The need to stay busy, be productive, and accomplish more pervades our society. It can be a constant source of stress if you’re unaware you’re entangled in it.
I recently struck up a conversation with a boisterous older woman about stress. Before I had the chance to ask her how she dealt with stress, she excitedly interjected.
“I don’t have stress anymore. Once I turned 70, I decided I’m going to be in kindergarten again. I skipped it the first time because I was so smart,” she said laughingly. “Actually, in some way, I did because I was already focused on accomplishing the next thing. Finally, I figured out that life is about more than trying to climb your way to the top.”
Her story touched me because that’s the path I’ve followed most of my life. The path of striving for the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing, and not necessarily realizing what I’m doing while I’m doing it. Just eager to keep pushing myself to get better, to improve, to do more—acting like who and where I am now isn’t enough.
Awareness, long before age 70, allowed me to see I need not keep living this way. This doesn’t mean I lost my drive to make an impact on the world. It means I rediscovered a way of relating to my life’s goals that preserves my sanity and energy, instead of undermining it. Might I add that staying connected to this way of being requires a daily practice.
Let me share a few things I’ve found helpful along the way:
- Stopping throughout the day to refuel myself in the natural world—away from gadgets, thinking, doing, everything. Opening my senses to what’s going on around me and taking in the fullness of life.
- Growing curious about why I’m doing what I’m doing, rather than aimlessly and unconsciously doing things a certain way because that’s how I’ve always done them.
- Getting in touch with self-judgment. The judging mind constantly questions my ability. Maybe you know what I’m talking about. If I’m not careful, I can easily be misled into believing, “I haven’t accomplished enough today. I should have done this or that, too.” When I become aware of the judging mind, however, it starts to lose its grip over me. Mindfulness has been the real key to transforming relentless self-judgment into self-compassion.
- Paying attention to the moments in between. Have you noticed how easy it is to treat certain parts of your life as “important” or “special” and therefore check out for the other moments?
- Deliberately practicing all of the above. The brain can and will change to support your efforts with continued practice.
Our modern world makes it too easy to become fixated on accomplishing more, and to worry about measuring up to our peers or neighbors. The real practice lies in learning to see we are more than the sum of our accomplishments, and sometimes the very thing we strive to attain is already here, within us all, waiting for recognition.
How do you relate to your life’s goals? Do any of the suggestions above resonate with you?