Social media circulate images of pretty young women looking dreamily into the middle distance whilst sitting in a window seat and holding a mug of tea. It’s easy to relate to a peaceful scene like this, but what does it really say? What does it take to actually simplify, and how can you apply this to your own life? How do you make space for your passion?
First, I’d like to hit you with a hard truth: Slowing down is anything but easy.
It’s one of those things people would rather die than admit, a bit like their addiction to their phone or social media. We think of these things as weaknesses and typical of shallow people who always chase the next high. Surely, we ourselves are more refined, looking for deeper meaning and savouring life?
The truth is that stress addiction is common amongst people of all ages, all social backgrounds and all levels of education and/or intelligence. In short, it’s got nothing to do with how well you’re equipped to handle your life.
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Why I failed at slowing down
This is something I found out when after years of working a full-time job as well as two businesses, I finally gave up the job and moved to Croatia. I had been dreaming of and longing for slow, blissful days of a perfect balance between work and my passions, as well as lots of rest.
Six months in, I noticed to my surprise that I was still stressed and short of time. I couldn’t figure out why – objectively, I was doing so much less! But the truth is, stress is an addiction. The way we live in our modern world, the way we are brought up and the ideals we are taught, all promote an adrenaline-fuelled lifestyle. By the time we’re adults, we’re adrenaline junkies.
I was perpetuating the stress because on some level, I needed it. It took more than just outward changes to overcome the addiction.
Make space for your passion: Be prepared
In order to actually slow down, you’ll need to be aware that it requires far more than simply “doing fewer things”. Therefore, these are the first steps to take:
1. Expect to be profoundly uncomfortable for a while. Being prepared for a hard time ensures you won’t be taken by surprise. You’re about to break an addiction, and those are known for putting up a tough fight.
2. Plan for a period of transition. Exactly zero people have gone from stress to zen in a week or two. Realistically, you’ll need at least 3 months to ease yourself into, well, ease. You’ll need reminders to make space for your passion.
3. Be 100% clear that you’re choosing to be the odd one out, the weird one, forever. Our world is not designed for the simple life. You’ll fly in the face of everything that makes this society tick, from the need to grow the economy (through consumerism and hard work) to bragging rights as a parent or feeling smug because of how much you’re getting done. Busy is equalled with successful in our world, and it hurts to be seen as a failure or weakling – don’t fool yourself into thinking you “don’t care what other people think” of you. It’ll hurt.
Make space for your passion: Make the changes
Once the above is in place, it’s time to actually take the plunge. Whilst each person’s situation is different, here’s a rough outline of the steps to take.
4. This is likely going to be a work in progress: Determine what changes you’re willing to make. It may seem easy for a single person to let go of things and activities, but are you truly prepared to do it? And what if you have children? Are you prepared to move your family to a rural area, to downsize on Christmas gifts and performance pressure in school, to really embrace a whole new lifestyle? Or would you rather just make some small adjustments? Be honest with yourself.
5. Put in place the changes you decided on, in whatever way is appropriate. You needn’t – and in many cases, can’t – do it all at once. Easy does it, and coming off the adrenaline high gradually might make the transition smoother. Have a lot of patience with yourself and those around you and don’t expect miracles.
6. This is the most important part, and the one most people forget (I did, too): Work on overcoming your adrenaline addiction. This can take many forms, such as severely reducing your time online and/or in front of screens, taking daily walks in nature, taking up meditation, consciously doing nothing for certain periods of time, spending time on your passions, quality time with your loved ones…
What I did to simplify and create space
Full disclosure, I should have titled this part “What I’m doing to…”, present tense. It’s an ongoing project. I don’t feel stressed any longer a lot of the time, but I still get caught up in “busy-ness” occasionally. My recent house purchase and move (which you’ll know about if you follow my vlogs) was one of those situations!
All in all, though, I’ve managed to actually decelerate and create a lot of space for myself, the people who matter, and my passions. Here are some examples of what I put in place:
- Checking and replying to emails and social media posts a maximum of 3 times a day.
- At least an hour of offline time in the evening.
- Occasional offline days at the weekend.
- Actually prioritising my passions by taking a lot of time for them every single day.
- Cultivating contact with friends outside of texting: Voice messages, long emails, Skype/Zoom, personal meet-ups.
- Working less. And still less. Funnily enough, my income has increased (no, that’s not a co-incidence. More about this some other time!).
- Resting when I need to, even if it’s “a lot” and means I’m not getting anything done.
- No longer stating how busy I am when I chat to friends or acquaintances.
- Moving to a mountain village where even just the view and the peace and quiet cause me to relax.
And there you have it! Your own path might look similar or completely different. Don’t be afraid to experiment and to discard things that don’t work for you. Stick with it and one day you’ll feel yourself breathing happiness. Your passions will soar. And that truly is worth every effort.