With summer just around the corner, I imagine that many of us are excited to slow down. We want to enjoy every moment of the next three months, not missing a beat. Yet before we know it, the leaves will change, the air will cool, and we’ll be baking pumpkin pies. I love fall as much as the next person, but I never want to miss the sweet moments of summer. Having a glass of rosé on the deck, spending the day at the beach with my toes in the sand, and hearing burgers sizzle on the grill before chowing down with family and friends. I have never been great at slowing down – for most of my life, I have lived in the future. In February, I am dreaming of that perfect summer beach day. When I’m on the beach, I’m thinking about my fall adventures. And when I’m eating a burger for lunch, I’m often thinking of my what my dinner will be that night. It has been so incredibly hard for me to figure out how to slow. down.
Last summer I had to have surgery to repair a tear in my hip. I was forced to spend nearly four months on crutches, and really learned about the power of the present moment and slowing down. By the time fall rolled around, I felt like I had it all figured out. Yet all of a sudden, I was planning my wedding, traveling a ton for work, and trying to keep up with all of my extracurricular commitments. I was not consistently living in the present moment. However, the universe saw this, and decided to teach me the lesson again. A couple weeks before my wedding in May, I lacerated four tendons in my foot. Despite the timing, I still had a wonderful, albeit very painful, time at my wedding – more on that magical day later. I jetted off on my honeymoon, still “booted up” and started to think about what this all really meant. Now, eight days after surgery and on bed rest for another week, the answer is becoming even more clear. Slowing down is what makes life that much more sweet. And it’s not a practice we can develop overnight. It takes time, energy, and sometimes the universe throwing two surgeries at you (though I hope that I “took one for the team” and you can take what I’ve learned without that part!). We all know that we should slow down, so let’s talk about some of the ways to do it.
Plan Unplanned Time
It is hard for many of us to do nothing. We are constantly in a state of moving forward, of doing better, learning more, experiencing life. When we find ourselves with free time it can become paralyzing. What do I do? I think I’m bored! Oh no, I have to do something. Then all of a sudden hours have gone by, you’re left feeling unaccomplished, and you’re bummed out. Try planning unplanned time. Block out at least one or two times a week on your calendar for unplanned time. This is not the same as planning a day hike, or a friend date, or some other fun activity (which you should also schedule). This is truly unplanned time. Then, when the time comes, spend the first two minutes asking yourself what you want to do for the next hour or however long your time block is. Want to catch up on your guilty pleasure show? Do it. Want to bake a cake? Send me a piece. Trust in your gut and you’ll find that what you do in that moment is exactly what you need. Don’t judge yourself for your choice – I’ve learned to embrace my love of Bravo TV – just enjoy it until the time is up.
No Time Like Today
Most of us want to improve. We feel like we will be happier when we get that next promotion, when we move into a bigger place, when we make more money, and so on. If we think like this, we are going to be waiting a long time. And spoiler alert – for every incremental change, like a new house, that new outfit, a 2% raise – we are going to feel like we really can’t be happy until the next one. And, we’re going to feel like life is speeding by. What can you do to make yourself happy today? If you feel like you will be happier when you move to a bigger apartment or house, I challenge you to think about what one project in your house is preventing you from loving every second you have in it. Picked it out? Then fix it today. If it’s not something that’s DIY, make an appointment with a contractor today. If you are going to be happier when you make more money, sit down right now and look at your budget. Are you allocating things the way you want to? Maybe if you ditch the cable bill, you’ll have enough money to buy that yoga studio membership that would make you happier. When it comes to happiness, slow down and take a moment to think about what you can do today to make your life just a little bit better.
Ditch Your To-Dos
Who doesn’t love a good, color-coded, beautiful to-do list? Yes, to-do lists can make our lives much easier, and allow us to feel accomplished as we go through our days. I’ve written about the power of choosing the three most important things to do in a day, and I want to come back to that. Some of us are great with to-do lists, and we know how to use them well, as opposed to being owned by them. But the second you start feeling like your to-do list is dictating your life, it’s time to make a change. I challenge you to throw out every list of things you have to do. Right now. Now, start creating a list of the things that you want to do. We will always have things that we have to do – and lists can be great reminders for them. I try to put them in my calendar, so I don’t need to think about them until the day I actually need to do or start them, and this has been an incredibly helpful way to slow down. Focus on the list of things that you truly want to do, that will bring you joy, and start there. You’ll probably find that many things on your to-do list won’t be quite as important anymore. And for the non-negotiables, they’ll be in your calendar, reminding you when you actually need to do them, freeing up precious space in your mind for the much more important things.
Gratitude has been a hot topic lately, and I’m so grateful for that (pun intended). I’ve been working to develop a practice for the past couple of years, and while I certainly don’t do it perfectly, I am getting better at thinking about what I’m grateful for every day. In addition to practicing gratitude, starting and/or finishing your day with a quick reflection can be very useful – as long as you can do it in a way that doesn’t feel like a chore. We all have good days and bad days, days that fly by and we don’t have a chance to think, and days that we actually feel like we’ve slowed down successfully. Capturing these experiences in writing can actually help us see patterns and understand what we can do to get better at enjoying more slow days. Reflect on what went well that day and what you want to do better at tomorrow. Don’t focus on trying to understand or judge what you did today – just focus on changing it for tomorrow.
My last point is simple, and I’ve said it before. Learn to say no. We’ll never have a moment to slow down if we are saying yes to everybody but ourself. Practice saying no to new commitments that you don’t really want to do, and be okay letting go of current commitments that aren’t feeding your soul or spirit. Saying no is okay, and will give you the time and space needed to really slow down.
As summer creeps up on us this week, take a few minutes to think about how you can slow down in your life. These techniques won’t work for everyone, but I hope they’ll encourage you think about what you need to slow down.