5:30 am: Wake up
6:00 am: Wake two very grumpy kids
6:50 am: Drop kids off at their dad’s
7:00 am: Commute for 90 mins into the city
8:30 am: Sit in class for 4 hours
12:30 pm: Commute back to the suburbs for 60 mins
1:30 pm: Work on website & study
3:00 pm: Pick up kids from school
3:45 pm: Supervise homework
4:45 pm: Take one child to martial arts class
6:00 pm: Make dinner
7:00 pm: Walk the dog
7:30 pm: Go for a run
8:15 pm: Read Harry Potter to kids
8:40 pm: Put kids to bed
9:00 pm: Clean up house
9:30 pm: Study for 2 hours
11:30 pm: Finally sleep
I’m exhausted just even looking at that day. But for now, in this season, it’s the rhythm of my life. Problem is, whilst I accept that it’s the rhythm of my life, it stresses.me.out. My head is constantly filled with thoughts of “I have to do this,” and if I go off track with time, I panic that I won’t get everything done. Heaven forbid someone calls at 7 pm when I’m supposed to be walking the dog.
I look at my watch a lot, and find it challenging to stay in the present moment because in my head I’m already moving on to the next thing. It makes it very difficult to enjoy anything when everything I do is part of a “have to” schedule.
I suspect that although the items on your schedule look quite different, your thinking and stress levels aren’t all that different at all.
We know on some level that we need to slow down, but knowing and doing are two different things. Much as we would like to, it’s challenging to live life slowly and mindfully, to appreciate the moment and not become bogged down in “I need to”s or “I should”s. So few of us live in the moment because we’re thinking about the next thing that needs to be done. It’s symptomatic of our Western lifestyle.
But this week something shifted for me. A classmate told the story of a man she knew who was diagnosed with cancer and given a life expectancy of just a few months. Like me, this was a person who ran from one thing to the next with little breathing room and bemoaned his long list of things that “had to be done.” But once he learned he only had a few months to live, everything changed. Instead of complaining that he “had to” do something he started saying “I get to do this.”
What a shift in perspective.
So I tried it. I started saying “I get to wake up at 5:30 and see the sun rise.” “I get to commute and listen to an audiobook.” “I get to walk the dog in the fresh air.” “I get to read with my kids.”
It makes such a difference. Instead of rushing through one activity to check off the next item on the list, I’m starting to be present with the thing I’m actually doing. Because right now I get to do it. And I have no idea for how much longer I will get to do it.
This morning I spilled a whole container of garbage all over my kitchen floor. I won’t tell you what my first thought was…but my second was to stop and say to myself, “I get to pick up all this garbage.” Yes, it’s a rather silly example, but you know what? It took away the irritation of the activity completely. My next thought was, “One day I won’t be able to bend over with ease like this,” and “some people aren’t physically capable of doing this.” I went from spilling the garbage to appreciating the agility in my body.
Granted this will take practice. Like anything, it requires effort and a retraining of the brain until it becomes a habit. But on the occasions so far when I have remembered to replace “I have to” with “I get to,” I have immediately looked at the privilege and blessing in the activity.
Think of all the activities you “have to” do each day, or on a regular basis.
Write each item down in your journal and precede it with the words “I get to.”
Finally, write an extra sentence about the blessing in that activity. E.g. “I get to commute for 2 hours every day, which means I have an opportunity to listen to music I love/an audiobook.”
Let me know what you think. Do you think that this small change in perspective would have a big effect on your life?