Last weekend I was sitting outside on a red stability ball watching our girls play on our patio.
Where is the time going these days? I wondered.
My mind has been counting down the days until our third baby arrives. Six weeks to go, five weeks … one week to go.
A baby… next week… How was that already possible? I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around it.
So much forward-thinking, planning, and pre-baby busyness had put my mind on “fast-forward mode.” The days were blending together, important details were escaping me, and my ability to be present was in constant fluctuation. It was time to hit pause. Or better yet, stop.
Granted, having a baby is a big transition, so I certainly gave myself some grace. But living in “fast-forward mode” isn’t my style.
Why? Because when your mind moves in this way you miss out on your life.
Forward thinking, focusing on the next important thing, and the need for constant busyness can creep up on any of us at any time if we’re not careful. We think about the future much more than the present and miss out on the wonder of the here and now.
Author Marc Chernoff relays this so well:
“Too often another beautiful day comes to an end with hundreds of unnoticed moments behind us—we didn’t notice them because they were insignificant to us. And over time our entire lives become a massive pile of unnoticed and insignificant moments on our way to more important things. Then the important things get rushed through too… to get to the next one, and the next, until our time is up and we’re left questioning where it all went.”
Truth. Questioning where it all went. That’s exactly what I was doing with time these days.
I needed to find a way to slow time down. To regain a present pace. To focus on what matters again.
Here are five ways to slow time by focusing on what matters:
1. Have an inner cue during important activities
Your activities matter. When you start an important activity, give it your full attention and be fully present. Decide to do only this one activity for a set time. Use an inner cue to help you remember not to multitask and to keep your mind focused. You might think, “Just walk” or “Just listen” or “Just be here with my wonderful child of mine.” Find a cue that allows you to plunge into that one activity with your whole self.
2. Practice focused attention in relationships
Your relationships matter. No greater compliments exist within a relationship than your complete presence and willingness to listen without anticipating the next event. Giving loved ones your full, focused presence shows them how important they are to you. And, it lets you learn about their lives, which is a vital piece of knowing and supporting someone. Take time daily to be this present to each of your loved ones. Slow down and really get to know those people who matter most.
3. Schedule time to just notice
Your actions matter. Practice observing yourself throughout the day to gain better self-awareness of your pace of life. Are you rushing to get to the next thing? Try constructing an inner commentary on your actions as you do them to ground yourself in the moment. You may pair it with an environmental cue, such as walking through the front door. It could sound like this: “I walk through the front door, slowly. I hang my keys on the mint-green hook and breathe deeply. I slip off my shoes and feel the hard floor beneath my feet.” Put the present into words in your mind, and you’ll find yourself fully in it, not thinking ahead to the future.
4. Watch your thoughts
Your thoughts matter. Nothing can rob our ability to stay present like worry. According to Joyce Meyer, “Worry is a down payment on a problem you may never have.” (A payment made with your energy and precious time.) A University of Cincinnati study showed that 85% of the time, what we worry about never happens. And when the problem does happen, 80% of the time we discover we can handle the difficulty better than expected.
Begin catching your worrisome thoughts. Write them down, challenge them (affirmations are helpful, such as, “I’ve handled hard things before and trust I can do it again.”), and then surrender them. Having a go-to phrase of surrender is also helpful. Being a Christian, I might say, “I trust the future to the hands of Jesus.” A more secular example would be, “I trust the future will all work out.” Going on a short walk or deep breathing can also reset your thought patterns and help you tune back into your life.
5. Declutter your surroundings
Your environment matters. Every item you see in your home has the power to influence your thinking. You see bills strewn across the counter and you think ahead to when you’ll pay them. You see dishes piling in the sink and you think ahead to when you’ll do them. When your home is cluttered your mind is too. If your environment feels like an ongoing to-do list, it’s hard to escape living in “fast-forward mode.” Take time to declutter your environment and you will become more present in your home and more engaged in your life.
John Mark Comer said in his book The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, “The solution to an overbusy life is not more time. It’s to slow down and simplify our lives around what really matters.”
Simplicity is ultimately a matter of focus. Of choosing to step out of “fast-forward mode” and entering into the current moment with the weight of our attention.
And that is how we slow the torrent of time. By being “all there.” By deeply noticing and engaging in what matters most.
Let’s give slowing down a try – before our time is up and we’re left questioning where it all went.
Our lives are worth it.
About the Author: Julia Ubbenga is a freelance journalist whose teachings on minimalism, simplicity, and intentional living have reached thousands of people worldwide through her blog richinwhatmatters.com. Julia practices what she preaches in her Kansas City apartment home with her husband and two extremely lively young daughters.