It’s part of Newton’s first law of motion: an object in motion will stay in motion unless an external force acts upon it. In life, you’re the object — put in motion the day you were born. Sure there are certain road bumps of life that force us to slow down — serious illness, losing your job, getting divorced — but most of us will go through life without much self-reflection — without an external force acting upon us. Even after we negotiate the challenges life throws at us, we tend to continue on without much thought, thinking little of slowing down or readjusting our life’s trajectory.
We’re often thinking, “What’s the next thing I need to do?” when what we should really be asking ourselves is “Why am I doing this? Where do I want this to take me?” Life only happens once and, for the most part, the life you lead is up to you, so if it’s not making you happy, you’ve only yourself to blame. Perhaps it’d be wise to slow down and try to determine where you want to go, who you want to be, and what you want to do instead of letting life take you away like a giant wave that inevitably crashes hard against the shore.
1. You’re so busy your “little pick-me-up” is two Red Bulls.
2. You’ve been spending a good amount of your time figuring out how you’ll need to precisely use your time because your schedule is so tight. When was the last time you did something truly spontaneous?
3. Your idea of a Friday night is working until 9pm, then heading home to watch Netflix and eat take-out because you’re too tired to see your friends or do anything that would, you know, require moving. Sure, it sounds like a nice respite every once in a while, but if you don’t even have the energy to go out anymore, there might be something wrong with how much you’re trying to accomplish during the day.
4. You feel like you’re living someone else’s life. It’s important to reflect on whether you’re doing what you want to do or whether you’re (a) living a life prescribed to you by parents or friends or (b) living a life that fits your outward persona but not who you actually are. Recognition is important, but self-satisfaction is even more important. Choosing what you want to do with your life — not what will most impress someone else — is the only way you won’t feel like, in the words of Holden Caulfield, a big phony.
5. You work too much for things you don’t need. If given these options, what would you prefer: A fancy new coat or a skinny-dip in the Italian Riviera? It’s important to think about whether you want to spend time and money on things or on experiences. Will the new garage out back you were able to buy after working your busy, 50-hour-per-week job make you happy or will the experiences of swimming in Positano, hiking a Mayan ruin, and kissing a Spanish bullfighter give you the greatest pleasure? Of course, physical possessions and experiences aren’t mutually exclusive, but if you work to an extreme and rarely give yourself much time off, you’ll never have the chance to experience the things you’ve always dreamed of.
6. You’re always thinking short-term. There’s nothing wrong with using your free time to plan out what you’re going to eat later or when you’re going to draft that email, but often we don’t give enough thought to the long-term. Begin to think about your legacy, the person you want to be, and how you want to be remembered.
7. You no longer have time for your indulgences. If you had an entirely free, unscheduled day, what would you do? Might I suggest making a list of all the things you’d want to do: e.g. get a coffee and croissant and sip slowly while you people watch; go to the movies by yourself; surprise a friend who you don’t get to spend enough time with; read that book that’s been sitting on your nightstand forever. The thing is, you needn’t wait for the rare free day to do these things. Schedule one of the things on your list for each day or every other day and start checking off that list.
8. Decide on what’s important to you. Maybe it’s money or maybe it’s experiences. Maybe it’s always being close to your family or maybe it’s about branching out and having an adventure. These are the types of thoughts that should be driving decisions. If you don’t think about them, life will just happen to you, and you’ll be forced to go along. Sounds whimsical and fun, but often that can leave you in a position you’re not too keen on.
9. Life is whizzing by. Slow down everything. Start by eating slower, which means not in a car or train, but it also means using it as a sort of meditative time. Start single-tasking instead of multitasking. Think about what you’re doing more often. Listen to everything around you. Feel the breeze on your skin. Hear the quiet creak of the floorboards beneath you. Appreciate exactly where you are and desire to be nowhere else but there. After all, it was Gandhi who said, “There is more to life than increasing its speed.”