Image courtesy of Vlado at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
These days, it's so easy to get caught up in the trap of keeping busy rather than taking time out for ourselves. In fact, we may feel the need to justify any activity that isn't work related, because over the years we've repeatedly been told what we should and shouldn't do - by our parents, teachers and now our employers.
Keeping up our energy to stay on top of all the demands of our modern lifestyle requires we recharge our energy on a regular basis. Of course, we get energy from eating well, from breathing, from exercise. But we also get energy from doing the things that give us a sense of joy and of belonging.
Our requirements are all different. For some, it's retreating into a quiet place while for others they like to be amongst a crowd. Our needs vary from day to day, depending on the situations we find ourselves in. Listening to and taking care of those needs - being good to ourselves - is an important part of optimal wellbeing. When we are loved and cared for, almost anything is easy. When we are deprived, tired, needy, even the smallest detail becomes an overwhelming task.
Take some time out from your busy schedule, from the 'seriousness' of work and embark on an activity that lightens the load, feeds your soul and your body, too. It need not be something that takes a huge amount of time, either - just sitting at your desk, taking a few long, deep breaths and sitting in silence for a minute can be enough to recharge those batteries and equip you to continue with your day.
What are the things you can do to be good to yourself today? Here are some of my favourites:
- sitting under my favourite tree, taking in the beauty of nature
- going for a walk - long or short - just to 'get away from it all'
- writing in my journal
- taking a trip away - especially to a foreign country
- enjoying a pleasant meal with my husband
Make your own list, and when you've completed it, make a promise with yourself to do one thing off the list each day. You'll find you feel good about yourself, and you'll be amazed at how much more productive your day is if you can be good to yourself.
There's nothing I like more than going to my favourite outdoor spot, sitting under "my" tree, and looking out over the ocean. It's not really my tree, of course - it doesn't belong to me - it's not even planted in my property. It's one I've adopted ... and I think it has adopted me.
Here's a photo of my tree, taken this morning on our weekend walk. I like to sit under it, and lean against it's trunk. Sometimes there are other people at my happy place, and it makes me smile to know that others get pleasure from being there too. Unusually today, no one else was there - it was just for me to enjoy.
I call it my "happy place" - I am able to sit here and just be. I feel calm and relaxed when I am here. This is often where my creative self comes to life, where my ideas come from. It's also a great place for reflection - it's where I come when I want to think something over.
If, during the day, something happens that causes me to feel down, and I am not able to get there, I conjure up this picture in my mind, and mentally take myself to this happy place. I recall the sights, sounds and smells from my memory, and imagine the sun and cool breeze. I find that even doing this for a couple of minutes, combined with a few long, deep breaths, can be enough to change the mood, lift my spirits and set my on my way again.
How do you restore balance in your life? Do you have a happy place?
It seems more and more these days that we live life in the fast lane, with one eye on the road ahead and one eye in the rear view mirror sort of glancing at the scenery as we leave it behind. I see pedestrians literally pummeling the button at the pelican crossing to get the lights to change so they can cross the road a few seconds faster. I watch commuters grab a bite at the food stalls by the roadside and then run to catch the bus or train, not even thinking about the impact on their digestive system. Students scurry along the street, shouting into their mobile phones, oblivious to the rest of the world, and to the impact their actions are having on those around them.
Your company, the competition, business at general is all moving at one speed only – super fast – and to succeed you need to keep up, stay ahead or stay on top of things, and it is hard work. You are expected to grow or reinvent yourself to improve productivity and your work day has been stretched to 12, 14, 16 hours, but there still isn’t enough time to get everything done.
Technology changes faster than we can keep up, and because we don’t understand it, and cannot fix it when it goes wrong, we feel helpless and angry. It is easy to work yourself into a frenzy of frustration, while being more aware of the work piling up as you do so.
Being overly busy – or more accurately, being in a frenzy of activity, results in us being tired and less creative. Business fills our minds. We get overwhelmed and lose track of where we are going as we get so caught up in the tasks at hand with no way to relieve the pressure.
We become overly stressed and start focusing on only a few aspects of our lives – whether it is finishing a project, earning more money or dealing with a difficult relationship. Being so focused makes it hard to see the wholeness of life, and this can also mean missed opportunities.
If your head is always down at the desk then you may not see the perfect answer walking past. And it is hard to be creative and find alternative solutions when you are stressed and focussed.
Focussing too long and hard on one thing is likely to bring up negative feelings towards the issue and your life. This can be the start of a downward spiral – a journey that, once started, is difficult to stop – and the result is more negativity. Once in this state, the demands of life feel much heavier, and with this heavy weight on our shoulders, we lose the ability to reframe the situation. We lose all perspective, and “can’t see the wood for the trees”. Our judgement is impaired, our patience wears thing, we see everything as another challenge to overcome “as if I don’t have enough to do”.
We lose all sight of the end goal, we stop thinking proactively and go into reactive mode. Our clarity in thinking and in our vision is impaired, and we focus on how much we have to do rather than on moving forward and achieving results. Stepping back occasionally breaks that focus and has many benefits.
Would you ever drive your car for years without changing tyres, giving it a service or an oil change? What about an animal such as a horse – would you ride it all day without giving it a rest? Of course not - after all, that would be foolish, wouldn’t it? When you don’t take care of things, initially they may be slow to respond; they may slow down a little or maybe need some gentle coaxing to work, but in time, they just wear out. For a machine, a replacement part might extend the life of the product for a while, but if not kept in good condition, they eventually stop working altogether. In that condition, they are of little or no use to you. It’s the same for us. If we don’t take time out to “recharge our batteries”, we cease to be of use – not just to ourselves, but to those around us, too. How can you take care of someone else if you live in self-neglect?
So when is the last time you just sat and did nothing? Or watched a sunset in a quiet place? Or stopped and really listened to a piece of music? Unfortunately, doing things like that is uncommon in our busy lives. There are so many things we believe we ‘need’ or ‘have’ to do that we don’t take time to recharge ourselves and just stop occasionally. Shouldn’t there be more to life than rushing around and doing things every second of the day?
When you remain absolutely calm in the face of difficulties or frenzied activity, life responds. Clarity of mind, which comes from mental calm, will move you towards that even keel of inner peace and success. Calm works wonders. If we stop to reflect, we know that we are at our best when we are calm – and at our worst when we react hot-headedly. We all know that calm leads to greater effectiveness.
When was the last time you stopped to smell the roses? To really take in the beauty of the environment in which you live? When was the last time you walked on the grass, sat under a tree, did meditation or a yoga class? Taking time out of your hectic schedule to do something for you is not being indulgent. It’s a necessity.
Perhaps you feel you don’t have the time. In fact, time is all you have. Use it to create the space that allows you to let go of all the worries and responsibilities that are causing you stress. When you feel rushed, running from one appointment to the next, with your emails and voicemails piling up - STOP. Take time out. Switch off the mobile phone.
Rather than focusing outward on “solving the problem”, get connected to your body and your inner power. Take a deep breath. Accept that you can’t control events, the decisions of others, obstacles that arise or time itself. And remember that your outside world doesn’t have to equal your inside world. You can control your internal emotional experience. You can control “what is”. And suddenly, you will see solutions that previously were hidden from you and opportunities that you would otherwise have missed.