There are three kinds of people in the world: those whose self-worth rests entirely on “doing”; those who can’t relax and play until they’ve “done their work” (the good old Puritan work ethic); and those who can relax and play at any time and never feel guilty! My husband fits the last category — in his book, “Any time is the right time for relaxing!” — while for most of my life, I have fit the first two categories. I’m very skilled at the “doing dance,” and up until about age thirty-five, I preferred to always be in motion. It’s alluring and affirming; after all, we are rewarded for output. Do you ever hear anyone say, “Can you believe how often she says no and takes time to just be? Wow, what a role model!”
I have a long way to go, but I’ve made huge shifts in the past ten years. I’m much better now about catching myself when the urge to “do” takes over.
One Saturday, I found myself in my house alone (rare and delicious!). For forty-five minutes, I wandered from room to room, not doing much of anything. Then I looked up at the clock and experienced a wave of self-criticism. There was so much stuff I had wanted to accomplish — and I was wasting this rare opportunity of being alone! I felt the sands of time sift through my fingertips as I raced through my mental to-do list — gardening, cooking and clearing out my closet — and would I really let this gorgeous, sunny day pass without a walk with my neighbor?
As each activity flashed in my brain like an overexcited contestant on The Price Is Right, I recognized that familiar sense of distraction and irritation. Instead of moving into action, I paused and let it subside. I realized what I really needed to do was nothing at all. So I grabbed an old picnic blanket, headed into our backyard, found the warmest, sunniest spot, and lay down on the cool, welcoming earth — slowly feeling a sense of peace return.
In her book Inner Peace for Busy People, mind-body expert Joan Borysenko says, “Remember — your to-do list is immortal. It will live on long after you’re dead.” But to-do lists are enticing. It’s as if they shout: “Look how much I’m getting done! See how much I can juggle!” The seduction of productivity is hard to resist.
The following questions help me come into balance with being and doing. I often ask myself:
• What day-to-day choices can I make to feel more grounded, relaxed, and focused? What can I do to live as intentionally as possible each day?
• At the start of each day, what can I do to feel more centered — such as pausing for prayer or meditation?
• What self-care activities will help keep me calm and add spaciousness throughout my day?
• What can I say no to — in both my professional and personal life?
• How can I support my husband and son in being less busy and what do I need to do to create more expanses of unscheduled time in our lives?
• Am I getting sucked into someone else ’s “busy-ness” and urgency, or am I staying true to what’s important to me?
For me, choosing to “do less,” has become a radical act of self-care and it’s helped me anchor back to the reminder, (from Angela, one of my favorite yoga teachers) “Are we here to be productive or to give and receive love?” *This post is a partial excerpt from my new book Nurturing the Soul of Your Family (2013).
INVITE: Want support for making your self-care a priority and learning how you can “do less,” experience more mindfulness and live in the now? Join us for our 6 week online experience The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal. Learn more (registration is rolling through Sept. 30th). And if you live in Austin, join us this Friday, 9, 27 at Soma Vida for my women’s one-day self-renewal retreat–a couple of spots just opened up!
Subscribe here to Live Inside Out, a weekly blog written by life balance teachers/speaker author Renée Peterson Trudeau. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping and numerous media outlets. Thousands of women in ten countries are participating in Personal Renewal Groups based on her first book, the award-winning The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal. Her newest release is Nurturing the Soul of Your Family. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and son. More on her background here.