Enforced Slowing Down

I haven’t been posting quite as regularly as I’d have liked on here recently…I had major surgery 6 weeks ago, which, whilst obviously presenting its own challenges, has been a good exercise in Enforced Slowing Down. I’ve not been able to walk very far very comfortably, so have spent a ton of time on the sofa. I’m definitely one of life’s “do-ers”, so sitting still for too long isn’t my natural state of being. Whilst also discovering I’ve got an incredibly low boredom threshold, I’ve also had the time and space to get back into some much-neglected hobbies.

Rebecca of the Minimalism, My Way blog recently posted about her return to hobbies. She writes that hobbies make us who we are, and if we don’t make time for them, we aren’t making time for ourselves. Slowing down and simplifying our lives should, in theory, free up time and space for the things that we love, rather than those things that we have to do.

But what stops us from doing those things? Often we allow other stuff to fill the time – TV, chores, etc. Perhaps we feel guilty for indulging ourselves in seemingly frivolous pursuits with no end goal in sight, something that wasn’t on our to-do list. However, if we find the time for hobbies, we can actually improve our health – lowering heart rate and stress levels.

During my ongoing recovery period, I’ve read a ton of books (including Pride and Prejuduice, which I had always meant to read but never quite got around to). I’ve picked up a couple of crochet and knitting projects which had fallen by the wayside, and now I’m a bit more mobile have sat at the sewing machine and started a new project there. I also love photography, but haven’t been able to get out for many walks yet, hopefully that is coming soon.

How do you like to spend your hobby-time? Can you allow yourself that time just for you and an activity you love?

Reducing input – the secret to simplifying your life

If there is one tip or trick I could recommend for creating the illusion of more time and space in life, it’s this: reducing input. What do I mean by ‘input’? any data that is coming in through the senses, basically. In the current age of technology, fast food, advertising, soundbites and social media, our senses are being constantly bombarded with information, visual data and noise.

I’ve already posted about getting rid of my TV, but it’s more than this. There is a Buddhist term: “guarding the doors of the senses” – being really selective about what you are consuming through each of the senses. This doesn’t mean living in some sort of white box, with no stimulation or contact with the outside world! Rather, bringing more intentionality to what you are taking in.

As an example, having the radio burbling away in the background is something many people do, particularly at mealtimes. But are we really listening to the radio? Or is it on for some other reason – to fill the space, for company, that’s what we have always done… Are we looking for some distraction by always clicking ‘on’? Can we allow ourselves time to really sit and listen to a good radio programme, without feeling the need to ‘do’ something else simultaneously?

At mealtimes, can we just eat, focusing on the smells, colours, textures and flavours in our meal, rather than stuffing it down whilst watching the box or scrolling through social media?

Reducing input means bring intentionality to what we are doing, which really means bringing more awareness to our lives. Doing one thing at a time, but really concentrating on that thing, whatever it happens to be – mopping the floor, sending an email, walking to work (without headphones!). I definitely notice when I’m feeling stressed, it’s because I feel there are too many competing demands. If I reduce those demands down to one thing at once, the stress subsides and a sense of more space opens up. This is the ethos of the slow movement – bringing intentionality to our actions, preferring quality over speed.

If this is new to you, this may not happen overnight. But if you catch yourself turning the radio on or reaching for the smartphone, can you catch yourself and see if there is an opportunity to reduce the input of data to your senses, and reducing any feelings of overwhelm.

Could you go TV-free?

At the end of a stressful day, many of us love to lie back and zone out with our favourite shows. Switching on at the end of the day can become habitual, rather than doing it because we genuinely want to watch something. With the advent of streaming services, this has become another form of extreme consumption, with many people “binge-watching” whole boxsets of shows in a weekend. The old way of watching one episode a week of your favourite series, ending on a cliffhanger and having to wait a whole 7 days to find out what happens next is dead. Yes there is more choice now, but is that necessarily a good thing?

Research shows that binge-watching is bad for our health, interfering with sleep by preventing our brains from truly winding down before bed. Over time, this reduces our immune systems, and increases our risk of diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

When our TV broke about a year ago, we decided not to replace it. Our youngest child, who was 4 at the time, went through a 5-day withdrawal period where he asked for the TV constantly. But after that, he stopped. Gradually, he is learning the art of providing his own entertainment, rather than sitting passively in front of a stream of images (and often adverts for more stuff, which we are actively trying to reduce). He does watch a film of his choosing once a week (on the laptop), on a Sunday, which has become a special treat, rather than the daily exposure of before. He seems happy with this now, and never asks to watch anything else during the week, he loves looking forward to “Sunday Film Day”.

Some days I do miss that hour towards the end of the day, while trying to cook dinner, when small children are tired, when we used to put the TV on. But mostly I don’t miss it at all. My son listens to more audiobooks instead of watching stuff, and enjoys his Sunday Film Day. I am reading more books than ever, and also have some favourite podcasts. I have been catching up with crochet and knitting projects, and enjoying a good conversation or two. I do occasionally watch a programme, but I’m much more selective about what I choose to consume.

Could you go TV-free?