Opting Out of the Frantic Pace of Life
Slowing down and living more.
When I was a child, the world moved at a different pace. There was unstructured time to play, time to dream, time to think, time to relax, time to savor life. Though the lack of adult responsibilities provides context for my memories, the world moved more slowly, too. The workday was shorter; families lingered over meals; people regularly visited with their neighbors, friends, and colleagues. There was no internet. People accessed current events by reading the paper and watching the evening news with its grainy images of far-away lands. Television only had five channels, and the shows reflected a slower pace of life. The phone was actually plugged into a wall, and there were no answering machines. If you weren’t home when someone called, they would call back later. You could be unreachable, and the world didn’t end.
Fast forward forty years and, well, it’s as though we live in fast forward. Technological advances allow us to access information and complete tasks more quickly. Yet, instead of simplifying our lives, communication technology has created a world in which many are constantly plugged in. Access to the internet has given us the option to always be available. Through the freedom of working anywhere, boundaries between home and work have become obscured; and workweeks have increased accordingly. Instead of completing the same amount of work more efficiently, we have expanded our to-do lists. So, in spite of the fact that new devices promised to give us more time, leisure time has been steadily disappearing.
The internet and other technological advances expose us to more information than we can process. Events on the other side of the world are so clear now that they look like they are happening in our backyards. And images of horrific events around the world are played over and over on 24-hour news outlets and the internet, giving the impression that these events have occurred numerous times.
The instant gratification that the internet provides leads to expectations that we no longer have to wait for anything. And when people are stuck in traffic or lines at the grocery store or airport, the resultant anxiety is palpable. Everyone seems to be in a rush, all of the time.
As we see everyone rushing around us, we may wonder why it is so difficult to keep up with the current pace of life. In reality, it is not us — it is a system of technological overload and ever-growing to-do lists that is to blame. And we didn’t switch gears overnight — the speed-up of life occurred gradually and imperceptibly. Yet the consequences of this trend are significant. Humans are not equipped to be inundated with information constantly. We are not supposed to experience all worldwide events as if they are happening to our next-door neighbors, over and over again. It is no wonder that we are in a constant state of cortisol and adrenaline overload, and that this is negatively impacting our physical and mental health.
But we have the option to opt out of the frantic pace of life. Here are nine suggestions for utilizing technological advances while maintaining a simpler life.
1. Think about a more peaceful time in your life. What were you doing? What did you enjoy? Let these memories guide you as you identify your life priorities.
2. Identify your top three or four life priorities. Hint: Maintaining your health is probably one of your top priorities.
3. Match your daily to-do list to your priorities. Minimize activities that do not match your priorities, including use of technology (unless spending countless hours on your devices is your priority). Use technology to support your priorities, not detract from them.
4. Research shows that you’re likely to be more productive if you slow down and take breaks. So when scheduling your day, provide yourself with a reasonable amount of time for each activity. Instead of planning back-to-back activities, build in time to pause. And, schedule your most important activities early in the day, so whatever doesn’t get done by the end of the day can easily be moved to another to-do list.
5. Ignore the judgment of others as you opt out of deprioritized activities. You have the right to live by your priorities.
6. Even when you feel the need to rush, slow down and be more present. When I am running late, I still hear my grandmother’s voice telling me “haste makes waste.” Slowing down and being intentional in your actions can eliminate the small accidents, forgotten items, and other consequences of speeding through life.
7. Spend time connecting with family and friends. I’m not talking about “liking” the picture someone posted on social media. I’m talking about engaging with each other and having real conversations. In this endeavor, technology can help you stay connected with friends and relatives who live far away.
8. Schedule time for leisure, and experience the wonder and joy that life offers.
9. Stop honoring and exalting the supermen and superwomen. The current reverence for overachievement in all aspects of life contributes to unhealthy norms and the frantic pace of life.
Most of us have simply been swept into a system of sensory overload and an ever-increasing speed of life. But we can change the system, starting with making changes in our own lives. We can slow down and live a life according to our priorities. We can create time to think, relax, enjoy, and dream. We can use technological advances in ways that enhance our lives. We can opt out of unending connectivity and immediate, Pavlovian responses to the chimes of our devices. We can reconnect with what we learned from our childhood selves and from living in simpler times. The more we live our authentic lives, the more we will inspire others to do the same. Then, the frantic pace of life will subside.