The ancient Chinese used to have this as a general lifestyle guideline for self-cultivation. Quite a lot like the modern day saying “less is more.” At first it’s a difficult idea to accept. After all, we live in a very fast paced society. The to-do lists never end and there is constantly something demanding our time, efforts, choices, and consumption. Even activities intended for stress-relief and relaxation are exhausting us in one way or another. We feel constantly driven to be better, earn more, and succeed. And with good reason; we all want to secure stability and prosperity for ourselves and our families. But what if there was another way?
What if taking it easier meant making it happen?
We’ve been convinced that in order to succeed you must be fit and fast, “in shape” and “on it.” We think that in order to achieve we have to take on more work, exercise harder, and do all of the things that will get us “closer” to our goal – as fast as possible. The result of this pursuit is often more stress, disappointment, and disease/illness/injury. But in fact, the opposite is true; “moderate effort yields maximum results.” Say it out loud, remind yourself regularly.
Often what we need more of is the opposite of what we think we need. For example; we are feeling tired so we have coffee for a boost and/or have an intense workout – both put our nervous systems under a lot of pressure. There’s nothing wrong with coffee or exercise. But, are you able to distinguish whether that’s something your body really needs? or if it’s a craving or psychological programming? Are you able to do it in moderation or do you always feel the need for more? By slowing down and giving yourself the opportunity to learn more about your body/mind connection you learn to identify the difference.
So how do we do that? How do we make the shift in world that has convinced us that in order to achieve anything we must look and act a certain way? How do we restructure our lives to create changes towards a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle?
Here’s 5 simple ways to get started:
1. Keep an open mind. Put yourself in other people’s shoes, look at things from a new perspective. Once you shift your perspective you can start to identify new alternatives. Do your research or talk to people who are doing the things you think might help you. Find out what motivates them to do it and ask them for tips on how to approach it as a newcomer.
2. If at first you don’t succeed, try again. When you’ve been doing things in the same way for a long time it will be difficult to make a change right away. Being open to trying something new might require that you try it more than once. If you decide to take up a yoga class, for example, make a commitment to stick with it for a few weeks and give yourself time to adjust so you can make an informed decision about whether to continue.
3. Pace yourself. While some people can make a drastic changes overnight, most of us need to do it gradually. If you usually have coffee every morning, don’t just stop having coffee altogether. Instead try having coffee every other day – or one day less, then another day, and so on. Avoid putting pressure on yourself to doing things right away – good things take time. Remember we are cultivating moderation, and that means taking things in reasonable doses so that you don’t stress yourself out about it.
4. Create spaciousness and stillness. Find time for peace and quiet. Silence is essential to understanding ourselves better. It can be as simple as going for a walk in nature. The key thing is to make it genuine silence; undistracted by media. Yes, this means it’s you and your thoughts, and yes sometimes our thoughts are what we are avoiding most – but the fact is that when you give yourself permission to observe your thoughts you also learn to let them go, even if it’s just for a little while.
5. Listen to yourself. Once you’ve nurtured spaciousness and stillness you may find that you are more understanding of what you really need. Cultivate that intuition by responding to it. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it – even if that means you have to restructure a previous commitment. It doesn’t mean you have to quit, it just means you find an alternative that is more suitable to you.
You don’t have to deplete your body or nervous system in order to be productive or healthy. There is another way. Modern science is now catching up to what the ancient wise ones had figured out thousands of years ago; slow and steady wins the race. Life doesn’t have to be a sprint; if we pace ourselves it can be gently and lovingly enjoyed, reflected upon, and expanded.