Many of us have an iffy relationship with time. Largely, we resent it. Because when we’d rather time slow down, it seems to, almost on purpose, sprint and slip away from us. This is why many of us find ourselves desperately trying to outwit time.
We invent and employ strategies to perform tasks faster. We sample all sorts of productivity tips and tricks—even when it comes to books. One entrepreneur swears by his “ultra-hardcore” reading, which looks like: reading while brushing his teeth, getting dressed and crossing rooms in his home. He also listens to audiobooks at three times the normal speed.
We try to shave off seconds, so we can have more minutes. And yet we still feel starved. We still lie in bed at night thinking about everything we didn’t get to.
But there are ways we can stop time. These strategies have nothing to do with working faster or slashing our to-do lists or inboxes—or turning to any other efficiency tips. It has to do with changing our relationship to time and actually slowing down (often the opposite of what we think we should be doing) and savoring. Below are seven ideas from Pedram Shojai’s newest book The Art of Stopping Time: Practical Mindfulness for Busy People.
Clear out your physical (and mental) space. “Whether you know it consciously or not, there’s a part of your consciousness that has to hold space for the things you keep in life,” writes Shojai, a doctor of oriental medicine, Qigong master and ordained priest of the Yellow Dragon Monastery in China. Many of us own stuff that we stuff into the nooks, crannies and crevices of our homes. We spend time moving this stuff from room to room, from storage space to storage space. We spend time organizing it, and cleaning it, and thinking about it.
Decluttering not only saves us time, energy and effort; it’s also liberating for our minds, Shojai writes. “It gives us the spaciousness we’ve been looking for.” What can you recycle, donate and toss today?
Play with daydreaming. Take 20 minutes out of your day to close your eyes, and think about a trip you’d like to take in great detail: Imagine the sights, sounds, textures and tastes. Shojai notes that this exercise shrinks stress and boosts theta band frequency in the brain. “Theta is a comfortable wavelength for the brain to hang out in from time to time. Think of it as a lower gear in a car that allows us to cruise and not crank the engine all the time.”
Stretch your body. “Stretching and opening up tight body parts releases trapped tension and trauma from a past time, which frees us from it in current time.” It releases trapped energy and helps us to refocus on the present.
Shojai suggests trying these stretches: Fold forward and bend at the hips; drop to one knee and stretch the front of your hips, then switch to do the other side; rotate your neck in one direction and then in the other direction. Finally, feel for any other tension in your body, and stretch those parts.
Spend time with the stars. Shojai suggests spending 30 minutes staring at the stars. Sit down or lie flat on your back, and connect your breathing to what you’re seeing. Identify three constellations—which you can actually do with the help of an app (Shojai likes Star Walk). Learn about these constellations.
Also, as you’re watching the sky, realize that you’re actually seeing into the past. As Shojai writes, “It takes the light from many of those stars millions of years to get to the earth, and what you’re seeing is light from ancient days.” Remind yourself that our ancestors spent hours looking at the stars every night. Remind yourself that they created fascinating stories about the constellations. Remind yourself that they used the sky to guide everything—their ships, harvests and religious ceremonies. (And consider star gazing with your spouse or kids or other loved ones.)
Have supportive rituals. Rituals can help us to reconnect to what is meaningful. They also anchor and ground us. They provide structure. Shojai shares these examples: Every morning identify five things you’re grateful for before even getting out of bed; give thanks for your lunch; every night relax your body, as though you’re “melting into the floor.” To figure out the rituals you’d like to create, reflect on what you need. Find rituals that serve, support and inspire you.
Rethink waiting. Waiting is an inevitable part of life. We wait in line. We wait in traffic. We wait in restaurants. We wait for others. And often we are not happy about this waiting. We’re fuming and frustrated.
But really waiting is an opportunity. According to Shojai, it might be an opportunity to relax and breathe deeply; to jot down your thoughts in a journal; to read or listen to a podcast; to spend more quality time with the person you’re with; or to simply think. “The moral of the story is to take ownership of your time.”
Find space between the notes. There’s a saying that “Music is the space between the notes.” According to Shojai, it illustrates the Taoist principle of emptiness: “The notes themselves would drive us crazy if there were no reprieve between them.” And yet that’s how we structure and live our lives. Shojai suggests listening to an instrumental track, without doing anything, such as cleaning or scrolling through your phone. (His favorite is “Adagio” by Remo Giazotto.) Next sync your breath with the melody. Ponder how it makes you feel.
Then reflect on the saying and consider: “Where in your life do you need to pause between notes? What subtle spacing can you put in your day to make things more beautiful?”
You are no doubt busy. Your to-do list no doubt has many, many tasks on it that legitimately need doing. But arriving at inbox zero doesn’t mean you’ll stop receiving email. Often it just means more replies. As Oliver Burkeman writes in his brilliant article “Why Time Management is Ruining Our Lives,” “you’re still Sisyphus, rolling his boulder up that hill for all eternity – you’re just rolling it ‘slightly faster.’” The same is true for our endless lists.
We can stop time. Maybe not for 3 hours. But we can pause it long enough to savor what we need, to savor what we love.