No, this is not about driving a car with a manual transmission (although the way people slam the clutch with their foot, it might be a good “Move Right Monday” segment).
When do we typically downshift a car? When we need to slow down or for extra power when approaching a hill.
When do we downshift a life?
This has been on my mind a lot the past few weeks…maybe months. I knew I had to talk about here on “Think Right Thursday,” for my sake, if not for yours. Hopefully, you can glean a few things from it as I talk to myself.
I don’t know if you deal with this, but I like to be needed. I like to be called upon to share from my experience. I like to help people. That’s why I became a doctor.
Life gives me many opportunities to help. Last week, I helped a friend load his moving truck (and by the way, thank you so much for all the encouraging comments on last week’s article. It looks like it might have helped some people). Before that, there was a fun “Fundamental Foods” dinner where I taught about the power of kombucha. (If you live in the Naples area, I invite you to our next one in November – watch Facebook for details). I have meetings with the Blue Zones and the occasional speaking opportunity. Plus, my normal patient appointments and running a practice. Plus, my two kids and the other important relationships in my life. Plus, I volunteer at my church. Plus, my own physical fitness. I’m sure I’m forgetting some things.
It’s a blessing and an honor to be needed…and wanted. I won’t lie: I enjoy it, but I’ve had to learn my limits and abide by them. The bigger my audience gets, the bigger my opportunities get, the easier it is to forget my limitations and overcommit myself. It sounds good, but it leads to bad things.
I think we all go through times when we feel like we can do everything we want to do, and times when we feel like we should do everything we are asked, and times when we feel like we have to do everything that everyone expects.
But who are we really serving in those times?
Are we feeding our own need to be needed? I find that it’s possible to have a hint of selfishness buried deep in our service to others. It’s about motives: are we serving because we like to be the hero, or we like to be needed? If you find you’re buried with commitments, it’s worth a few minutes of quiet introspection to examine that.
Are we trying to keep up appearances? It feels good to be seen as “Johnny-on-the-spot,” always ready to help. Some people thrive on the attention that serving can bring, especially when it’s done in front of people. Again, it comes back to motives.
Are we always volunteering because we believe that nobody else can do as good of a job as we can do? That’s pride…even if you’re right.
Are we trying to please people in an out-of-balance way? Sometimes, we do things just out of a sense of obligation, because it’s a family member, or we feel like we owe them something, or we don’t want to upset them. There might be some unhealthiness in that relationship.
Why am I bringing all this up?
I don’t know anyone who hasn’t told me at some point about how busy their life is – how out-of-control they sometimes feel. There is a general sense of fatigue, burden, and burnout around us. For all our modern conveniences, we are more stressed-out and exhausted than ever. And at the center of it all is our commitments. And at the center of our commitments is our motives.
This is where downshifting comes in. If you run your engine at the redline all the time, it will burn out. Your life is the same way.
I am not the one to tell you which of your commitments and obligations merits the time you sacrifice for it, but I will tell you that you must sit down and evaluate each one of them. I chose the word “sacrifice” intentionally. Once you give your time to something, you can never have that time back. Never.
Evaluating Your Commitments
Every single one of your commitments might be perfectly legitimate and deserving of your time, but you have to be the one to budget it out. If you are burning the candle at both ends because someone else is putting pressure on you to do things, then you are going to hurt your health. You need adequate sleep. Worse yet, you will hurt the relationship. There comes a point where you are not helping them. First, you are causing or allowing them to depend on you, which is not as noble as it sounds. Second, you will eventually come to resent them, because in order to give to them you have to take from something else – usually from yourself.
Remember last week, when I talked about fitting your whole life into a 26-foot truck? Your time is like that. You have 24 hours and every time you decide to give some of your space to one activity, you make that space unavailable to another activity. Which one is more important? You have to choose, and if you choose based on someone else’s pressure, you are no longer in the driver’s seat in your life.
It comes down to priorities. Is your family more important to you than your work? Your schedule will tell you the answer. Are your social causes and activities more important to you than your sleep? Are your kids more important to you than your spouse? Is a balanced life more important to you than having your hands in everything? These are not interesting ideas, these are life questions. The quality of your life will be determined by how you answer these questions and by how your behavior reflects what you say your priorities are.
I had one other observation from that moving van. If you have a room full of antique, hand-crafted wooden furniture, and you just throw it into the truck without any blankets or padding, you will ruin it all. It will get scratched, scuffed, and broken. If you put your glasses and ceramics in a cardboard box without paper-wrapping or bubble-wapping each piece individually, you might as well leave that box at the old house because everything inside the box will be broken by the time you get to your destination.
We need padding in our lives. What is the padding in our lives? Down time. Time where you’re not giving from your resource of available energy. Some people use that time to read, others use it to pray, still others use it to fish, hike, or play golf. The point is that you set aside some time on regular basis to replenish yourself without giving out. Nourish your mind with a good book. Rest your body. I know it’s difficult – it’s difficult for me, too – but making the decision to pursue it as a lifestyle is the key here. If you don’t give it a place of priority in your life, you will ALWAYS find an excuse to skip it. Giving yourself some margin, some white space, in your life is the key to staying healthy and balanced. That’s why we have to evaluate every commitment. Because really, when you get down to it, you DON’T have 24 hours every day. If you sleep for seven hours, take an hour in the morning to pray/meditate/exercise, take an hour to eat lunch and another for dinner, and schedule pauses into your day to catch your breath, you really have about 14 hours a day. If you have a family, you should set aside at least 2 or 3 more for them, or later in life you will wish you had. So now, we’re down to about 11 hours a day.
That’s every day. What can you do in eleven hours if you really focus? Cut out the distractions and apply yourself to what’s important to you.
Then, there’s the week. Could you set aside an entire day every week to just rest?
The Hebrews had a law called “Shabbat.” On the seventh day of the week, no one was permitted to do any work. None. They even had tips for how to prepare the house and a simple meal so that the whole day could be spent resting, visiting friends, reading, playing, and enjoying life. They did this (and many still do it) EVERY WEEK.
Can you imagine taking an entire day off every week?
If you’re a Christian, it’s actually one of the Ten Commandments, but American Christians tend to treat it like a nice suggestion rather than a command. Now, before you send me Mark 2:27 where Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath, I realize there is a balance. Sometimes, you have to be able to do things on the day of rest. Let common sense rule here. I don’t mean the cessation of all activity, but a conscious decision to set aside a day to cease from your labor. If God only intended it as a rule for the ancient Israelites to keep, why did he place it right alongside murder, adultery, and coveting? God knows we need to rest, and He knows that He didn’t make it a big deal, we would neglect it.
If you don’t stop and rest, it will negatively impact your performance. Your quality and quantity of work deteriorate over time. Nothing you do is ever as good if you’re not resting. If you run a car engine at the redline all the time, you will burn it out. So too, your life.
We need to take time off. Need, not want. Need. Like, to stay alive.
Workaholics…I’m looking at you (and me). Killing yourself with work is no more noble than killing yourself with drugs.
Look at your motives: what are you running after? The brass ring? A big house? A big title? Bragging rights?
Maybe I should ask…what are you running away from?
Is your workaholism a way to hide from responsibilities at home? From failed relationships? From fear of being inadequate? From fear of people? What are you hiding from by working all the time?
So much of the sickness in America is entirely, 100 percent preventable, if we would just let ourselves rest. If we would stop overcommitting ourselves. If we would stop filling our time with trivial things.
Maybe even park.
This weekend, make a commitment to yourself to rest.
Let’s Do This Together
You know what? Why don’t you go ahead and make that commitment public, for accountability. Leave your commitment in the comments on Facebook. Let’s do this together. Make a commitment to take a set amount of time off this weekend, whether it’s six hours, twelve hours, or twenty-four hours. Do it. Then follow through.
You might be amazed at the difference you feel.
I’ll see you next “Move Right Monday.”
“At the end of your feelings is NOTHING. At the end of your principles is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas