A few weeks ago, I woke up and felt… nothing. My body seemed so far away from me. I wasn’t sure what emotion I was experiencing. Sadness? Frustration? Everything seemed a huge, strange blur. I was numb.
The day rolled on, but eventually, I broke down into tears. That day had really gotten to me, and the stress of everything poured out at last. I was worried about so many different things, I was restless, I was tired, I was overwhelmed, unable to concentrate…
This is the outcome of spending weeks at a time totally on edge. Trying to work my day job, my side hustles, deal with family, friends, a really negative living situation, a house move…
All in all, the rush to get everything done, to just be through that period of unease and endless lists of responsibilities, had taken its toll. I wanted so badly to get everything done that I forgot to take care of myself in the process.
After months of mounting stress, I’d suddenly found myself just dumping all of it. I let the thousand things I was carrying crash to the floor.
Afterwards, I felt better.
Slowly, one at a time, things came off the list. I realised that the mounting worries had seen themselves through. Most things were either dealt with, or I was just too tired to keep rushing around, acting on everything at the same time. I realised something important:
The dangers of a rushed life seem obvious when you step back, but easy to miss in the moment.
Without noticing the way we rush around to just ‘get things done’, we can so easily slip into a life that’s barely present. The rush ends up taking over; we get nothing but numbness, in order to be able to continue.
I don’t want to live a numb life. I showed myself that months or years can go by that easily, without even realising. How could I stop that from becoming my story?
What’s stopping me from a slow and steady life?
You’re taking on too many things
I am such a sucker for adding hobbies and interests to my life. I’m the ultimate over-estimator of my time — like many of us, I assume I can get 1000% more things done than is actually possible in any given time slot. Instead of allocating myself 1–2 tasks that could be done within the day, I allocate 10–15 and fail at most of them. Then I berate myself for that failure.
Some tasks are small, some are large, not all of it can get done in one day. But many of us who have grown up in developed Western nations will have this idea that time is against you – productivity requires us to keep on pushing pushing pushing towards more more more. Is that true productivity?
Excuse me for a moment while I put my anarchist hat on, but screw that capitalistic nonsense.
We’re humans, and we can only do a limited number of things at a time. Taking on more in order to ‘look busy’ and therefore ‘successful’ is almost entirely meaningless if we feel horrendous in the process.
To quote my favourite show of all time, Parks and Recreation:
Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.
Ron had it down. Time to subtract and lean in to those really key items on the list.
You’ve assigned yourself all the responsibility
I wrote recently about my therapist, who was the first person to make me do the pie chart exercise. In this exercise, she asked me to list everyone involved in a situation I found stressful.
Everyone I could think of, who might have some control or effect on the scenario.
In my case, the scenario was ‘finding a new home’. In that scenario, there was an agent, my former landlords, my future landlord, my partner, my ex-flatmate, all of whom had a bearing on the result of when and where I would be moving to.
It turned out that, once I’d allocated them all a percentage of responsibility over the situation, that the percentage left to me to be responsible for…was only 7%. I had 7% of the responsibility over the scenario. It felt like 97%.
It felt heavy because I automatically assumed all that responsibility. In a scenario where it absolutely isn’t just me involved.
By assuming all that pressure, I made my to do list ten times longer than it had to be. Because I was somehow going to manage all the potential factors that could go wrong, even though I couldn’t possibly have any influence over many of them. But mentally, I’d assumed that load anyway.
Making it impossible to take things slow.
All that pressure and that exponentially increasing to do list meant I was definitely rushing around far more than was necessary.
So take a look at what’s burdening you: how much of it is really your responsibility? Who else is involved? And once you’ve asked that question, it might be time to realise that…
You haven’t learned to ask for support
As a perfectionist and an overachiever, I am loathe to ask for assistance. Party out of ego, thinking I can do everything better myself, and partly because it always seemed like a weakness to need help.
Again, this is ridiculous.
If we can’t be responsible for every facet of everything we have to do (and we probably can’t) then it might be worth recognising when we actually need to ask help of those around us. This might be hard to recognise if there are other parties already involved who are definitely leaning back, out of responsibility. If someone is not forthcoming, it might be time for you to make them realise they could help out, rather than seething in silence because they haven’t realised.
Living at this modern pace, we also need to learn to recognise when we just can’t get it all done by ourselves. And it’s not saying you should allocate away tasks that really are just for you, but rather that we should recognise when we are overwhelmed or just don’t have the tools/time to do it all.
We are allowed to ask for help.
You are taking on things that don’t really matter
Another error I routinely make is the error of assigning myself 10 tasks, most of which are not that important. There will usually be only 1–3 tasks on that list which are really important to me and my values.
Determining what’s actually important to you in life is never straightforward. But making every molehill into a mountain doesn’t quite seem right. How many of the extra busy-activities in your schedule would impact you negatively if you just, say, stopped doing them?
It might be worth trying.
This extends to relationships that are no longer healthy or satisfying too. This is really a challenge – I have found it almost impossible to recognise and detach from toxic relationships. But if you find yourself dreading that Tuesday night catch up with so-and-so because the encounter leaves you drained, ask yourself why.
Some relationships are simply more important and more valuable than others. It’s worth focusing in on them, rather than buying into the social media-bred notion that having 1000+ “friends” (with whom you share almost nothing) is a great idea. It’s not a great idea.
You are not obliged to keep on giving until you are spent. Establish what really matters to you – where your joy comes from, what makes you feel excited, or curious, or energised. Focus on those things.
We just can’t possibly do it all.
A summary on the value of slowness…
Life doesn’t have to be about speed. Those people who have ticked off every box on their list of life achievements by age 21 are great, and all power to them. But for most of us, it takes time, thought, and dedication to achieve what we really care about.
A deep connection with someone must be cultivated. An accomplished piece of art must be given attention and dedication. A life that is more about the moments we cherish than the checkboxes we’ve ticked calls for a different pace, a different focus.
- “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.”
- Re-assign responsibility appropriately.
- Ask for help when you need it.
- Focus on the things that matter to you, not society at large.
Slowing down takes practice in a world geared towards toxic productivity. Let’s find the courage to do less, and do it with pleasure.
Where are we all rushing to?