Slowing Down Life
“Come on, load already,” I mutter to my computer. As if it isn’t one of the wonders of the world that I can access people on the other side of the globe in less than 30 seconds.
This is far from the only time in a single day I’ll lament things moving too slowly. I’m a can-do, let’s get going, do this thing kind of gal. I want to do All the Things Right This Second.
Yet, life never quite cooperates. As our pastor, Ryan, pointed out in a recent sermon, even light, the fastest thing in the universe, isn’t instantaneous. There are stars born millions of years ago whose light hasn’t reached us here on Earth. In fact, the Advent season that just passed is all about waiting.
Very few of us actually want to rush around. We’d rather slow down life, luxuriate in simple tasks well done, and appreciate being in the moment. I know I enjoy moments with my kids and husband a whole lot more when I’m not impatiently thinking about the future.
On top of that, we want to teach our children patience and gratitude. No one wants to raise entitled brats who are never satisfied with what they have.
But giving up that need for instant gratification is a lot easier said than done. While I’m a work in progress, here are some ways I’ve found that I and my family can deliberately slow down life together.
Partner with someone with a slower point of view
This is probably the most effective thing I’ve done to slow down life and reduce my anxiety.
In many ways, my husband is my opposite. I’m raring to go and he’s a homebody. I have a focus word, three main goals, and a schedule of activities for the coming year; he’s never set a New Year’s resolution in his life. Ambition runs in my blood; it isn’t in his. Being married to him has helped me learn how to move at his pace. It helps me be less stressed about what I don’t have and more grateful for what I do.
If my husband’s chill demeanor wasn’t enough to teach me, my older son’s attitude towards life would. As appropriate to his nickname, Sprout, he literally stops and smells the flowers. He conjures up imaginary scenarios that always delay whatever he’s supposed to be doing (like bedtime). When you ask him a question, he pauses for indeterminable periods of time, thinking of just the right answer. He’ll stand at the edge of a crowd or event, just watching, until he feels comfortable joining. To avoid smoke from coming out of my ears, I’ve had to adjust my whole way of thinking.
If you don’t have someone with a slow pace in your family, try to hang out with a friend with that attitude instead.
Purposely celebrate waiting
Rather than denying or complaining about waiting, sometimes it’s best to celebrate it.
This tactic was especially valuable at Christmas this year. With an almost two-year-old and a four-year-old, the month of December can be one long trudge towards the end of the month.
But our Advent calendar with a different activity each day made the waiting something to embrace instead. The first Sunday, we started lighting Advent candles, reminding ourselves what the season is really about. The activities through the rest of the month created mini-holidays that were fun in and of themselves, while still leading towards Christmas. Although some of them were big activities – like going to the National Zoo’s Zoolights display – others were far more mundane, like getting a tree and wrapping presents. By framing chores as things to enjoy instead of endure, we put the preparation in a whole new light. Even though I’m the one who wrote out all of the activities, it still gave me a thrill each morning to see my son pull out the new slip of paper.
Enjoy the preparation with your kids
Social science shows getting pleasure out of planning an event is a major part of enjoying it. Thinking forward has a similar effect on us as remembering a good thing in the past.
I love planning vacations. For our trip to Nevada, researching activities for kids in Las Vegas, asking for recommendations, and deciding which trails to hike in Zion National Park was all part of the fun. Imagining what will happen while also being open to the reality being it different from the expectation is essential for staying sane while you’re traveling with kids.
Involving the kids in planning can also help them build stronger, more pleasurable memories of an event. Before our Las Vegas trip, I showed them photos of our destinations. For our upcoming Disney World trip, my four-year-old is helping us create the schedule. For example, we’re discussing what rides we want to go on first so we can reserve FastPasses.
Select activities that illuminate the big picture
Sometimes we want something to happen so badly that we forget the reason it exists at all. Kids at Christmas may be the most obvious example, but it can also happen to adults with vacations, retirements, parties, and job promotions.
Focusing on activities that help you see the bigger picture can help you see what’s actually important. In our Advent calendar, we include purchasing things for our city’s toy drive, praying special prayers, and buying a “gift” for someone in a developing country through the Oxfam catalog.
Purposely set aside time for little moments
It’s the small, lovely moments that suffer when we constantly have a “now, now, now” attitude. If we’re struggling to get our kids ready for school, bed, or out the door every minute of the day, we never be able to find time to be together. I know I struggle with this a lot.
Thankfully, my husband is much less schedule-oriented. He’s always able to make space for that conversation or tickle session. While I sometimes get annoyed at him, I rarely regret bedtime being a few minutes late. When we talk about our favorite things at the end of the day, these moments are often the ones we liked best.
You can sometimes find those moments during times that otherwise feel “wasted.” Some of my deepest conversations with my dad when I was a kid were while he was driving me to swim practice. Similarly, one of the best parts of the Renaissance Festival this year was the absurd game of 20 Questions we played while we were stuck in traffic. Our laughter alleviated so much of the annoyance I would have felt towards the snaking line of cars ahead of us.
Walk places with your kids (and choose other slow activities)
Walking anywhere helps slow us down. That goes double for walking with little kids! Walking with my toddler to go “watch trains” at a nearby pedestrian bridge became a beloved tradition and way to bring peace to my day.
While it’s great if you can walk to a specific destination, even just a stroll can provide an opportunity to slow down. If you’re worried about your kids running in the road, you can pick a hard-pack or paved multi-use trail.
Other purposely slow and simple activities like cooking from scratch, biking places, or sitting outside and watching the world pass by can put the brakes on a fast-paced life.
There are definitely days impatience takes me over and I just want my computer to load. Or my kid to get ready for bed. But if we can appreciate the time we have rather than lament the time we don’t, I find that life slows down and becomes so much lovelier.
A version of this post was originally posted on Shannon’s blog, We’ll Eat You Up, We Love You So.