Oftentimes, a frenzied pace takes over our days as we frantically attempt to squeeze chauffeuring two children to three different after-school-activities, grocery shopping, a stop at the ATM machine, picking up the shirts at the cleaners, returning library books, and a mad rush to ship a package before the Post Office closes. Simultaneously, we are fielding phone calls from seven or eight important people and an additional dozen callers of lesser degrees of prestige. Text messages and emails cause our Blackberries to beep nonstop as we juggle the lifestyle of a busy 21st-century parent.
Does it have to be this way? Does everything have to be rushed? When do we get a chance to slow down?
Despite the vast array of time-saving devices throughout our modern homes (I can count four on the kitchen counter alone), we find our time scarcer than ever before.
Curiously enough, the very wealthy among us- even the housewives who do not work- find themselves even more pressed for time than average people.
It seems that the more choices we encounter and the more options we view as available, the less free time we have available.
The very wealthy, who have housekeepers and gardeners at their beck and call, have far more choices than average people: Shall we travel to Paris on Monday or Tuesday? Should we schedule a stopover in New York on the way to California?
We in the 21st-century have options that our great-grandparents could not have fathomed in their wildest dreams: We can travel around the world, learn a new language or study for a new career in the comfort of our homes, and update all 532 Facebook friends of our status as each new item is accomplished.
Paradoxically, the more options we have in our lives, the more frantic the pace of life becomes, because we feel a virtually addictive need to do more, to see more, to learn more.
None of us can see all the sites in a metropolitan city in the US if we lived to be 200 years old, yet all of us feel the desire to see many of those sites, and experience an array of new adventures.
The fact remains that we are surrounded by a myriad of choices that beckon towards us intellectually, physically, and emotionally.
How can we slow down the frenzied pace of our lives within the society in which we live? Is it possible to stop and smell the roses every single day- not just during vacations?
I can recall my childhood friend’s mother, Michelle, who used to sit on the couch and read or chat with us while an apple or blueberry pie invariably baked in the spotless kitchen nearby. Michelle’s house was spotless, yet I never saw her clean. Her aura personified harmony, as she seemed to spend most of her time relaxing. I was always in awe of Michelle and her home, so vastly different from my own, where everyone was constantly in a massive rush! I wondered why Michelle was always so serene, why she had so much leisure time on her hands while everybody else complained about not having enough time.
Now, as an adult, I can look back and decipher the secret of Michelle’s tranquil existence. After years of trying my hardest to be efficient, I finally figured out what she knew, and learned how to apply that knowledge to my own life.
The secret lies in the ability to make choices.
Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families, states this concept as follows:
“The key to being proactive is remembering that between stimulus and response there is a space. That space represents our choice— how we will choose to respond to any given situation, person, thought or event. Imagine a pause button between stimulus and response—a button you can engage to pause and think about what is the principle-based response to your given situation.”
Every single one of the hundreds of choices that present themselves to us on a daily basis includes that special “pause” button where we can choose our responses.
Michelle’s special secret was to choose the things she wanted to do (like whip up delicious, quick, pies every afternoon) and to avoid all those other options that did not interest her.
In the past, if a friend were to call me and ask me to accompany her to an entertaining charity event on Sunday evening, I would have looked at my calendar. Upon finding that Sunday evening was blank, I would have acquiesced, and attended the event together with her.
Since discovering this secret to slowing down and enjoying a relaxed pace of life, I have a radically different mode of responding to my friend’s invitation. My first step is not to check my calendar, but rather to check my goals. What are the primary pursuits that I am attempting to accomplish at this phase of my life? Perhaps I have a self-determined deadline to finish writing my book, and I have decided that social encounters this month will be minimized to phone conversations, rather than lengthy in-person rendezvous. That being the case, I will turn down the invitation because it is not in line with my current goals.
Recently I had the opportunity to have a phone conversation with an incredibly accomplished, young entrepreneur we’ll call Laura. At one point, I thought of a fabulous idea that would mesh well with Laura’s business model, and shared my brainstorm with her. “It’s a good idea,” Laura responded, “But I can’t do it now, as it doesn’t fit into my 2010 goals.”
Laura’s response threw me for a loop for a quick moment. The idea was more than just fabulous; it was absolutely phenomenal! Yet Laura chose to run the idea through her mental checklist, and not jump upon the opportunity just because it was a great concept.
What separates Michelle and Laura from most of the harried, frenzied people in the world is their ability to recognize that we can’t have it all.
Of the thousands of choices we encounter each year, it is impossible to choose all of them. Saying yes to one activity automatically means saying no to another activity that is taking place simultaneously.
An ancient proverb that states, “You can’t dance at all the weddings.”
Having a multitude of choices is a blessing of our times, yet the blessing can turn into a curse for those that attempt to choose every option on the table.
Eating every delicacy at the buffet is a sure recipe for a stomach ache.
Equally important as choosing what we want to do, the goals we yearn to accomplish, is to choose which ones we are willing to leave by the wayside.
Michelle knew that she did not want to keep up to date viewing multiple TV shows, travel extensively, work herself to the bone in order to advance her career, nor enroll her children in multiple enrichment programs. She chose the activities that were important to her; creating a serene home, having homemade comforting food available for the family, and staying on top of the housework on a regular basis so that it never became actual work. Because she was able to forgo some subjects, she serenely controlled the affairs in which she chose to immerse herself.
The lesson is: If you chase two rabbits, both will escape.
Money, cars, jewels and clothing can always be acquired. On the other hand, once time has passed, it can never be recouped.
We all have limited time, energy, and ability to focus.
Time is a blessing; it’s the stuff that makes up life.
It was a sad day when I told my 10-year-old son that he could not join a 5-week soccer league. Yet, it was an essential step in maintaining my family’s sense of balance and purpose. (He was already enrolled in hockey lessons, a baseball league, and enrichment studies at the time!)
Sometimes we put tremendous pressure upon ourselves only because the choice is available.
How many times did I used to chop up a huge salad because the vegetables would go bad soon? How often did I rush to the library and miss tucking my children into bed because I wanted to avoid a $1.25 fee?
Now, I wonder: Why?
Why did I feel so pressed to make a massive salad on a day that I already had a headache, two imminent carpools, and a PTA meeting? Why didn’t I choose to freeze the almost-rotting vegetables for a soup on another day? Was saving one dollar and twenty-five cents at the library really worth the hassle of bundling up all my children and driving across town to the library, on four empty stomachs?
I’ve learned to ask myself an all-important question as I’ve slowed the pace of my life and learned to relax despite my busy schedule.
I call this question The Cockroach Factor:
The question is: What would happen if I did not do this?
In the evenings, as I stare at parts of my home which are in disarray, I ask myself, “What would happen if I did not clean up the living room?” And the answer, obviously, is that the books and toys will wait for me until tomorrow.
On the other hand, as I stare at the grimy kitchen and ask myself the very same question, the answer jumps out at me: Cockroaches and ants will invade my territory if I do not clean up the kitchen quickly!
Therefore, most evenings, I clean only the kitchen. The children can help me clean the rest of the house tomorrow- nothing else is nearly as important as keeping roaches out of my home!
I use the cockroach factor when I am invited to events or notice a sale on items I intend to purchase. Asking myself, “What would happen if I did not do this?” has diametrically improved the level of harmony in my home and tranquility in my mind. No longer do I fall asleep under the weight of yet another unfinished To-Do list.
Not only have I chosen the goals I’d like to achieve, I have made peace with the idea of choosing not to accomplish certain things. Time is an irreplaceable resource; I cannot squander it because elephants are on sale at the local fair for a quarter.
When I ask myself the question, “What would happen if I did not do this?” most of the answers look similar to this list below:
“I won’t save seventy-five cents on orange juice.”
“I won’t know what Joe Klein thinks about the war in Afghanistan.”
Just because the sale on juice is taking place around the corner, or Time Magazine arrived in my mailbox, does not make it mandatory for me to utilize my time in these areas!
It comes as liberation to many busy parents, to know that time belongs to us alone, and we are the sole determiners of its use.