3 Ways to Slow Down and Soak it All In
I walked into my house on Sunday, grocery bags hanging from my arms, earbuds dangling from my head. I was busy and distracted as I glanced out the back window and saw my wife, Heather, sitting on the back deck.
Except it wasn’t Heather. It was my 7 year old daughter. And from the view I had, with her light brown hair pulled back in a ponytail, I mistook her for Heather.
This stuck with me because it’s the first time it’s happened. I guess I knew it was coming, but maybe not so soon – that moment where your child reminds you more of a teenager than she does a toddler. And it came at a time when I’ve been struggling a bit with the fact that I haven’t felt as dialed in as I should be as a father.
It’s not that I haven’t been spending a lot of time with my kids. I have. We work from home, and while our kids are in camp during a good deal of the summer, there’s often only a short window of time where Heather and I have time for focused, undistracted work during the day.
I’m not complaining about this setup – it’s one of our choosing and it allows us to be more free and flexible with our time. But, for me at least, it also creates a circumstance where I’m often straddling the line between work and family. Never fully engaged, and never fully withdrawn. Busy working and parenting, but not feeling like I’m doing either very well. Time and attention are not the same thing.
It’s easy for me to dismiss these feelings. I rationalize that my busyness is just a phase, and that there’s a light-filled gateway over the horizon that will lead to a more balanced existence. “It’s a tough age with the kids,” and “Work is just really busy right now,” are things I tell myself. I just need to get through this period, I delude myself.
And then moments happen, like mistaking my daughter for my wife, that make me realize that the passage of time is not what cures the problem, it’s what exacerbates it. Instead of recognizing that busyness is a numbing behavior used to suppress an underlying problem, I elevate it to a badge of honor and hide behind my “To Do” list.
Enough. Time goes too fast. Life marches on whether you’re living reactively or intentionally. Too often I find myself busy without a particular cause. Only two weeks left before school starts up here in Michigan. Time to hit pause.
Pause for Self-Care
Having been through this before, I’ve come to learn that giving more of myself to my family starts with taking better care of myself. If I’m not in a good place, then I can’t be there for them either. I have a tendency to fall victim to “superhero syndrome” – a belief that I can do everything and just power through. But of course I can’t and cracks begin to form.
It’s at these moments, when it feels like the answer lies in doing more, that it’s most important to pause, reflect, and take care of yourself first.
It may sound paradoxical that the key to being a better parent, spouse, sibling, or friend is to focus more on yourself. Remember, though, that the objective is not merely spending more time with those we care about, but more quality time.
We all have different ways to recharge, refuel and reboot. For some it’s climbing a mountain. For others it’s sitting quietly and meditating. For still others it’s a raucous weekend away with friends.
Here are three things that help me hit pause and get a better grip on things when busyness takes over.
Making Sure My "Buckets" Are Full
Jonathan Fields wrote a great book called How to Live a Good Life, in which he encourages readers to keep their “Good Life Buckets” full. The buckets include Vitality (focus on mind and body), Connection (focus on relationships) and Contribution (how you contribute to the world). As Fields explains:
“The goal with the Good Life Buckets is simple. Do something every day to fill each one. Keep all three as close to full as possible. The nearer any one bucket gets to empty, the more pain you feel. All three run dry, you die. Figuratively, and literally. This model, simple as it sounds, is fiercely effective, practical and powerful.”
The point is that every decision we make, or fail to make, has consequences. Too much focus on one thing, means not enough on something else. Understanding that my ability to develop relationships and make a positive contribution is dependent on my ability to stay vital and healthy seems obvious, but it’s a reminder I need to keep top of mind.
Finding New Adventures Outside
When I’m sitting at home, with my phone and computer nearby, it’s very easy for me to focus on what’s happened in the past, or is going to happen in the future. But when I’m outside, walking a trail or watching a sunset, it’s nearly impossible to be anywhere but in the moment. For me it’s the chance to take a breath, decompress, and get back to taking care of my family with the knowledge that I’ve taken a few moments to take care of myself, too.
Despite its many benefits, I’ve struggled to making journaling a consistent habit. It’s something I typically come back to when I’m trying to sort things out in my head. Journaling helps me to do a brain dump – I write down everything on my mind until there is nothing left. When I’m busy, my mind races with things I have to do, people I have to talk to, and places I have to be, leaving little room for much else. Journaling helps to free and quiet my mind so I can relax, let go, and enjoy the moment.
There’s no silver bullet for busyness. It often creeps back into our lives slowly and insidiously. The key is to recognize it, and not become numb to it. After all, Labor Day weekend is only two weeks away.