Life can feel full-on sometimes can't it? I know my life can! We can feel out of control with the demands of our work (or the pressures of looking for work), the demands of our family, the demands of others - our world is very demanding! We can also demand a lot of ourselves (anyone else set themselves ridiculously high expectations?)
I've just returned from a great family holiday, and as we've been travelling I've been musing on holidays, rest and busyness. If you're like me, it can take time to switch off from whatever mode you've been in before you take a break. Maybe it's work-mode, with the problems and issues of our business clamouring for our attention in the back of our heads. Maybe it's mum-mode or dad-mode, where we've been hard at work dressing, feeding, delivering, collecting, raising, cleaning, controlling our kids. Whatever mode we've been in, it's no easy thing to just flick a switch - much as we'd love to be able to switch off immediately from whatever has been holding our attention.
Something I've noticed in myself at times and observed in others is a tendency to just try and make it to the next break, to the next weekend - always anticipating the next time we can flick the switch to "off" and give ourselves a rest. Of course one of the problems this poses is that we can place too much pressure on our "off" time which can subsequently be a disappointment. We can also miss what's going on around us in the day to day (something I mentioned in my last post).
It seems to me that our culture always expects us to be living at 90mph, always sprinting to the next milepost, to the next goal. Of course it's no bad thing to achieve things, but we do seem as a culture to have an obsession with measuring things, of recording progress, of comparison.. perhaps all stemming from an underlying unease or dissatisfaction with who we are or where we are at the moment.
If you've ever been on a car journey with kids of almost any age you will be familiar with the (endless) back-seat loop of "are we there yet?". But even as grown ups we can be guilty of being destination-focussed, goal-focussed and missing out on the enjoyments of the journey to get there. Since we've had a sat nav I've found myself on certain journeys being obsessed with how many miles are left, and what our anticipated arrival time is. I find myself racing the sat nav, seeing how much I can reduce the arrival time, and taking great satisfaction in proving it's predictions wrong! (This is not something I endorse by the way, although it is a guilty pleasure of mine). If we're fixated on the next destination - the weekend perhaps, or our next holiday - then what's going on around us can become a nuisance, something we put up with, something we endure instead of enjoy.
If you've ever watched the swimming on TV you may have noticed that the competitors don't tend to take many breaths - they'll race the 50m or 100m with barely a gulp of air.. similarly with track sprints, breathing slows you down, it's all power, power, power. Life can feel like that at times when we're sprinting from destination to destination.
But if we're always sprinting then the lactic acid of life can also easily accumulate and force us to stop. I've seen too many colleagues, friends and family burn out over the years. So how do we avoid the lactic acid of life and live at a sustainable pace? How do we shift from being destination-focussed to enjoying the journey we're on?
Well, I think slowing down has a lot to do with it, and getting into a good rhythm. Some years ago I decided that I wanted to get into triathlon - but one problem was that I couldn't do front crawl very well. At all really. It was all about the breathing - I just couldn't seem to get this right. So I decided to take some swimming lessons (somewhat embarrasing being in my mid-twenties at the time, but sometimes you've just got to swallow your pride instead of the pool and get back to basics). Painstakingly I built my front crawl stroke up from scratch, doing drills to practice each element and then carefully, slowly, assembling the whole.
Even after I'd mastered breathing (or at least stopped swallowing most of the pool), it took some time to build up my swimming fitness - I had to slow my pace right down to be able to complete the mileage I needed for completing a triathlon (1500m for an Olympic distance race). For quite some months I thought I'd never be able to achieve it, but after finding a sustainable rhythm and building up my strength I did - and I'm proud to have completed, even enjoyed, numerous triathlons since.
My point is that we need to find time to breathe - to flick the off switch - more regularly. Short intense sprints are ok in the short term, but in the long run we need a more sustainable rhythm. There aren't any set answers to this I don't think - what the off switch means to everyone will be different, but it's important to find ways to recharge, to take deep breaths, in our daily lives in some way. This might be taking a walk, watching a film with your loved ones, turning off the tv and playing a game, choosing to leave work on time. Whatever this is, choosing to slow down will get you further in the long run.
Recently I've been re-watching a favourite documentary series of mine, "The Long Way Round", where two friends motorbike overland (as much as possible) from London to New York. In the first few episodes they are very destination focussed, meticulously planning their trip, training and then obsessing about the mileage they need to cover each day. But after a while they begin to immerse themselves in what's going on around them - forgetting about the destination and taking great pleasure in the places they're passing through, the people they're meeting and the experiences they're sharing.
We ate out at a favourite restaurant in Naples, Florida last weekend - Pincer's Crab Shack. They've got a great sign there which states "free beer tomorrow" - and of course tomorrow never comes. It's a privilege to be on the journey of life - many people's tomorrows re taken away from them prematurely. As I've been musing on rest, I want to encourage us to take our eyes off our sat-navs, take our foot off the accelerator, and make the most of the moments we find ourselves in. Holidays can be great, weekends can be great, so can work and the spaces in between - but life is for embracing not enduring.