We live in a time when the most often phrase I hear my friends utter is,I AM SO BUSY or, I don’t have any time. I wish I had time to slow down. I am exhausted or I am doing too much.
I was on a flight from Atlanta to Portland, Oregon in the end of June, and the gentleman beside me started to peel an orange. The fragrance that tiny orange gave off was so powerful, with its delicious citrus aroma, and refreshing orange scent that it made people start asking what the smell was. I thought to myself, has it been so long since they have taken a moment to smell real food that the smell of an orange seems foreign? I wondered, Have we become so busy we have forgotten how an orange tastes as its fruitiness bursts in your mouth when you eat it. Of course, at the airport much of the food we grab is processed, and many travelers may not get anything to eat at all at the airport.
That orange made me think life is the same way- we are so rushed from one activity and commitment to the next we forget to actually allow ourselves the time to taste the food we are eating, and smell the freshly bloomed flowers in our garden bed as we rush out the door to the car. Or to see our friend is struggling, even when they tell us they are doing fine.
Wait a minute. How did I get here? I do not remember growing up at such a pace, so when did this happen? Was it when I took my first real adult job? Or was it after I had kids? Was it once I realized I was not getting younger and had something to prove? Is it because we are bombarded with messages in society that tell us we need to have it all: more money, more things, that keep telling us our kids won’t be successful if they aren’t booked with activities and extra academics every day?
Or was it once our phones, those tiny smart computers took over our lives, and made their way into our bedrooms, our kitchens, and into our hands every moment we aren’t holding onto something else?
As I think back, I think the messages began as a child, mostly during my early teen years and into my twenties, feeling I had to prove something. That I had to show everyone I was just as capable and able to get the job and do it better than someone else? Or as the guys were? I don’t know if that stems from my personality, coming up the first girl after three brothers, or being female?
But with the take over of the smart phone life, came a whole different set of issues. Having a computer in my purse or pocket has changed my habits and probably yours as well. Now I find myself staring at the phone thinking what do I need to check? Should I post something? When I read facebook or instagram posts, and then try to decide if I will post something, I realize I am mentally going through a check list- is this post worthy, is this a good photo, and need to put thought into what I post. What? What has happened? I have gotten sucked in, addicted if I must admit. And posting to social media is taking real mental energy away from my daily efforts and honestly it can feel exhausting.
This is when I decide I need to be intentional with how often I use social media every day, and have blocks of time each day I do not use it, and a no electronics day each week and a disconnected time each year. This is when I realize I need to stop listening the the repeated messages that society keeps looping that say we need more of everything. I am done. We do not need anything but love, kindness, time together and a helper spirit after we have the basics covered. We need to go back to simpler days.
The thing is I work on my computer and smart phone- I am a digital girl with a digital job in a very real digital world. So it will be a struggle. The thing is I love all the things that are not digital even more than my love affair with the world of pixels. I love baking, the smell of fresh baked cookies and lemon zest, I love sitting reading a book, one with ink printed on the newsprint, that I can feel as I flip to the next page, and I love sitting with a glass of wine over a meal with a girlfriend, and riding my bike to the park,as the wind plays with my hair, to meet friends so the kids can play as we did so long as- out in the open field, among the trees and sticks, and playground sets.
And on the days I fully embrace using my hands to create a meal, or write a thank you note, or make my coffee in a french press, I feel alive and happy. I remember each of those times, I need to resist the urge to pick up my phone because in that moment it is easier to stay busy with my phone than sit with myself in the quiet stillness. You see, I don’t mind being by myself at all, but to spend more than a moment in stillness takes practice, and purpose. And sometimes I lack both of those things.
And we need to be accountable for the choices we make. We cannot continue to say yes to everything we are asked to do. We cannot say yes to every activity our child wants to participate in so he or she won’t miss out. It will crush us, slowly one commitment at a time.
If we allow our lives to be filled with too may things, we do not have time to cherish our loved ones, or to slow down and fill ourselves back up. To be honest, I think many of us are not being honest with ourselves, we are worried we will miss out on something great, or some opportunity we should seize, but the truth is by saying yes to it all, even when we know deep down it’s too much, or no longer a fit for us, we are setting ourselves up for an unfulfilling, exhausting life.
It has got to stop. We will be healthier, and emotionally more stable, and happier when we decide to make changes to our lives day in and day out and fill it with meaningful things instead of just letting everything in our front door.
Here is what I have begun doing to try and refill my tank and live a life that fills me up rather than depletes me.
10 Ways to Live Intentional
1. Write Down What Brings You Joy
Most of us have people, animals, work, or things that bring us joy but when we are overly busy we often forget about the good things in our lives. Start a journal or list and write down the things that bring you joy. You can do one big list and pull out the list regularly or you can add to this list every day or week. The purpose is to remind ourselves of the things already in our lives that are joyful. And reflecting on those things regularly will allow us to become more aware of the joy in our lives, especially when we are depleted and tired.
2. Write Out Your Family Goals
Without direction and coordinates, a ship would never reach it’s intended destination. Well life is the same way, if we stay on autopilot and allow life to happen, we will never reach a particular destination or goal. If we want to live intentionally and accomplish certain goals or focus on a certain way to live we need to determine our goals and move towards them.
I recommend starting with a few sections for your family goals:
Goals for Each Child, Goals for Each Adult, Goals as a Family, Goals for this Year, Goals for the Future.
Basically you should fill things like: Goals for my kids: I want my kids to have a strong faith life, I want my kids to have responsibilities in the home and learn how to care for themselves, their home, and how to budget before they are 16. I want my kids to have a summer job by or before they are 16. I want them to begin volunteering regularly by the time they are 13.
3. Plan Your Year/ Assess Last Year
Make a List to determine the activities, family outings, church events, opportunities that you did last year and rate them with how worthwhile they were to your family or children. Would you do it again? Now make a list of the things you want to do this year. For example, my boys are now 10 to 14 and I feel fitting in more weekends camping is a good use of our time- it gets us away from everyday distractions and spending time together outdoors and doing active things the kids will always remember. Helping at events like a Soup Kitchen or the Food Bank are memorable and good community efforts we want to keep doing and honestly do more regularly. Several years ago two of our boys participated in Boy Scouts, which I think teaches so many great things, but it was not a fit for us moving forward or a top priority so we had to cut it. For you it might be karate after your son or daughter has reached a certain level or it could be limiting the number of sports to 1 per season. But I find without a list of the things we want to do, individually or as a family unit, we will miss the opportunities.
We start deciding when we will go camping in the Spring for the rest of the year. We mark off the weekends we will go so that nothing else gets planned those weekends.
4. Write Down What You Are Grateful For
This one could be combined with 1- write down what brings you joy. However, I find keeping a gratitude journal or notebook and regularly writing in it will help you see just how blessed you are. Even when life might be tough, and you may be struggling in your marriage, or fighting a serious medical condition, or the loss of a loved one, reflecting on the things you have to be grateful for can really put life into perspective. Start small, start with writing down one thing you are grateful for each week. If this is difficult for you, don’t worry, it will get easier over time. You could put you are grateful for your daughter, or your pet, or your bible. You could be grateful for a conversation with a neighbor- it can be anything, even the smallest gesture or moment. There are no right answers. And remember this is only for you no one else.
5. Be Creative or Use Your Hands Daily
This one is very important to me. In order to slow down, to get touch with our thoughts, and experience more fulfillment you should do something you enjoy or challenges you daily. For me, cooking or baking something, especially a new recipe is cathartic for me. Kneading dough, or chopping veggies, smelling the onions sauteing- they bring me back to the moment, to right now, and if I allow myself, I remember that in making the meal, I am serving others, I am nourishing them. I also enjoy gardening, writing, taking photos and redesigning an area in my house. What I know is this, when I disconnect, when I slow down and just focus on something where I am thinking or using my hands (such as playing a game of chess with one of my boys, or cooking) it allows me to be in the present moment, not rushing, or moving towards where I have to be in 45 minutes.
6. Limit Your Smart Phone and Social Media Usage
This one is so important. Real life happens when we connect with other people. The best place to do that is in person. And most people find they feel worse after going on facebook too often, it becomes a comparison trap, a wow look at them, they look so happy. You can control how and when you use social media, or Dr. Google by limiting your use of it. Just set your smart phone down, or your tablet and meet a friend for tea, or go on a walk with your spouse. Go play with you kids, or read a book for 15 minutes. You will find you have more meaningful relationships and time when you put the devices down. And your mood will improve. Knock on a neighbor’s door, invite them over, call a friend, schedule a lunch date with your husband, go to the park with your kids. Just do something offline.
Set hours you plan to stay off of social media and your smart devices. For instance, maybe dinnertime and bedtime, from 6pm to 9pm. And pick a day you will limit or turn off your devices to get a break from it. Sunday is the day I strive to limit my usage so I can focus on faith, family and friends- on outings and spending time together.
7. Spend Time Praying/Meditating
I ebb and flow with this one. I have seasons where I read scripture daily or participate in a bible study, that I pray through out the day, and honestly I have seasons where I get away from the structure and pray and study scripture less regularly. When this happens, I see the impact in my life. I become more easily frazzled, and feel less grounded. I need to have daily time in study and prayer. For some it may not be prayer, but meditation. Find what grounds you, what helps focus you, what helps center you and make time for it every day. It might only be 5 or 10 minutes each morning but even those few minutes of quiet, of reflection, and prayer can change the course of your day. If it’s important to you, find a way to make it work. And if you haven’t tried it try spending a few minutes in prayer and bible study- an easy way to get started is to download Proverbs 31 Ministries First 5 free app onto your phone and each day they have a short message and scripture to read and reflect.
8. Create a Life Plan
This might sound like a difficult or overwhelming task- to create a life plan, but if you use a template it is pretty easy to do, and you can always change it, edit it or add to it. It is sort of a living, changing vision for your life.
9. Create a List of Yes Activities
Keep a Running List of the Things that are important to your family and the things you want to say yes to. For example, you could have a list that includes: Say yes to: dates with my husband, individual dates with my boys, coffee with a girlfriend, bible study group, camping, volunteering to help children. And keep a list of things you that are not activities you want to spend time on. It could be saying no to outings that cost over a certain amount of money, or things that erode away at your religious values, or no to running any PTA committees because you already head one up or are already volunteering in two other areas. Just draw a line in the sand so you have a point of reference when people ask you to do something. Think of it as your guide to making plans.
10. Just Say No
In the end you have to be in control of your time and what makes it onto your schedule. One way to determine if an opportunity is worthwhile for you or your family, besides looking at your yes list, is to ask yourself a series of questions. A few I consider are: Will this opportunity bring me closer to my family, to God or to my friends? Does this opportunity allow me to grow personally or help others in an area I feel drawn to help in? Will this time away from my family, be a good use of my time, will it fill me up or drain me? Find questions that make sense to you and write them down. Usually you will be able to mentally decide if the outing, opportunity or invite fits in your life, but when you need to you will have the questions written down to help you say NO when you need to say No.
To live intentional you need a course for your life, and coordinates to help you get there. Start today to live a life that is full of beautiful moments spent with the people you love instead of rushing from one thing to the next with no time left for each other.
You can do this my beautiful friend,