On Father’s Day weekend I found myself facing a dilemma. With our kids’ sports over for the season, an “all about Dad” weekend, and a perfectly beautiful day, I was hell-bent on seizing the moment. I had everything to do, and all day to do it. On our deck with my wife that morning, I discussed the endless possibilities of how to capture the day: biking, hiking, sightseeing, road-tripping, etc.
To my surprise, my wife said, “Why don’t you just enjoy the day?” Hence, the dilemma: What was the best way to do that? Was it by doing as much as possible, or by relaxing and enjoying my free time? My first instinct was to do as much as I could, so as to not “waste the day.” Trained to be task oriented, both from a busy work life and home life, I instinctively kicked into activity mode, never once considering relaxing and enjoying the day until my wife mentioned it.
It’s something that has stuck with me ever since. I’ve complained to my wife that our schedule leaves me exhausted on Mondays and that we needed to plan or do “less,” only to now realize that I was the problem all along. My inability to relax, even on vacations, had earned me the nickname of “Eager McBeaver” from my brother-in-law. Hopefully, it is also a term of endearment.
Searching for answers for reasons behind this hyperactive behavior, I went online. To my shock, I discovered that I was exhibiting “Type A” personality traits. I know many Type A people, and I would not describe myself as one, or at least I haven’t been acting like one. So how did I suddenly get this way?
Much has been written about how technology has changed our lives, allowing us to blend our professional and personal lives, and enabling us to do more in less time. And our children’s lives, especially as they grow older, are very busy. Yes, they were contributing factors, but neither could fully explain my change.
I came to the realization that my definition of a “good day” was now defined by how much I got done, and not necessarily by what I had accomplished. The daily routine dictated by a “to do” list, with the “speed of life” moving ever faster, wound me up like a toy soldier. My only consolation was that I was not alone in this feeling.
This perpetual state of motion leaves many of us with the inability to sleep. What the body doesn’t complete during the day, the mind tries to finish at night. And perhaps the tension in our jaw or back, or both, is not from stress, but rather from the cognitive dissonance in knowing that what we have become is not who we truly are.
The question is, how do we slow down the world, or maybe more simply, how do we slow down ourselves? After pondering this “state of being” for a while, it seems that there are four things driving this behavior:
The No-Win List – First, we need to recognize that we are fighting a losing battle. Regardless of how many tasks are completed, there are always more. As a result, we feel no real sense of accomplishment, causing us to want to do even more, and/or assign tasks to others. Hence, my Type A tendencies and an inability to “turn off.”
Time Is Our Enemy – I realized that my training habits focused on going further in fewer minutes had spilled over to the rest of my life in trying to do more in less time. Years ago, I worked with a woman who was a single mother and an outstanding manager. I asked her what her secret was for balancing it all and getting so much accomplished. She said, “I’ve come to realize that there is only so much I can do in a day, and then there’s always tomorrow.” Sometimes I/we forget that there is a tomorrow.
The Roses Have No Smell – They have no smell, because there is no time to smell them. As a result, we need to create or find a way to recognize an accomplishment no matter how small, before habitually moving to the next task. An entire day could pass, and I would have no idea of what I did, one day would bleed into another. The only way to distinguish them was by the unique tasks that needed to be addressed that particular day.
Autopilot Mode – This default setting can take us completely out of the present. It removes our ability to recognize the “little things” that matter or happen in daily life. It can also be hurtful or harmful to others.
So what did I do on Father’s Day? I slowed down and enjoyed the time. I stayed on the deck and read the paper in its entirety, watched a movie that I had only caught snippets of over the years, and went for a family bike ride with my head up, enjoying the sights—as opposed to staring at the bike computer to see how fast I was going.
I know now that some of us (me) take the “carpe diem” thing a little too seriously. A little less seizing of the day, and more enjoying it is the order of the day. Yes, technology has enabled us to cram more into a day, but we’re the ones who operate it. Our lives aren’t going to slow down, but maybe we can find ways to enjoy it more by recognizing the opportunities for small “accomplishments” in daily life.
Finding moments to hug our children is a small but important “win.” Taking the time to open the door for our wives before jumping in the car to race to a game or school event is a must. Celebrate a professional achievement, before moving on to the next task, after a job well done.
There will be days when I’ll fall back into seize mode, but I also know that when I start feeling like the toy soldier being so tightly wound, I can go back and read this again, and hopefully, take a little pressure off the spring.
Follow Scott @sgillum