In Flux

Embracing transitions and change

Downshifting to Upshift Your Life

Slowing down to smell the roses, taste the coffee, and other good things

We live in times of incredible change and transition. The world today has shifted beyond anything expected, predicted, or imagined; things just happen so quickly. Technology is a constantly changing force in our lives, providing access to an unfathomable amount of information. Few of us could have comprehended the rapidity of change we all experience on a minute by minute basis, or the effects this barrage of information and unfiltered stimulation has upon us. We are simultaneously empowered and overwhelmed by the easy access and availability of information. Somehow, with all that is available to us we are left feeling that we should be able to control life.

But many of us are poorly equipped to cope with and to effectively process all that is happening around us. A better understanding of who you are and who you are not allows for the personal discernment and critical scrutiny that helps you separate what is important for you personally, apart from the dictates of your society. Armed with that knowledge you no longer have to settle for following along with the pack. For certain, this gives you a fair amount of control for what you choose to do in a changing world.

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The “Slow Movement” describes how people are trading in their high-pressured life for a simpler one. Slowing down the pace of living is one way to take back control of your life. It’s taking the “time-out” from life (the retreat, the search for quiet and solitude, minimal distractions, and being “unplugged”) up several notches.

If life has gotten away from you, if the demands upon you are making you overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, and/or deeply concerned about the future, if your work-life balance is unfairly skewed away from quality time with yourself, your family, your interests and hobbies, your community, then downshifting may be something to consider. The idea is to downshift wherever and whatever you can, to streamline your life, in order to “upshift” the overall quality of your life.

Consider these points: Can you cut back on your hours at work? Can you work closer to home, or even from home? Can you change careers by going back to school to retrain? Can you cut back on unnecessary expenses? Can you consolidate the necessary expenses you have? What will it take to live more simply, more frugally, without compromising necessary future expenses such as children’s college education, health costs, or your retirement?

If the thought of this is too overwhelming to digest all at once, simplify the exercise by creating just two categories. First, identify your highest priorities, those things absolutely essential for you to keep. Now, eliminate what is left. See how easy that was?

If you want to explore this further here are some things to think about and answer for yourself.

 What are the things you value the most about your life? Choose 5 of these as a starting point, a basic model around which to structure the life you are trying to create.

 What commitments are most important to you? Seriously evaluate which ones are in keeping with the 5 things you identified as most important to you? Think about completing your existing commitments and refusing to take on any new ones.

 Assess the way you use your time. Most of us have a daily routine, with many fixed activities and chores. Evaluate which things are absolutely necessary and important for the 5 areas you identified as having the most value for your life.

 How much time do you spend communicating? Assess the amount of time spent online, emailing, text messaging, and on your cell phone. How can you cut back on the amount of time you spend doing these activities? Again, it’s about high priorities.

 Assess how much time you spend on a daily basis with TV, radio, internet, newspapers and magazines. Decrease your consumption to receive basic information from a worthy source, once a day. So much of what is presented in the media is repetitive and redundant.

 Get rid of clutter in every area of your life. Do you really need everything you have? Give anything away you have not used in the last two years. Someone’s junk is someone else’s treasure. Learn to do with less.

 Assess how much quality time you actually spend with family and close friends. This will probably be one of the 5 things you identified as most important to you. Spend more time with someone important to you on a daily basis.

 Be present in your own life. Assess how much time you regularly make for yourself. Make an adjustment to be sure you have enough time to be alone.

Even if you can’t make changes at this point in your life, just being mindful about the way you’re living, consciously aware of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it is a step in the right direction.

Abigail Brenner, M.D., is a psychiatrist in private practice. She is the author of Transitions: How Women Embrace Change and Celebrate Life and other books.

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