Have you ever felt jealous of someone who has an extended amount of free time, like a teacher who has the summer off, or a person who is retired? Have you fantasized about what you would do with all that free time, about how nice it would be to slow down and relax?
Or, have you ever felt as if you're on a treadmill or a merry-go-round that you can't get off, even though you wish you could?
I've been writing about the importance of soul care - of caring for the deepest part of ourselves, the part that ties all the other aspects together. I've mentioned that one of the first steps in learning how to care for our inner selves is to start to slow down and make space - space to start being instead of constantly doing, to practice looking inward, to enjoy, to start listening to the quiet promptings of our souls.
As you are probably aware, this is much easier said than done.
The truth for many of us is that, although we may fantasize about having free time, or about "getting off of the merry-go-round", there are other things we value and prioritize more. Many times we know what we should do to take better care of ourselves, but we put other things first. We work through lunch day after day, when we know it would help us to take a break. We keep saying yes even though we already feel overwhelmed. We pretend like we're fine when we feel like we're dying inside. These are small choices, but if each day contains many similar choices, they all add up to a pattern that sucks the joy out of life. As it turns out, so often it is actually we who decide to keep running on the treadmill, or to keep spinning on the carousel, even as we long to stop running or spinning and rest!
Why is this? Why is it so difficult to slow down, even though it sounds appealing (at least in theory)?
Here are some of the top reasons why it can be so hard to slow down and make space:
We are convinced that we cannot relax until our to-do list has been completed. While this belief seems reasonable at first, it is actually very misleading. Even though you may feel unable to relax unless certain things are accomplished, chances are you will not feel much like relaxing once you've run yourself ragged trying to get through the to-dos of the day, or that you will never stop because the to-do list never ends! You might be surprised to find that even though it may feel uncomfortable at first to step away from tasks that feel urgent, the urgency tends to fade as you give yourself permission to put the tasks aside temporarily. And not only that, but you may return to the to-do list energized and more capable of being productive.
We feel guilty when we slow down and take breaks. Do you feel like you're being lazy when you allow yourself to take a break during the day, or dissatisfied because you didn't get as much done? Do you feel like you need to earn the breaks you take? If so, then chances are you have trouble giving yourself permission to stop being productive without feeling guilty. Studies have shown time and time again that working without breaks leads to lower productivity. You are a human being, not a work horse, and even though your responsibilities may be many, your job or your family or whatever else is depending on you will be better off if you start building in regular time each day to stop what you're doing and rest.
Slowing down our pace feels uncomfortable, and we're not sure why. This is a big one for a lot of people. It can be a bitter surprise when, after making time to slow down and take a break, it feels terrible. This tends to happen when people use busyness to distract from other emotions that they are experiencing, or when people habitually ignore their emotions in favor of driving themselves forward. If you're really tired of feeling exhausted, and yet you feel uncomfortable when you rest, don't be afraid to push into the discomfort. If needed, therapy can help you to work through the discomfort, instead of continuing to avoid it by going at a frantic pace.
We are unwilling to risk disappointing people by learning how to say no, and so we keep saying yes. Many people are more than willing to put others' happiness above their own well-being, and there is definitely a time and place for this type of selfless behavior. However, running on empty while continuing to try to please others, or saying yes in order to avoid displeasing someone and then feeling resentful and bitter are signs that saying yes is not a selfless action. Sometimes saying no is a much more courageous and loving act than saying yes, and it is necessary to be able to know when to say no in order to properly care for your soul.
We just don't know how. Although in many cases we do know what to do to care for ourselves, sometimes we really don't. If you've ever found yourself with unexpected free time and felt totally unsure of what to do with yourself, this might apply to you. Sometimes we need to start experimenting to figure out what we enjoy doing with a little more space in our schedules. Try a few things and notice how you feel after doing them. Keep experimenting until you find a few things that you enjoy doing, and begin making regular time in your schedule to do those things.
We are all capable of overcoming the various things that prevent us from slowing down and living a more fulfilling, joyful life. If you find yourself in need of some extra support in this process, I love helping people to navigate the challenge of learning how to slow down and live more fully. Click here to schedule a free phone consult to learn more about how I can help.