Life tweak #3 Stop sometimes!


Hands up who's been running recently? I don't mean the exercise type, I mean through life. Yes, I see you all. Me too. Exhausting, isn't it? How many of you parents are hanging out for school holidays so you can have a break from the constant routines? (Of course, you've already filled your time plans with something else!)

Research tells us you can't always be busy. For your own sake, and for the sake of the world you need to stop sometimes! Only, we've kind of made busyness our god. We almost boast about it. "My life's been so crazy lately!" is a badge of honour in some unspoken category we compete against our friends in. I think there's a belief that busyness equals a good life behind it.

Which makes my suggestion that we stop sometimes almost offensive. And certainly difficult to imagine doing wholesale. Therefore as a compromise I've come up with this series of five life tweaks which will improve our lives but not require quite so massive a change as all that. Today I've taken a Q and A approach, with some questions I figured I'd want answers for if someone told me I should stop more. Ready?

Why should I stop sometimes?

For the same reason you get your car serviced occasionally – to deal with the wear and tear of daily living before you create a major problem, be it in health or relationships. Too many of us think of life as a fifth gear coast, whereas in reality it's more like a third gear push around the suburbs, with us cutting corners and driving ten k's over the speed limit in an effort to get there faster. Your body, your brain and your spirit (yes, you have one) will burn out without enough idling and slow time. Sleep is part of the solution (I covered that here) but so is stopping.

Bottom line: If you want to be less stressed and snitchy and more focused and healthy, you'll be putting some time into slowing down. At least occasionally.

So, can a massage count then?

This is really a question about what constitutes useful resting. The answer is – maybe. It depends what you do in that time. If you fill it with idle chatter with your therapist, thinking up how to get even with a friend who just slighted you or making a shopping list, no. If you instead focus on how your body is feeling and making space in your head, yes.

The same is true of a run. Technically, it could be down time as well. But not if you have to work on your motivation or jogging technique or use it to de-stress from something, though all those things can be good and valid in themselves. The point of this type of stopping is different. It's about slowing down enough for there to be space in your head for questions and less common thoughts. It's not about making a list (though that often happens as you come out of these times). So it's not about a particular action, it's about direction.

What should I do then?

You don't have to do anything, that's the point. You focus on being still and noticing. Notice your body, notice the world around you, let your own thoughts not be directed and notice where they wander. If it helps you could find a meditation or a prayer, or try journalling or going for a walk – but don't let these be the focus either. Think of five things you're grateful for in your current life. Or not. Try a relaxation exercise. These are all only ideas.

You shouldn't need to go a long way, either. We have a fantastic verandah I hardly ever use. I find it a good place for me to sit and do this. That or going for a walk. Again, it's about finding what works for you.

How long do I have to do this? And how often?

Here's the rub: we should probably do it all the time. But I get we're busy. How about trying it once a month, for a couple of hours? It doesn't need to be that long, but when you start this it can feel a bit wierd. Which means it will take more time to get into. I find now I can unwind enough with an hour of walking, or even five minutes of deliberate de-stressing. But I'm also trying to work it in a little more regularly. Try picking the first Sunday morning/ third Tuesday evening and starting with that. (I suggest a whole third of a day block because that will stop you scheduling something else in too, and also because after this kind of stopping I often want to write down new ideas I've had, and this gives me space to do that.)

But I hate sitting still and doing nothing!

"Most things we truly need to be alive come not from busyness but rest!"

I found this quote when researching this post, and I think the experts want us to know its truth. Focusing our time and energy gives us one type of thinking, this down time gives us another. You get to deliberately experience more of your own life when you stop and pay attention. Food, sex, friends, tv, booze, careers, social media…these can all distract us from knowing ourselves. It's easy to get sucked in. Just read all the blogs and posts about being busy and how it's ever so important to do what everyone else is. But you're the only person who can live your life! Don't waste it running all the time without ever looking round. Socrates warned,

"Beware the barreness of a busy life."

Take a chance and stop sometimes. If you don't like the view, change direction. You'll be glad you made this tweak.