Time has always been incredibly interesting to me. I find myself thinking about it and commenting on it often; how much or little there is of it, how fast it seems to go, how malleable it can be – if you focus your attention just so on the present moment, what I’ve been spending time on recently and how I plan to organize it in the future. And most notably, of course, the constraints it often presents.
My mind wanders, sometimes, back to the parts of my life when I felt I had all the time in the world (like college days, or that strategically scheduled job). My days stretched out before me with just a few commitments and there was plenty of time to plan and to act, to socialize, to lounge and daydream.
My first child was born almost two years ago, and when my lovely little baby bundle of sweetness and curiosities arrived, my stretches of free time left the scene. In some ways, having this new little creature around forced me to slow down, which stretched time out, as I noticed things in a way I never had before. But in other ways, as my own time got increasingly downsized, I sped up.
In the times when my kiddo was contentedly occupied (whether because of a toy, a nap or his own wandering baby gaze), my mind raced, trying to figure out how to best spend this pocket of spare time I found myself with. Should I do something productive? Should I do something fun? Should I do something relaxing? Should I just take a nap? Now I’m far from a type A personality, but the way my mind would, and occasionally still does, reel at the brink of some ever scarcer free time, I’d feel this huge amount of pressure over each decision or action I would take. And I would stress, thinking, was this really the best way to spend the handful of moments I had to myself today? Right now? Would I be happier / healthier / more rested / more on top of things if I did something else?
I would find myself, while trying not to waste a minute, just moving from activity to activity. Whichever category I had plucked the first task from.. I would just keep going, without stopping to consider whether that was what I really needed or wanted to do at the time. I was flying on autopilot. And then I would get to the end of the day and wish I had done something utterly different. Something with more intention behind it.
So I started learning to pause. Sometimes for a few seconds, sometimes for a minute or two, to actually consider what I wanted out of that bit of time that lay in front of me. It was hard to do at first. All that restless “I need to do, do, do” energy would protest mightily. It felt so contrary to stop when I had such limited time. And sometimes in the entire week I’d only pull it off a couple of times.
But the muscle grew over time, and that pause has changed so much. It gives me a chance to check in. To see if I’m hungry or tired or bored, if I need some mental or social stimulation, if I would feel more relaxed having dinner planned for that night or getting that project crossed off my list, or if I just want to check out and watch a Netflix show for a while.
And armed with the results of that tiny pause for assessment, I can decide what to do about it. In exchange for a few seconds, I get to feel more in control over how I spend my time, rather than feeling like my day just happened to me and I was along for the ride. I feel so much better when my actions have a purpose behind them, and that’s by far worth the cost of a few seconds pause to me.