You know that feeling you get when you are up-to-date with something-your e-mail box is empty, your desk(top) is cleared, your bills are paid, the weeds are pulled, the laundry is done? You feel a lightness, an ease, a sense of possibility. You're in the flow and, well, feeling groovy (wonderfully reflected in this Simon and Garfunkel song).
However, when the flow becomes too much for our system to handle, we get backed up. Instead of feeling groovy we feel stuffed. And there isn't just one flow, but many flows that run through our lives. For example, there is the flow of messages through texting, Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, and the phone (for us Luddites). There is the flow of growing, buying, preparing, and eating food; the flow of maintaining a home; and the flow of personal care including exercise and the ever important teeth flossing. There is the flow that is our schedule, and the flow of our partner's schedule, and now the kids have schedules, and don't forget the pets. And, oh yes, there are the flows for work and play and our spiritual lives.... Even if we are flowing well in several areas, the cumulative effect of all of these flows can make life feel as stuffed as a sausage.
Key to maintaining a healthy sense of flow overall is to find ways to metabolize the things that impact our lives. Metabolism involves taking in what is nourishing and sustaining and, er, um, eliminating or letting go of the rest. This sorting out process is essential for the well being of all natural systems including our bodies and our lives.
Thank goodness a lot of life's metabolism is automatic because we don't have the bandwidth to consciously monitor it all. However, as things change and new flows are introduced into our lives, we need to update our life's metabolic processing. This is where our ability to recognize patterns and create systems becomes really handy.
While an opposable thumb is very useful (we can't imagine opening peanut butter jars without it), it's our ability to discern patterns that has led a lot to our glory as a species. While much of our ability to detect patterns occurs unconsciously, choosing to deliberately see them can be a powerful and useful way to sort through all the clutter, be it mental or physical. Think of it as a big beam of light that you can shine on an area to clearly see what is going on and how things are connected to one another.
Ok, let's say your desk is a mess. (No, we don't mean you personally, just a hypothetical you. Your desk is probably fine.) When you take a moment to actually see what is there you will start to notice patterns. These will vary for each person and may include variations on the following:
—Archeological piles where the most recent things are on top and the oldest things are on the bottom.
—Subject groupings where things are divided into different piles such as "bills" and "things to do," along with "what do I do with this?" and "things I am avoiding."
When we're able to see the patterns, especially how and why things get stuck in our lives, we can begin to identify ways to modify our metabolism to help restore the flow.
So you see a pattern. And, for the record, we are often better at seeing the patterns of others than our own. Say you notice that when your partner comes home from work, she immediately drops everything so she can begin to relax. (Again, this is a hypothetical case and any resemblance to your behavior is purely coincidental.) This is one pattern; but perhaps you recognize a related pattern. In the morning your partner has to scramble to find the things she needs as she rushes out the door. As the week progresses, the sea of detritus around the front door grows. One day, you discover no one can leave or enter the house without a struggle (slightly exaggerated for dramatic effect).
This is where you can help to evolve your partner's metabolism by co-designing a system based on her patterns to enhance flow. When we say system we mean an arrangement of things for a specific purpose. To design a system we need to be clear on our purpose and create an arrangement that helps us fulfill that purpose. We can design systems that apply to our behavior, to our physical space, and to how we think, and usually some combination of these. (Read more about "Slow Design.") There are a few general principles for designing good metabolism-boosting systems:
We had one client with the behavior described above, and eventually we found an under-used closet near the front door and put a shelving unit in it. Each day she shoved her stuff on a shelf and closed the door. On the weekend she was happy to spend the time to sort it out and start fresh the next week.
We had another client trying to save on her family's food budget. She committed to cooking all the food in her cupboards before buying more. She found this practice regularly saved her 20 percent on her weekly food bill and left her with almost no food waste.
Five to ten minutes of weeding on the way from the car to the front door several nights a week left one client with a better looking front yard and helped her decelerate in the process. By the time she entered her home she felt more relaxed and ready to engage.
In our own experience, we find the beauty of turning off communication when we go on vacation is that we have the option to not turn back on those channels we didn't miss or that aren't critical when we come back home.
Ideally these systems eventually become part of our automatic metabolic system, which means they require little conscious effort. In fact, that should be the goal: to create simple systems for managing flow that blend in seamlessly with the act of living your life.
One other part of the metabolism process that is critical to maintaining a groovy flow is allowing time for integration of what is useful, desirable, and relevant. In order to do this we need to stop at least once or twice a week and do nothing. We need to let ourselves catch up with ourselves. In this way we let our minds wander without an agenda, allow our bodies to relax, and make the space for a deeper level of integration of all the stuff that has flowed through our lives up to that point. In fact, if we had a magic wand (and not to burst anyone's bubble, but we don't), the one thing we would wish for most of our clients is more space and time for nothing as a way to integrate more. Yes, we know it is a winning business idea: "We've got nothing! Get your nothing here!"
When things are flowing and we are metabolizing in real time, taking breaks to do nothing and integrating all the nourishing parts of our lives, then we are truly creating the good life and, of course, feeling groovy (cue sound).
Pick one area of your life and shine your pattern-seeking beam of light on it. Imagine you are an anthropologist. What do you see? What patterns can you detect? Are there any surprises or insights?
Find a time today to do 15 minutes of nothing. No agenda, no goal, no purpose other than to be. What do you notice?
Here's to feeling groovy!
Beth and Eric
This monthly slow essay is from Beth Meredith & Eric Storm of Create The Good Life.
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