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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Six Steps to a more relaxed life

I received this via email from Alexander Green - and it was very timely for me .... So thought it may be timely for some of my readers too.

Many of us lead hectic lives, feeling pressured, harried or overwhelmed by responsibilities and deadlines.

In his book "The Secret Pulse of Time," Stefan Klein argues that the culprit is modern society itself. The pace of life has accelerated over the past few decades - and we are faced with almost limitless opportunities, making it tough to decide how to best spend our time.

Klein recommends six steps to avoid being a slave to the clock, regain control of your time, and live a more relaxed life:

1. Take sovereignty over your time. Many of us have a tendency to load up our schedules unnecessarily. For example, studies show that faced with a choice between a bigger paycheck and more free time, most people go for the money. When we get home from work, many of us are still taking business calls or checking our email. Yet much of this work is unessential or can wait until the next day.

If you find you don't have time to relax, the first step is to break out of your routine. Plan your days - and weeks - more effectively. Set boundaries between work and home. Change what you're doing.

2. Live in harmony with your biological clock. Our genes determine whether we are early birds or night owls. I know I do my best work in the morning, for example. If I get waylaid early in the day by non-work-related activities, it takes me twice as long to meet my deadlines in the late afternoon or evening.

Psychologists say you can accomplish more in less time, and make fewer mistakes, by conforming your daily routine to your inner circadian rhythm.

3. Cultivate leisure time. The world seems to be made up of two types of people, those who must be goaded to work and those who have to be reminded to stop. The latter often develop the unconscious habit of believing that an hour without anything accomplished is an hour wasted.

That's so untrue. We all need to relax to achieve some balance. As Klein writes, "Two hours at a café without a cell phone, travel, a stroll, music, gardening, the almost forgotten art of conversation - all of these are occasions to modify the pace of life. Leisure does not simply happen when there is a lull in our crowded schedule. We have to create it actively."

4. Experience the moments. We all spend the majority of our time thinking about the future or reminiscing about the past rather than lingering in the present moment. It's a tough habit to break. But the present moment is all we have... or ever will have.

Our resistance to this notion is partly cultural. In the West, we tend to think in terms of efficiency and productivity. It's different in the East. The Japanese tea ceremony, for example, exists so that participants can calm down and sharpen their senses, leaving their worries and responsibilities at the door. It is a reminder that life isn't just a race against time.

Vietnamese monk and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Thich Nhat Hahn says, "We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living. We know how to sacrifice ten years for a diploma, and we are willing to work very hard to get a job, a car, a house and so on. But we have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive."

5. Learn to concentrate. Americans are famous for doing two things at once. We answer our email while listening to a conference call. We watch TV while we have lunch. We drive down the road, listening to the radio, nattering to the kids in the back seat and talking on the cell phone at the same time.

We think we're multi-tasking. But are we really doing any of these tasks well? Every time you turn your attention from one problem to another, you interrupt your train of thought. Important information vanishes from your working memory. Most of us can do better work in less time by concentrating on the most important task at hand and eliminating distractions.

6. Set your priorities. Life is mostly about making good choices. Do you want to be the best production manager or the best father? Do you want to earn a higher income or spend more time playing tennis and getting in shape? It's tough to excel in one area without giving short shrift to others.

Only you can decide what is most important. You may be happier working on a Red Cross event than a corporate function. You might get more satisfaction spending time with your family rather than chasing that promotion. (After all, it won't be your boss and co-workers weeping when you're gone.)

Your life revolves around the calendar and the clock. But they shouldn't dictate it.

Studies show that continual time pressures create stress - and chronic stress affects your quality of life, undermines your health and lowers your life expectancy.

The key is to slow down, prioritize your activities, and appreciate the many people and blessings that surround you.

As Henry Van Dyke said, "Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity."

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