Despite eschewing New Year Resolutions for the past few years I happily set myself the challenge of reading 24 novels this year (tracked in Goodreads). When I was younger I used to read a lot more than I do now but these days, with so many more things fighting for my attention, my ability to carve out a few hours to sit and read can seem like a real challenge. So, I figured, I could game myself into setting aside some time to read.
Even though I’d been attending a semi-regular book club (it’s my attendance that is semi-regular, not the book club), I realised that I was struggling to read enough and that was enough to let some old habits and behaviours creep in. The sign, for me, is that low level anxiety/fear that makes my stomach churn and kicked in when I realised that I wouldn’t manage to read 24 books by the end of the year and so will have ‘failed’, and one thing that my counselling confirmed is that fear of failure is pretty much the stick I use to beat myself with (relentlessly and brutally).
I can happily confirm that I will not manage to complete the challenge this year but as I set out this year I knew it wasn’t really about completing it, it was more to find a way to push myself to slow down and step away from, … well, … everything else and focus on just one moment, one thing at a time.
However, recognising that I was feeling not good about my progress against the reading challenge, I’m stepping back to remind myself of the original reason I wanted to read more books in the first place, it’s the same reason that I enjoy long walks, the same reason that made me start meditating; I need to slow down.
“You’re only here for a short visit. Don’t hurry, don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.” – Walter Hagen
For most of my adult life I’ve set goals for myself, pushed myself to do things, learn things, try things, and I’ve never found it easy to sit still and at peace for any period of time. Even watching movies my brain is still whirring away, analysing lighting choices, word choices, acting choices. It’s why if I’m looking to relax I’ll either watch a big silly blockbuster I’ve already seen – because I can completely switch off and let it wash over me – or an episode of Friends because I’ve seen them all so many times I don’t even need to think about them.
Finding ways to slow down used to be a real challenge and growing up I grabbed onto lots of little examples of how I thought I ‘should be’. We are told that goals are good things. What is your goal in life? What do you want to be when you grow up? You study to pass exams, you compete to win trophies, your have a career path, goal after goal after goal after goal.
Goals are good! Goals give us something to aim for, a reason to keep going, a target to hit. Goals fit with the general mantra of work hard and life will be good.
At least that’s what we are told.
These days I’m not so sure. I do think goals CAN be good, but only in select circumstances, and I’ve been guilty of using them all the time (for emotionally driven reasons, rather than any sense of benefit of achieving said goals).
Everyday life has changed in the past 20 years, and the rise of the ever connected, super productive, smart computers that we have to hand almost 24/7 and it’s no wonder that social media is a drain on our time and the urge to ‘keep up’ is only furthered by the stream of everyone else is doing everything, and living their glamourous, fun-packed lives. Keep up, go faster, Keep Up, do more, KEEP UP!
This sense of urgency to always be busy, to always have to strive for more because it’s what everyone else is doing* is something I had no sight of when I was 10 years old. Back then I didn’t know what any of my friends were doing when I wasn’t with them and it didn’t concern me one bit, I’d find out when we met to play football in the grass at the back of my parents house.
At this point, having figured out that I need to carve out more quiet time away from social media my instinct is always to go big and declare that I was going to have a sabbatical for a week, or maybe a day every week or… something. But the reality is that some form of connection can be good and ~ gosh I think I’ve said this before! ~ when it comes to things like this I know for me it’s more about finding the balance.
It’s important not to discount the upside of social media either. I know I experience compersion when I see other people happy, and even if I’m in a bit of a funk it’s good to have those little glimmers, so cutting out social media completely would be to deny those moments.
That said, dealing with the negative side of social media, the comparisons, the envy, isn’t always something I’ve been good at. Stepping away, in essence taking a time out, is something I’ve been making a conscious decision to do from time to time, even if just for a couple of hours it can be enough to stop me reacting to what I’m seeing. It also means I’ve got pockets of time to myself that I am no longer feeling the need to acknowledge the endless scrolling updates that ping on my screen.
Meditation is definitely a help here, finding even 10 mins in my day to sit quietly with my own thoughts has been a huge boon (as I’ve discussed before). I still use buddifhy on occasion but am just as comfortable with an unguided session and for those I look to Calm or the newer Oak app. Those moments are becoming increasingly important to me and I’m starting to protect my meditation time as much as I do my gym time.
Part of my 2018 will be to continue that practice, and continue to push to find a balance, but I already know that I will be looking to make better use of my time, be it attending more events, seeing friends more often, and generally living life, or just taking some time from my day to sit quietly and slow down.
* newsflash: they aren’t, we are not our social media feeds. (I know you know, just bears repeating).
Also published on Medium.