You feel like you’re always moving, you’re constantly obsessing, you have never-ending To-Do lists. Oh, to be able to slow down, be more laid back and less driven without having to get stoned or drunk.
You can. Generally, there are 2 sources for your too-driven life: anxiety and going on auto-pilot. Anxiety is the constant looking ahead to the future, the what-ifs, the worries that propel you endlessly forward and keep you from appreciating the present. Autopilot is you’re doing what you do because you do it. Your habits and routines, the demands of others, remove any conscious decision-making. Instead you…go on autopilot.
Time to slow it down? Here are some tips to help you regain control and move at a better pace:
1. Have a vision
Before actively embarking on this new adventure, step back and think about how you ideally would like your everyday pace of life to be different. Maybe less hectic overall, feeling less anxious, building in time during the day for you to just take a breather or some quiet time by yourself. Or something even more simple, like being able to stand in a line without getting irritated.
Your vision can help you set some goals that are important to you, can help you set new priorities to replace your old, all-too-familiar ones.
2. Be aware of when you are going on autopilot
I know, you’re probably already aware of the built-in challenge here: You need to slow down enough to be aware that you’re not slowing down. One way to do this is to check in with yourself, say, every hour. How are you feeling? How is your pace? Can you take a few deep breaths, can you slow down what you are doing? Do you need a short break?
Simply by asking yourself these questions, you are stepping out of that unconscious action, becoming more aware of the moment, more aware of you and what you need right now.
3. Focus on wants not shoulds
This is a big important one. Shoulds are the rules, the expectations laid out by that parent, school marm, drill sergeant in our heads who is constantly wagging its figure telling us to go, go, go, be efficient, get things done, no slacking for you. Success is measured by how much you get done, by how much you please others.
Time to shut those voices down. What is getting lost in this way of living is what you want — learning to listen not to the shoulds, but to your gut reactions, your desires. This doesn’t mean you take off from work at 11:00 and head for the beach (though that might actually not be a bad idea) but more simply building into your decisions your own reactions and needs. Here you may take a mental health day off from work, or allow yourself to go out for lunch rather than eating at your desk, or not spend 4 hours on Saturday cleaning your house or apartment, but going for a hike instead.
It is not about what you do, but learning to pay attention to those gut reactions and use them as information to tell you what you need, what’s missing from your life.
4. Practice saying no
This is about setting boundaries, which helps both counter the autopilot and the anxiety. Here you don’t automatically raise your hand when someone asks for a volunteer for the committee at work, or sign up to be the assistant coach for your kid’s soccer team. Instead you bypass the shoulds and focus on your gut.
And even if you do go on autopilot, volunteer for the committee, and only realize later that this is not a good idea, go ahead and take the bold step of telling them you’ve changed your mind.
But expect to feel guilty and worried that someone is going to get upset. This is normal because you’ve broken some learned rule, but ride it out, pat yourself on the back for taking care of you.