Very recently, a week ago to be exact, I had a day where I felt frazzled, overwhelmed and not very happy with myself. I had several large projects on the go, and even though I was working on all of them as hard as I could, often staying up late, I couldn’t seem to get them done. I could feel tightness in my chest, I was frustrated but I couldn’t stop.
The truth was I had way too much on my plate but I couldn’t tell that. So I kept going, staying up late and getting more tired. One night I sat down to start practicing the piano at 1am! I just couldn’t seem to get to it earlier. And I will share a little secret with you – even though I am a fairly kind soul to others, ironically I can sometimes be very hard on myself. An example of this is that even though I was feeling stressed, instead of allowing myself to rest I was instead being super critical of myself.
I guess I am a bit driven in general. There is nothing like a deadline to really get me to work, and then I ramp up into what I call the “push and rush” pace to get it done. The pressure is often so intense that I lose track of the value of what I am doing until it’s over. It’s only then that I can realise it was successful, but the “rush and push” pace has a cost, and can leave me tired and depleted.
So on this day when I felt there was no time to stop and meditate, I meditated for 15 minutes. And it was only then that I realised I had far too much on my plate. Nobody could possibly do all I was trying to do. I heard an internal voice saying I needed to stop. At first I resisted, feeling I had to get all those things done or feel a failure if I stopped. But as the idea persisted and as soon as I gave myself permission to stop, I was flooded with an immediate sense of relief.
So I decided to slow down to a pace that was easy for me, no matter what that meant. Something had to go, and one of those was hard to do. But I realised I needed to let go of my plan to start my 90 day habit change program, at the end of September and instead start in January. Once I made that decision, I felt huge relief. I just needed more time and a slower, gentler, more enjoyable pace, what I am calling a “pace of grace”.
Since that day, and with the help of my daily meditations, I am making some changes as I practice this new skill of pacing myself. For those of you who have always taken life at a reasonable pace, this is nothing new.
But there will be others of you who like me, have gotten into habits of rushing, being stressed, stretched and vexed who will know exactly what I mean. Here are nine tips from my own baby steps that are making my own life easier. Feel free to respond and add your wisdom to the pile.
- Take the time to do one thing at a time: There is something peaceful and grounding just doing one thing at a time and doing it really well, whether it’s washing the dishes, or completing a work task. To do this, I find it helpful to disconnect from my internal critic’s voice, the one in the background that is always complaining, telling me no matter what I’m doing, it’s the wrong thing, it’s too late, it’s not good enough etc. Can anyone relate? Instead I just let myself be fully present with the task, and a big plus when it involves tidying is that a cleared space around me makes me feel good.
- Give yourself extra time to get to appointments: If you are always on time, you can just skip this point! But some people struggle with time keeping and I have to admit that I am one of them. So the change for me is allowing myself to arrive early or on time, instead of being rushed and stressed. This gives me a luxurious feeling of having so much extra time, and is another way to experience abundance, one we can give to ourselves at any time.
- Get into routines and rhythms that make your life easier. You might for example get into the habit of choosing your clothes for the next day the night before, so you can avoid that last minute panic when you can’t find your favourite earrings, or discover the clothes you plan to wear are sitting in the laundry basket waiting to be washed! I find putting things by the door that I need for an appointment helps me avoid forgetting things, such as a map or the address.
- Catch up on things you have been procrastinating on. When I feel overwhelmed, I also feel bad about all the smaller tasks that I haven’t gotten around to doing. They sit there undone and it weighs on me. Doing my taxes is one of those jobs that tend to make me anxious and I avoid doing. But ironically when I actually get down to the fairly humdrum job of categorising my receipts, I actually like doing it! So now that I have freed up some extra time for myself, I can gradually get these kinds of jobs done, and it is another way to feel good.
- Start a new habit of choosing the easier and simpler way. I have a tendency to always choose the hardest route, or the most complicated way of doing things. So when I give myself permission to do less and make it easy, I find it frees up a lot of my energy. I still have to remind myself it is not more virtuous to make things harder on myself, nor will a higher level of stress guarantee a higher standard necessarily!
- Do less for others! If you are a caring person as I am, this can be harder to do because caring for others is so automatic. It is about giving ourselves permission not to overextend towards others, to just do enough. If any overextension is done, let it be towards ourselves! One success I had recently was that I resisted the impulse to offer to iron my husband’s shirts as he packed for an important event. I could see they needed ironing but I didn’t volunteer. Instead I simply folded them up as he asked!
- Get enough rest and sleep: If you are a workaholic, sleeping may feel like a huge waste of time! But of course it is not, and it’s an important way to rest, repair and replenish your body as well as your brain. I am lucky that I don’t have trouble sleeping, but I am still working on getting to bed at a good hour, so as to to get enough sleep.
- Take time to eat, eat what your body wants and eat just enough, not too much. Many of us who are givers, carers and pleasers, tend to try to fill up our emotional tanks with food. It is often the one place where we can allow ourselves to give to self. The danger of trying to fill that empty place inside with food can mean we overeat, which leaves us feeling physically uncomfortable at the end of a meal. So eating just enough to feel comfortable is a way to be kind to yourself.
- Meditate and fill your own tank up. I try to meditate at least once a day which has helped me stay connected and resourced. Those of us who are givers need to constantly replenish what we have given out, so that we are giving from a full cup not an empty one.
So there you have it. I encourage anyone who tends like me to spend too much time on your work, and have very high standards (some people might call us workaholics, perfectionists or adrenaholics!), to try out some of these baby steps for yourself. And I would love to know how you get on and what are your tips for taking a “pace of grace” in your own life.