Better Living

Living Life in the Slow Lane

You can't do everything, but you can do what matters to a life lived well
BY Mollie Donghia TIMEAugust 7, 2022 PRINT

A simple statement I’ve been reminded of recently is that we can’t do everything and expect to do everything well.

Our society prioritizes efficiency and productivity. Many work long days, fill every minute of their schedules, rush from one thing to the next, and create systems that allow for tasks to get finished faster.

I’ve been here as a full-time working parent, and have experienced for myself the demands of this pace of living.

However, there’s a paradox that comes from this fast-paced lifestyle.

This lifestyle can be inherently satisfying. Who doesn’t enjoy checking every item off their to-do list and having a calendar full of social events and meaningful commitments?

But we’re faced with an increased sense of time pressure and stress from the rigor created by that pace.

Stress levels and antidepressant use is on the rise; maybe part of the reason is the mad dash many of us live each day.

Pushing back against this fast-paced lifestyle is countercultural. When we take time to enjoy a hobby or allow our minds to relax, it can be seen as lazy or unproductive.

But living a slower pace of life shouldn’t carry this stigma when our intentions improve our health and bring greater purpose to our days.

Throughout the seasons of life, I’ve realized the importance of slowing down. I’m less stressed when I have fewer commitments and I can spend more time focusing on the relationships around me. I am also better rested when I prioritize sleep and good routines.

If you’re someone who feels as if life is moving at a speed that leaves you stressed and exhausted and are looking to simplify your life, I’d encourage you to consider sways to slow your pace of living.

Here are some practices that can help you enjoy life in the slow lane

Make a Daily 3-Item to-Do List

Don’t try to accomplish everything that’s possible in one day. When you achieve a few meaningful things, this boosts your motivation and allows you to keep the wheel turning without the risk of burnout. Prioritize by choosing the three most important tasks. Write them down as you begin your day and let the momentum of accomplishing these important items carry you through the rest of the day.

Take Up a Hobby—Just for Fun

Research shows that how you spend your leisure time matters to your health. Hobbies are beneficial in many ways—better physical health, greater longevity, increased sleep, a larger social network, and even improved performance at work. Even if you’re not great at it, find something you enjoy doing and stick with it.

Be Present With Those Around You

Having healthy relationships contributes significantly to your emotional well-being. When you choose to focus on those around you by taking a break from a device or busy schedule, you’re able to listen and observe as you gain a deeper sense of connection with them. I’ve found that making better eye contact and asking engaging questions help me to be more present with those I’m spending time with.

Take In Your Surroundings

Not only is it important to be present with those around you, but also with your surroundings. My husband takes our two young sons for a long walk each morning. He’s also chosen to avoid playing music or podcasts and instead enjoy the sounds of nature, interactions with neighbors, and the stillness of the morning.

Learn to Say ‘No’

For a people-pleaser like myself, I enjoy being able to volunteer and serve those around me by giving my time. Saying no can be hard. But there’s a limit to what I can take on without being burdened or stressed.

When we say yes to one good thing, we’re simultaneously saying no to something else. Choose your priorities and commit to doing them well. Being generous is one way of living that my husband and I strive to model for our children, but if we’re pushed to the brink of our limits, that’s when we need to take a step back and find a balance of what we can do.

Prioritize Quality Over Quantity

As earlier said, you can’t do everything and expect to do everything well. Prioritize what matters most and focus on those areas.

Take on fewer commitments and leave more margin in your week.

Read just a handful of blogs or news sites thoroughly, rather than saturating your mental capacity with an overabundance of ideas.

Own fewer items but choose those that add value—rather than clutter—to your life.

Follow fewer accounts on social media and make them ones that add encouragement rather than comparison.

Create More Than You Consume

It can be challenging to create and resist being a mere consumer, but it offers us rewards beyond our purchase power. We rob ourselves of a valuable gift when the answer to all of life’s problems involves spending more. The pleasures we get from consuming can never satisfy us. There’s an integral sense of competence and gratification from making, fixing, and improving things with our own skills and ingenuity.

I feel more appreciative for days when I make a home-cooked meal, light candles for the table, and invite my family to sit and linger over conversation.

I photograph my children to capture childhood memories, and then enjoy creating a gallery wall in our living room or photobook for my family to look at.

I write to express my thoughts and share with others how I believe living intentionally can be done.

Take a Day Off Each Week

Taking a day off of work and any “productive” pursuits each week allows us to reset ourselves mentally. In 2019, a study by the U.S. Travel Association found that 768 million vacation days went unused, with 55 percent of workers admitting that they didn’t take their allotted vacation days.

Taking a day of rest, or sabbath as referred to in several religions, means taking a meaningful break from the regular routines that you perform the other six days of the week. Mentally disengaging allows you to have less stress, fewer sleep issues, and greater job and life satisfaction.

The Benefits of Slowing Down

Living a slower, less hectic pace of life may mean fewer external accomplishments, but I guarantee you’ll go further.

If you’ve grown tired of the fast-paced lifestyle that our society promotes, let me encourage you to embrace life in the slow lane. Make a decision to focus on what’s most important and drop the rest. Let go of the desire to do it all. We’re humans with limits.

Life is about enjoying the journey, not just the destination. So make the journey one to remember, rather than busily rushing through life.

Mollie (and her husband, Mike) blog at This Evergreen Home where they share their experience with living simply, intentionally, and relationally in this modern world. You can follow along by subscribing to their twice-weekly newsletter.
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