November 4, 2018

Staying Sane in a Crazy World

“Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all.”

Google “Are human beings still evolving?” and you’ll see that the answer is yes. However, recent research suggests that although evolution is a constant and sometimes rapid process, the changes that take hold and stick tend to take a long time.

We live in a technological age, and what we’re rapidly discovering is that our natural, biological evolution isn’t keeping up with technology and the vast amounts of information we’re subject to every day.

In many ways, technology is great; however, for all the good it’s done, e.g. conquered diseases and reduced physical suffering, it’s also created psychological upheaval: the breakdown of traditional communities, social alienation, and a pace of change that challenges our ability to adapt. There’s no doubt that the technological age is placing stressors on the human nervous system that it was never designed or prepared for.

Mental illness and obesity are two of the greatest public health challenges in the 21st century. Although they’ve always existed, it’s clear they’re on the rise, particularly in the last 25 years. Our lives are becoming devoid of movement, touch, human connection and nature to the detriment of our body, mind and soul.

TV programs and news broadcasts bombard us 24/7 with increasingly negative content. Yes, bad things happen, but there’s also a growing tendency to sensationalize. Devices keep us trapped at work way past normal hours. Everybody wants more, faster, and often without the human resource capacity to do it. No wonder we’re fried.

British psychologist Richard Wiseman says that depending on where you live, the overall pace of life has increased between 10 and 30 percent since the mid-90’s. He notes that technological advances are one explanation for our collective sense of urgency: We are time-crunched, stressed and overwhelmed. Even in the face of rising stress-induced illness, we continue a mad race to an imaginary finish line.

So many are struggling for some sort of balance in life. Just when you think you might be catching up – even getting ahead – something else comes along. It’s like hanging on to the edge of a cliff when someone comes along and stomps on your fingers. You know how that ends up.

Most of us try to cram too much activity into our lives. It might be coming from bosses, friends, family, commitments we’ve made, or our own unrealistic expectations. While a busy lifestyle may give the illusion of productivity and high performance, it often takes a toll on mind-body balance, happiness, and quality of life.

You know what they say about “all work and no play.” Lately I’ve been thinking (and reading) about how to slow down in this fast-paced world. Here are some things I’m aiming to put into practice.

Realize that you can’t do everything. No one is superhuman, and no one can do it all. If you think someone is doing it all, dig a bit deeper. Something is falling by the wayside even if it’s not obvious at first glance. If you can accept this, you can mindfully choose what’s worth doing and what’s not.

Figure out what success means to you.  Is it money, notoriety, freedom, power, awards, raising great kids, or a stash of unforgettable memories? No matter what anyone says, you can’t have it all. You have to choose. Aiming for the prize that really matters to you will save you time, money and stress.

Say no to everything that doesn’t help you achieve what you want. You may be tempted to mimic someone you perceive as successful, but here’s the thing: If you want to spend more time with your family, then it doesn’t make sense to take a job that requires more time away from them. The title and salary won’t be worth it.

Slow things down. Make a commitment to finding balance. Once that intention is firmly in place, refer back to it daily to keep it fresh in your awareness. Also, adjust your schedule to create more buffer time between activities. Reduce the time-sucks in your life (including social media use).

Cultivate mindful attention. I’ve written about this before.

Take a break. My husband likes to say, “Take a break before you make a break.” I’ve learned this is true. As bad as it is, a craze of activity can be like a magnet, pulling people in and raising the level of chaos. Step back, step out, and take some time to yourself.

Identify and manage your stress points. You can’t save the world, but you can save yourself. Learn to be self-aware. Know your triggers and disengage before it’s too late. Let others know what drives you around the bend.

Control only what you can. There is so much you can’t control, and if you try to, you’ll drive yourself crazy. Don’t waste your energy on those sorts of things. Resolve the issues you can and leave it at that.

Staying sane in a crazy world isn’t easy but it can be done. If you’re not inclined to make the effort to slow down a bit and live a more meaningful life, here’s something I came across that might give you pause to reconsider:

Saying no is hard.
Giving up good things is hard.
Disappointing people we love is hard.
But getting to the end of your life only to realize you played someone else’s game?
Way harder.