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Playing canasta with my wife

November 18, 2011

Over the past two weeks I’ve been reminded of the importance of slowing down and giving your entire attention and focus to what’s at hand around your own well-being. Forget delivering innovative business models for clients, preparing a two-year cashflow up until 2am, or watching some Sky+ documentary on Peter Jones around the dna traits of successful entrepreneurs to blast a client workshop, I’ve realised there is another way.

I’ve always been an instant and immediate fan of living life to the full at full-stretch, but as from now in a s-l-o-w-e-r gear, feeling, tasting and touching the sound and colour, and not living life in go faster-forward mode 24/7. Getting to three score years and ten would be nice, I’ve decided.

First off, let’s get something straight, I’m not a ‘go slow and be cautious’ kind of bloke. I’m a hullaballoo ‘roadrunner meets speedy Gonzalez type’, the kind who walks fast, talks fast, reads fasts and has a bath fast, and challenges everyone to keep up. So slowing down doesn’t come naturally to me.  However, after having had a blood clot on my brain, it’s time to slow down, pay more attention to what I’m doing. Check-in and double-check.

At the risk of rambling (who, me?), let me set the scene: out walking the dog, pins and needles in the hand, lips go numb, lose my memory. Hmm. In the ambulance, into A&E, ten medical staff swoop upon me like the ultimate makeover, scans, scans and more scans. By this stage I can’t speak, can’t think, can’t count to 10….Then, 48 hours of absolutely brilliant intensive care – thank you Wendy and the team on Ward B2, Neurology Department, Blackburn Royal Hospital – and I’ve got my mind back – well, sort of . 48 hours later, I’m getting there, I can speak! 48 hours later I’m home. 48 hours, I’m back walking the dog.

I’ve been thinking a lot since then. Adopting a pace of life shown by the giant panda is now my favoured mode. For me, the month of November always meant misty, chilled mornings, crunchy leaves, conkers and squirrels in the back garden planting said conkers all over the lawn, but we live in a society that’s so fast-paced right now, it’s almost on hyper drive.  Think about it, people get ticked off if they have to wait in a drive through for more than three minutes! I’m convinced a lot of grief could be spared if we just learned to slow down and live completely in the moment (that’s my mantra now!).

So, I think to myself, do I know how to relax? Or, more accurately, do I know how to do nothing? Can I simply ease my way through a day without the pressures of a to-do list or that sneaking feeling that I haven’t completed something? I’m finding, more and more, that the little time I have just for myself has been infringed on by all my activities and events from work. As silly as it may seem, this makes me worry that I don’t know how to relax, that I don’t know how to occupy my time with only things that I want to do, not ones that I need to do.

Though these thoughts may seem frivolous, I think it’s important that we consider the ability to relax as an important issue. In our perpetually plugged-in on-line society, we have forgotten what it means to take time to rest and recharge completely. Relaxation has come to mean the equivalent of laziness. ‘Doing nothing’ has become a thing to avoid, a sign of failure.

But for me, I’ve had a warning that I need to slow down, so I think instead we should view doing nothing as a necessary balance in our life, to remind us not to overwork ourselves. Everyone needs time to unwind and let go of all the stresses that fill each day. If we let ourselves become overworked, then we lose an equilibrium we need in our lives. Just as there is time for work, there must be time for rest. I think we all need to return to the idea that work and rest complement each other; that to do one well, we must complete the other. So that’s my new manifesto!

Since the big positive changes in our lives can be just as stressful as the negative ones, dealing with stress can’t be simply a matter of getting rid of everything that stresses you out. Instead, you need to develop practices and a mindset that dissipate and reduce the inevitable stress of life itself. So, for starters:

  • Make quiet time: Whether you meditate daily, go to the gym three times a week, practice yoga, go hiking on the weekends, or just spend an hour a night with a book, you need to create a space where you can clear your mind of everything that’s dragging at you. Hug a Kindle!
  • Stop procrastinating – you can put off important tasks, but you can’t put off worrying about them, and the stress that causes. It’s good to do nothing now and then.
  • Priorities: Figure out what in your life actually needs attention and what doesn’t. Know what you can easily let slide, and what you can drop entirely and focus your energy on things that will make a difference in your life.
  • Accept interruptions gracefully: Don’t let your rituals become so rigid that you can’t function if they’re interrupted. Leave yourself enough wiggle room to adapt to changing conditions.
  • Pay attention to yourself: Notice when you feel stressed, and determine the cause. Notice when your body hurts or you feel unhappy, and determine why — I didn’t, I ignored it. Figure out whether the things you’re doing are fulfilling your own definition of a good, productive life.
  • Love: Build relationships. Share yourself. Make family time. Feel human warmth. What do you do to create authenticity in your life? How do you maintain balance between today and tomorrow and those you love?

This period has really made me think, always a good thing.  Like most people these days, I stay busy – and the times during the day when I’m not busy, the mind usually spends that time (all 10 minutes of it) thinking about what to do next.  I think we’re all pretty guilty of getting caught up in a mad crazy cycle.  We set this ridiculous pace for ourselves and watch as our health, and often even relationships, go flying out the window.  Then we have the audacity to wonder where they went.  We chased them off!

The best moments in life are the ones that happen when we aren’t trying to catch up to our expectations. Planting bulbs with an audience of the dog who insists on digging them up behind you, making flapjack with your daughter, singing out loud with the radio, reading Hermann Hesse then sleeping with one eye open……the list goes on, or rather it’ll go on as far as we allow it to, if we don’t get too busy with business.

I’ve come to the conclusion that sometimes the important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths. Now I’m not becoming a tree-hugger or filled with Zen like thinking – Zen does not confuse spirituality and the art of folding laundry or peeling potatoes on a daily basis – but we work hard so we can give our family everything they need, but ultimately they need us more than anything else.  And they need for us to be healthy – mentally, spiritually, physically and emotionally. Nothing we could ever give them could take the place of that.  If only we could realize that while there’s still plenty of time to un-do something about it.

So, got to go now, time to play a game of canasta with my wife.  I can’t beat her, it’s doing my head in – but let’s not go there again.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. David Tracey permalink
    November 18, 2011 9:45 am

    Ian,

    Great stuff, you are right about slowing down…. none of us not even the ex-MOB members are that important!

    DT

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