How to avoid stressful relaxation. Be more aimless…
30th November 2018
A year ago I left a full-on NHS manager job in pursuit of a more balanced and happy life. However, it has taken me a full 12 months to learn the art of living more slowly. In fact, when I first gave up the ‘9-5’, things became more hectic than ever.
The reason life was so busy wasn’t because I was working flat out to develop another career as initially I had given myself a few months of mini sabbatical. The problem was I was trying too hard to get the most out of this precious (unlikely to be repeated) time, trying to do everything I had been dreaming about doing while I was too busy at work.
But in pursuit of a more balanced life, my dream of living in a more relaxed way receded to a fantasy before the first week of freedom was out. Previously my morning routine had involved half drunk tea and unfinished breakfasts in the rush to get out of the house and avoid commuter traffic. Nowadays there wasn’t even time for a bite of toast as I perused and pursued my ‘to-do’ list.
Days were spent on a plethora of self improvement activities such as learning Italian and going to the gym while fitting in catch-ups with friends I hadn’t seen for years. Then there was getting on top of 20 years’ house clutter and giving a kick start to my diet, not to mention finding a way to reconnect with my teenage sons before they left home for ever.
Manic relaxation is not unusual. Many of us have trouble relaxing in our time off. A recent Guardian article, “Triathalon, ultramarathons and ambitious baking: why is modern leisure so competitive” (Richard Godwin) reveals how leisure time sees many of us hell-bent on achieving some sort of goal. And not modest ones like going for a swim or making a Victoria Sponge. More like reading the complete works of Shakespeare in Mandarin or preparing a six course Yotem Ottolenghi dinner party. And if, as parents and want our kids to be similarly making the most of their lives rather than whiling away the hours, weekends can become all round exhausting.
Our motivation for being like this is worthy in a way. Living in a first world country we shouldn’t take our lives for granted. By keeping life interesting and packed, we are both appreciating it and realising our potential as human beings. What’s the point of jogging around the block once a week when we could achieve – if we work hard enough – something as rewarding as a marathon. Why not be the best we possibly can be?
The problem is, by living life so much to the full, we are missing out on some of the best bits which can only be found within the space of aimlessness. The recent popularity of Adult Colouring Books speak to our need for those rare commodities – quietetude and directionless.
Over the past year, I have readjusted and achieved (wrong word!) the ability to relax. I can now do aimlessness inside or out, both having unexpected benefits. On an aimless walk, I notice the colour of the leaves, the sound of birds and children playing (sorry for the cliches but it is nice) or bump into someone and have a chat (I have got several new business contacts and met my graphic designer during these meanderings). The other day I saw a kingfisher on the Thames. Sometimes, just musing about this and that in green spaces helps me to sort out stuff in my head.
When aimlessly wandering around the house I find things I have lost or rediscover things that I love, like music or books (recently been re-reading some favourite ‘80s reads such as Jay McInerney). I might find time to phone a friend (though they are probably too busy to speak). Or try to have an aimless, fun chat with one of my sons while they purposely raid the fridge.
The best thing though is that I feel at my most relaxed and happy when aimless.
Being aimless is about just being – not feeling you have to prove anything. Helen Carmichael writes funny and insightful blogs about living with MND. One of my favourite quotes is her saying that her diagnosis didn’t result in some great epiphany on how to spend her suddenly much more limited time. Instead she just “bumble (s) on in the same time-wasting manner (she has) always lived”.
We all have limited time on this earth, but filling it to the brim, doesn’t necessarily make it a fuller life.
So maybe let’s just make more of an effort to waste a bit of time this weekend.