For many of us, life seems to dash by at breakneck speed. Like a game character jumping through hoops, solving puzzles and facing challenges, it can sometimes feel as if we are being propelled forward with little agency or control, thoughtlessly rushing from one thing to the next; then realising that months have disappeared and we’re not entirely sure what we’ve done with them. Luckily, however, we don’t have to rely on someone else to press pause and give us some much-needed breathing space – we can do it ourselves.
These are just a few of the ways we can empower ourselves to put everyday life on hiatus, and enjoy a moment or two that’s entirely our own.
Meditate at least once a day
Meditation has an extraordinary number of benefits, and is recommended for everything from alleviating anxiety to improving our creativity. A hugely important yet often overlooked benefit, however, is that at the most basic level it gives us some time to ourselves. By committing to 25 minutes where we simply aren’t allowed to take phone calls, sort out lunch for our kids, get stressed reading the news or scroll through emails, we are giving ourselves much needed “time out.”
While benefits like reduced anxiety and improved performance are key to a meditation practice, it also gives us the discipline to not constantly engage with whatever flighty worry our brain throws at us. And what’s more, it teaches us that it doesn’t matter how urgent something seems or how busy we think we are, there’s always time to take a breath and withdraw from everyday cares – which is an extremely powerful lesson.
Plan periods of rest
In the past and in many cultures, a “day of rest” was codified in religious law. While this can still be surprisingly strict in small pockets of society (for example in traditional Jewish communities), somewhere along the line the idea of setting aside a day to rest was lost to the majority of us. Work takes up a huge amount of our time, and once that’s finished, we have everything else to contend with. The result is that it can be surprisingly difficult to slow down, because there’s always another chore, commitment or social engagement to attend to.
The best place to start is to plan periods of rest – even if it means putting them in your diary a week in advance, and deliberately turning down invitations or obligations during that time. You may have to call in support to make this possible, but there’s nothing wrong with asking for help. For example, if you plan to rest on a Monday afternoon, you may arrange for a family member or partner to take on the responsibility of picking up the kids from school on that day, and return the favor another time.
You also have to be strict with yourself, to make sure you don’t find yourself thinking “oh, I’ll just sort out a couple of things on my to-do list.” If you find it difficult to switch off, try leaving the house and going somewhere you find relaxing, like the beach or cinema; or commit the time to a restful task you really enjoy. You might love cooking, and could spend that Monday afternoon leisurely preparing an elaborate meal. Or perhaps you could spend the time journaling, walking or painting – as long as it’s something you love, but don’t usually get enough time for.
Remember that not everything needs to be productive
Sometimes we have to remind ourselves, in a world where our day is so dominated by the idea of being on the clock, that not every action has to be productive. In fact, it’s perfectly acceptable to while away time doing things that aren’t productive at all. We place so much value on efficiency – to the point where even our sleep needs to become “optimized” – that we completely miss the main point of life: to have a nice time, and try to make sure other people are having a nice time as well.
This doesn’t mean you can’t have goals, of course, or want to achieve things. But it also doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be busy 24/7, and work flat out all the time. We’d still be ploughing fields with oxen and working 16 hours a day if we hadn’t invested thought in how to make our lives easier, and fought for our right to leisure time. Rest isn’t only important; it’s completely necessary to our wellbeing – and you could argue, when you look at all the repairs our body is busy with when we’re at rest, that being unproductive is actually a very productive way to spend the day.
While there is value in hard work and pushing yourself, there’s equal value in saying “you know what, today I’m doing exactly what I want to do.” Getting over the mental block that tells us there’s always something we need to be stressing about is a vital factor in hitting the pause button. And with rest at the top of our to-do list, life in general will suddenly feel just that little bit more chilled.
Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Holly Ashby. Holly is a wellness writer who works with Will Williams Meditation, a meditation centre that teaches a form of transcendental meditation in London, and has written extensively on the benefits of meditation. Will Williams’ (the founder of Will Williams Meditation) first book The Effortless Mind is now available, and explores the inspiring stories of people overcoming issues such as poor mental health through the practice of meditation.