Humans are social animals. In groups we could hunt, forage and raise children far more effectively than as individuals. As a result we are wired to value relationships, highly. In modern times, technology allows us to go through entire days or weeks without genuine face-to-face interactions. This is the easy option. We may feel more connected than ever, but what use is it to know where hundreds of people went on their holiday if you will never see them again? Deep relationships with spouses, children, family and friends take time and energy. There will be pain but also laughter and sheer joy. One day your best friend will move to the other side of the world and on another you will meet someone who you feel like you’ve known forever. Invest in your relationships, not for what they can do for you, but how they make you feel. Make time and space for the people that you care about as though they are the most important thing in the world, because they are.
If you can change only one thing in your life, make it this: remain in the present moment as often as possible. This is a surprisingly difficult task, one you can only ever work towards, never achieving it. Our world has become so safe and predictable that our minds have become soft and wander off into largely unproductive and sometimes harmful thoughts. In this state, our desires control us, and this weakness allows the marketers in. Instead, stay present and focused. When you interact with someone, listen. Not just with your ears, but your eyes too. When you eat or drink, savour it. When life’s joys present themselves, stay present. Resist the temptation to capture the moment with technology and miss it in real time. Like everything worthwhile, this will take effort. But what could be more important than being awake in every moment of your life.
As life becomes more familiar it feels faster. When we first do something the experience is rich and nuanced. As we repeat that event it becomes less memorable—the novelty dwindles away. We already have that memory so there is no reason to capture it again. It is for this reason that a whole week can flash by as if it never happened. Change is tiring; it takes energy to navigate through unchartered territory. But if you can get past the initial barriers, those little changes compounded over time create unimaginable personal growth. Maybe you can challenge your thinking by reading, listening to podcasts or watching documentaries. For some, travel brings the novelty they need. For parents, raising children brings a continuous stream of new challenges. Or maybe you just try cooking a new recipe tonight, or switching the TV off and going to bed early just to see what happens.
We have been blessed with one incredible, adaptable body. This body changes in response to running, or lifting weights, or unfortunately, slouching. It is so easy to spend almost all of our time immobile, seated while working, travelling, eating and relaxing. Our intelligent body recognises this behaviour and adapts itself to sitting and so we lose so much of our mobility. Our body weakens as we continue to support it, and one day even getting out of a chair or walking becomes a challenge. It doesn’t have to be this way; if we take care of our bodies they will continue to serve us into old age. Movement doesn’t have to occur only in a gym or a class, it can be walking to the shops and carrying your groceries home, or gardening or cleaning the shower or dancing. Or simply sitting on the ground to put on your shoes. With more time you can walk instead of driving or exercise before you rush out for work. And the more you do this, the less you’ll feel like rushing.
We have never been so overwhelmed with options to spend our free time. Practically all the music, video and printed words ever created can be accessed instantly, often for little or no cost. There’s also an ever increasing array of live sport options to choose from, or we can tune into a visual snapshot of the lives of everyone we’ve ever met. Indeed, we can even interact with several of these alternatives at once. The result of this mania is a feeling of emptiness. Constant multi-tasking impairs our ability remember our experiences. Instead of consuming content, create it. Learn an instrument, sketch the world or play your own sport. It doesn’t matter if anyone ever sees it, only that you enjoy the experience. It’s never been easier to teach yourself anything, often for free. Instead of a vague memory, wake up tomorrow with a new skill.
For much of human existence we spent most of our time and effort finding and preparing our own food. Slowly we have become more distant from our own food. Few of us hunt, gather or even grow our own food. It is even seen as an inconvenience to drive to a supermarket. Preparing and cooking that food takes even more time, which can be avoided by choosing processed foods. And finally, if all of that is too much, with a few clicks you can have someone deliver hot, cooked food to wherever you are. We’ve lost so much in this transition. We’ve lost the social connection that comes from sitting around a table sharing a meal. We’ve lost the connection to where our food comes from. We’ve lost the knowledge of how to prepare food slowly and with care. Most importantly, we’ve forgotten what humans once knew intimately, that what we eat and what our food eats is the key to long term health. Spend time sourcing quality ingredients, learning what and how to cook and sharing it all with friends and family.
In today’s society, no discussion about time is complete without considering money. Not because time is money, but because money buys time. Your financial obligations dictate how hard you need to work. The higher your costs, the more you need to earn and the less flexible you become. Instead, focus on reducing your debt and build up cash reserves, become wise to the tactics of marketers trying to take your wealth and in the process become rich in your most precious resource: time.
In much of the way modern society operates, we borrow from the future. There is no better example of this than with rest. The restorative powers of sleep are only beginning to be understood by modern science. It’s tempting to create time and energy by swapping caffeine for sleep, but this not a healthy long term solution. Instead, create a life where you can sleep so that you wake up full of energy. That energy can be devoted to activities like moving and cooking that bring further health benefits. From this cycle comes the ability to concentrate deeply, allowing you to cut through the complexity of life, leaving time for what really matters to you. Give your body what it needs and it will reward you long into the future.
With enough time, unimaginable progress can be made with a series of tiny steps. The key is just to start, somewhere, anywhere. Those steps will become larger and more frequent. Eventually you realise that almost anything is within your reach if you’re willing to make the required sacrifices. Be an active participant in life.
Thrive amongst chaos.