Nothing about my life is ordinary, boring or average. However, listening to a TED talk by Tim Urban while driving to work the other day, I realised that I am guilty of spending a great deal of time on auto-pilot. It’s too easy to fall into an unconscious rut and miss life as it whizzes past. How many times have you started a week thinking its only 5 days to push until the weekend and then used caffeine to fuel your way through? Or are you guilty of constantly making plans or putting things off because you are too busy or just procrastinating. Or are you just waiting for that huge life event in the future that will be much more exciting than what’s happening right now?
The Life Calendar shows what a human life looks like in weeks. By laying a grid of all our weeks onto just one page (52 x 90), it makes them very countable and finite and valuable.
So, how do we stop wishing the weeks away and make the most of each one? Here are 5 suggestions.
1. Turn off auto-pilot. Life has a habit of providing traditional ladders which slow us down and keep us average. Through culture and evolution we are forced to think collectively and work in groups. As a result we are predisposed to have certain characteristics and think in specific ways that are good for the group. Think of life as a giant swimming pool, where everyone is getting in and out using the steps. You could do the same, but there are much better ways to enter a swimming pool. If you have managed to successfully turn off the auto-pilot, then sometimes it might feel that what you are doing is a bit crazy. That is living.
2. Be yourself. If we can let go of conventional wisdom and stop trying to fit in with everybody else, then we will truly be able to be ourselves and break free. To do this we need to work out what is it that is uniquely important to us. What is it that makes you jump out of bed in the morning? I find goals (or resolutions) to be too task oriented and there is a danger that we could expend all of our energy chasing them, thus missing our entire lives in the process. It really is about the journey rather than the destination. Create your own rules and follow your heart. I search for connection, vision and purpose through the values that I try to live by.
‘Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.’ Oscar Wilde
3. Live in the moment. The present moment is not an obstacle – it is life – live it. We live such busy lives that we can quickly get caught up in our schedules. It’s too easy after work to allow the auto-pilot to kick in as we go through the kid’s homework, cook the evening meal and prepare for the following day. How often do we greet our dogs properly and experience the joy of their wet noses and wagging tails. How often do we actually pause and enjoy the beautiful brief moment of togetherness with our families after being apart all day?
4. Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is not about wishing everything was different, it is about dealing with each situation in a positive way. It could just be about being thankful for things we take for granted, like easy access to drinking water or electricity. It could be about how you bring joy to tasks you find mundane, such as really noticing and looking and listening to the birds out of the window while you do the washing up. In this way we can see each week as a clean slate, with challenges to meet, opportunities to seize and many beautiful and profound moments to savour and enjoy.
‘To live in the present moment is a miracle. The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green Earth in the present moment, to appreciate the peace and beauty that are available now.’
Thich Nhat Hanh, Touching Peace: Practicing the Art of Mindful Living
5. Look after yourself. It’s hard to be disciplined about sleep when our quality time after work and household chores is so finite. Fuelled on caffeine and with the night electrified by fluoresce, we often revel in the fact that we are sleep deprived and boast about it at parties or on social media. This is not healthy and those who sleep properly for eight or nine hours a night are not lazy sloths; they are normal. It also goes without saying that a healthy diet and regular exercise will also help us make the most of our limited time on earth.
Don’t just survive your way through each week. Cherish each moment. When you are about to make a decision, think about how you really want to enter the swimming pool and then do it the way that defines you and your beliefs. Enjoy every waking moment with those around you. Eat, sleep and exercise well. Stretch.