It’s easier to guard our energy than to guard our time.
Our time feels so precious, doesn’t it? We try to guard it so carefully, probably because we are all running so close to the edge, and we have designs on virtually every waking minute, and so we get very attached to the idea of the day going smoothly. You know the drill. We want the computer to go faster, the traffic to clear, the lines at the store to be short. We want problems resolved quickly, instructions followed the first time, and conflicts to be non-existent. What we really want, though, when we say we want all those other things, is often just a few free minutes in which we don’t need to be on-call, on-point, on-guard.
The problem is, those smooth days are rare, and when we’re racing from Point A to Point B and we find ourselves stuck in traffic, there’s not necessarily much to be done about the minutes ticking away, but how we choose to frame those minutes can have an enormous impact on the energy we bring with us to the rest of the day. If we spend those minutes stressing, worrying, fighting with ourselves, fighting with the people in the other cars, suddenly we’re losing twice because by the time we get to Point B, frustration has burned up all our energy, and we’re approaching whatever’s next with a sense of scarcity and lack, breathless, sometimes embarrassed, often in no shape to enjoy or engage.
What I often find, and what I want to change, is that at the end of the day, I have more time than I have energy, and so what free time I do have is not spent on all of the lovely, worthwhile things I would like to be spending my time on, nor is it restful or restorative. Instead, I default to mindlessly scrolling through social media, puttering around the kitchen, or binge-watching television because I am too depleted to think.
I used to think “time management” was the solution. I don’t anymore. I think it was a good place to start, but at some point, it took me as far as it could, and by trying to take it farther, I was only causing more damage. I started becoming neurotic about planning the days, keeping to a schedule, trying to ensure I was using every minute “wisely.” Even when everything was going just fine, I was still obsessed with keeping everything moving. At. All. Times. It was a graceless way to live, and when things weren’t going well, it was even worse. I began to notice some…overreactions… to the proverbial wrenches being thrown in my works. Even when it wasn’t obvious from the outside, I felt wildly out of balance on the inside.
Here’s the problem though: I think time management is easier, because last month while on vacation, when I finally gave myself enough time and space to figure out what I really needed, I came to two very uncomfortable realizations:
First, I needed to simplify. Part of the reason I have to be so intentional about carving out time for silence and stillness is that my personality is very prone to distraction. I jump very quickly from one thing to another, and I tend to need a lot of activity. And for a long time, that was exactly what I needed to restore balance in my life. I’d fallen into a rut, and realizing that I needed to feel like I was learning and growing was a game-changer in my sense of wellbeing, but in the pursuit of that, I have often stacked projects and classes, workshops and challenges, one on top of the other, and then a week into each, got distracted, wandered off, and rarely finished strong. I was in the middle of reading no less than six books, and wasn’t close to finishing any, maybe because I’d just picked up a seventh. I had taken the very thing that once brought me balance, and overloaded myself with so much of it, I was falling off the other side of my life.
Second, I realized that in spite of how much I love food, I was ready to do the hard work of losing weight, not for appearance or size, but because I felt profoundly unwell. I felt weighed down, sluggish, achy, and I wanted to feel light, graceful, flexible. I wanted to literally move through the world with more ease. I knew that if I didn’t start making better choices, I wasn’t going to have enough energy for any of the things most important to me, and I didn’t want to perpetuate that depleted cycle. Beyond that, I wanted something tangible that I could tap into, to help me make wiser choices in every area of my life. It was a perfect next step, because making very conscious choices about what to eat infused an element of routine into the chaotic days. It provided touchstones throughout the day that could be used to reflect and adjust as needed. It helped me find a new rhythm, and that’s exactly what I needed to find my balance again.
Yes, it is easier to guard my energy than to guard my time.
Last month, we spent a weekend in Burlington. One morning, we were in a little kitchenware shop, and someone came in with a dog who was tracking muddy paw prints all over their carpeted floor. They didn’t freak out at all, they were warm and welcoming, and carried on as if it were no big deal, even though I’m sure that carpet was going to be a pain to clean. They saw the situation, recognized that it was too late to undo, and let it be. It looked like grace, and I’m sure it is a better way to live.
It’s a work in progress. One day at a time.
What do you need in order to be in balance right now? Was there a practice that you found in another season of life that once brought you balance, but is no longer?