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“When I get my to do list done.” “When my head hits the pillow, and even then my mind is working!” “Next week; next month; on vacation”. These are the responses I commonly hear from clients, friends, and family alike, when asked “When is it ok for you to slow down?” Every day we are pushing to do more at a faster pace and of the highest caliber, and the way that we are living is simply unsustainable.
Think wwwaaayy back (ok, just a couple of decades ago) to a time before computers. Perhaps we juggled processing two or three things at once (e.g., eating, watching TV, and reading or talking on the phone). We’ve brought all of that into today, and added to it five or ten webpages that we are scrolling between. I’m not so sure we humans were meant to live this way, and the evidence lies on the individual as well as the most macro levels.
Take a look at yourself; how well do you do each single task, when they are being done at the same time? Be honest! Most research tells us that we end up making more mistakes and so each of those tasks ends up taking longer than if we would have just done them one at a time. But we crave speed! Even if we have to redo it, we feel like we are accomplishing more if it is done rapid fire.
So as a whole, we are burning out. While our medical science is evolving, and while we may have access to more variety of nutritious food, and are living longer, what does the quality of that life look like for most of us? We’ve just accepted burnout as commonplace, and something that we have to “push through” until retirement. We’ve accepted chronic pain, headaches, insomnia, digestive distress, chronic illness, and serious disease as something that “comes with age”. But does it? Because it didn’t use to, and it doesn’t in every single human being.
For me, from a very young age, slowing down was (is-still working on it) ok when I got sick. This used to mean a bad cold/flu that kept me home from school and under warm blankets on the couch. I was showered with love from my mom, and got to eat and watch whatever I wanted. And I didn’t have to feel bad about! There was no, “ok, you can do this now, but you have to do THAT later”. It was just ok to feel how I was feeling, and to rest and relax. And I’ve totally kept that belief with me without even knowing it. Today, it looks more like I’ve pushed through the signs that my body was getting worn out (e.g., feeling less rested upon waking; bodily aches and pains; slower mental faculties) until I’m completed depleted and can’t get out of bed, or I get an infection that forces me to stop and seek immediate medical attention. Sound familiar?
I would say, “why do we do that”, but I just told you why! We develop many of our long-held beliefs in childhood, and they stick with us. We may grow up and take on increasing responsibility, but we are still human beings who need love, care, and attention, and not just on vacation! So what can we do to begin to “unlearn” the habit of overworking or the avoidance of slowing down?
1. Begin to get back in tune with the signals your body sends you: our bodies are communicating with us all the time. Every ache, pain, craving, means something, so begin to listen! Start by doing a scan through your body each morning upon waking and each evening prior to going to bed and jot down how you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally. Perhaps after a few days you will begin to see a pattern. We are creatures of habit, after all.
2. Ease into uni-tasking: yes, a fancy corporate term for doing one thing at a time! My recommendation would be to start with one meal a day, where you just eat. No desk, no computer, no e-reader, no music, just you and the plate meant to nourish your body for the next few hours. Take a look at the food, smell it, and say a little gratitude prior to eating it. I bet it will taste WAY better!
3. Know your energy & schedule breaks: there are a ton of resources, both ancient and modern, that tell us in different ways to “work with the flow of our energy”. Most encourage starting your day with a to do list, that includes scheduled breaks. Ayurveda, the science of life, tells us that it’s best to do academic endeavors in the morning: reading, paperwork, etc., and that our creativity comes in the afternoon from approximately two to six p.m. So schedule with intention! Taking even one to two minute ‘micro-breaks’ when done with presence (i.e., walking to a quiet space to sit peacefully without technology) can totally refresh and renew you.
To your best health, productivity, and day ever!