over the reality that the average person who uses the Internet for fun spends roughly 100 minutes a day on it, turning off mindless Internet may be a significant strategy to create significant extra space.
12. Turn off notifications. Our smartphones have created workspaces even away from work. Even when we are not “clocked-in” at the job, our constant stream of notification reminds us of incoming emails, pending deadlines, and opportunities for employment advancement. The lines between work and rest continue to blur. One simple strategy to redraw those lines is to turn off the notifications (email, Facebook, IM) on your smartphone away from work. As a result, you will be able to check your apps on your schedule at appropriate times throughout the day and reduce the number of times you check your phone each day (which currently sits at 150 times, just short of every 6 waking minutes.