Choose your own pace: Tips for navigating a culture of busy.

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Often when I share with others that I help people to slow down and become more intentional in their day-to-day life, I hear a response that sounds something like this:

“I would love to slow down, but I can’t. There is really no time or space in my life for me to take the time I need.”

I get it. Life is busy. Raising kids, running a household, maintaining one’s health, being a good friend, excelling at work—they all take time, focus and energy and it can feel like we don’t have any control over the demands placed on us. But the truth is, regardless of how busy our life is, each of us has the power to make an intentional and deliberate choice about how we approach it.

We all have the power to choose.

So, if you are currently finding your life busy, overwhelming or exhausting, there is one important question you might want to ask yourself:

Where am I looking?

Now, I am not talking about the looking that involves seeing through your eyes. I am referring the kind of looking that happens inside ourselves. As humans, we are always scanning our environment and ourselves to pick up information that informs our actions and choices. This question, “where am I looking?” asks us to identify where we look to determine if we are on the right track, if our day has been a success.

Take a moment right now to think back to yesterday, last week or maybe even this past month. Think about the pace you set when you woke in the morning. What were your movements, your thoughts and the quality of your speech like? How would you describe your pace? Were you moving quickly or slowly? Was there a feeling of urgency or calmness? Were your thoughts quiet or rapid-fire?

Once you have taken some time to observe your pace, take another moment to consider this question: At what or where are you looking to determine this pace? (You might want to jot down your thoughts as they come to you.)

For some, their pace might be set by the desire to get everything done on their to-do list—to accomplish what they set out to do. Others might find that the sheer quantity of their commitments (work, family, exercise, etc.) compels them to move quickly during the day. Still others might be looking for the approval of others to know they have done “enough”.

So often in our modern world we are conditioned to look outward—toward everything that needs doing—to set our pace for the day. This outward turn can squash our feelings of self-agency and leave us believing we have little control over how things are unfolding. When in this place, we can hear ourselves saying, “there are just so many things to do in a day” or “my family/friends/spouse/work need me.” Allowing our pace to be set by the needs of the external world can feel like an endless and arm-numbing game of whack-a-mole.

But there is a choice. When we choose to look inward rather than outward, we become more in control of how we approach the things that need attending to. This doesn’t mean the to-do list disappears or we don’t meet our commitments. Rather, we consciously decide on a pace that allows us to better connect with what feels best for us in any given moment. This might show up as moving more intentionally while making breakfast in the morning, or taking an extra five minutes to enjoy your lunch in the sunshine that is streaming through your window. When movements become more intentional and awareness increases, the pace of our thoughts follows suit. Suddenly we are in control of our environment, not the other way around.

The practice

To practice looking inward, start by checking in with yourself. Ask, “how am I feeling?” and really listen to your response. If you have feelings of being rushed, stressed, anxious, overwhelmed, etc., it might be the perfect time to play with your pace.

Practices that support the inward turn:

  • Slow down daily routines. Eat breakfast, brush your teeth or clean your house at a slightly slower pace. Choose one task and be as mindful as possible while doing it. 
  • Move more slowly. Make slightly slower movements. The practice I use to recalibrate myself when things feel crazy in my life is walking at a slower pace. It can be done in the office, on the way to work, while walking the dog or even while grocery shopping (my favourite location to practice).
  • Talk more slowly. Practice choosing your words more carefully and allow more pauses between your thoughts.
  • Meditate. Take a few minutes every day to focus inward on your breath. A daily practice helps to build those inner pace-setting muscles that allow for greater control over how you experience your day-to-day. The more you practice, the more benefits you will reap

Start small. Try shifting your pace for just 5 minutes and take notice of any shifts that occur. 

We always have a choice

It is important to remember that we always have a choice, even in times when it feels like we don’t. Our pace—the quality and speed of our actions and our thoughts—is always in our control. Learning to calibrate and choose your pace based on inward information rather than outward demands is a powerful tool for navigating this fast-paced world we live in.

Peace, after all, is a inside job. 

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