Is your pause button broken?

So, the question for you today is about stopping. Do you know how to stop and – the wriggly bit – do you actually ever do it? Or is your pause button broken? I mean, we’ve just had a weekend. Hands up who’s been running the whole time? I don’t mean exercising, I mean through your ‘days off.’ Yes, I see you. Me too. Exhausting, isn’t it?

The research gurus tells us we can’t always be busy. Well, we can. But for your own health and the good of others in your world you really need to stop occasionally! Unfortunately, we’ve kind of made busyness our god. “My life’s been so crazy!” is an unspoken category we compete against our friends in. I think we believe busyness equals a good life. Or maybe it just stops us realising we don’t have one?

This makes my question about your pause button almost offensive. And certainly hard to imagine doing wholesale. I mean, how long since you put down your phone, stepped away from the tv, the kids, your work, your worries and your thinking? When you didn’t use your spare 10 minutes to tidy up, write a list or get your nails done? Have you ever sat yourself outside somewhere, alone, and quietly watched the world go by?

If you – like me – tend to live life in overdrive, here are some questions I figured I’d want answers for if someone told me I should stop more often.

Why should I hit pause on my life?

For the same reason you get your car serviced – to deal with the wear and tear of daily living before you have a major problem, be it in health or relationships. Too many of us think of life as a fifth gear race, 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 deliberately dropping back to first gear at least occasionally.

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.

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 idly chatting with your therapist, thinking up how to get even with a friend who’s 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 about your body having a chance to catch up. It’s not an issue of activity, it’s one of focus.

What should I do then?

You don’t 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 be undirected and watch where they wander. If it helps you could find a meditation or a prayer, or try journaling or going for a walk – but don’t make these 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 travel a long way to do this, either. We have a fantastic deck I hardly ever use. It’s a great 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 would I have to do this for? 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 an hour? It doesn’t need to be too long, and if you’ve never done it be prepared when you start for it to feel a bit weird. Which means it will take some time to get into. I find I can unwind enough with an hour of walking, or even five minutes of deliberate de-stressing once I start practicing. Try picking the first Sunday morning/ third Tuesday evening and starting with that. (I suggest blocking out a whole third of the day because that stops you scheduling something else in and then dropping this, and also because after this kind of pause I often want to write down new ideas I’ve had.) Once it becomes more familiar, increase the regularity to say, fortnightly.

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 whilst researching this post. Read it out loud and see if you can work out why it could be true. Here’s what I reckon. Focusing our time and energy is one type of thinking, this down time creates another. You 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. 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.

It’s a challenge we ought to hear. Have a good week.