How to Stop Running and Start Living

Ever notice that the relaxation you experience on vacation is quickly replaced by stress once you get home? It doesn’t have to be that way. Want to know the secret to staying in that blissfully calm ‘vacation’ state? Read on…

Last week was my first week back from vacation. We flew to Venice and then cruised to several Greek islands. It was a vacation of a lifetime. Aside from the stunning scenery and the fabulous food, what struck me most was the change of pace.

It’s not until we slow down that we realize how fast we were running.

The Europeans have it all figured out. There’s no rush. Here in North America, we’re fooled into thinking that our lives are just one big race to the finish line and that the fastest person wins. But we don’t get a medal for cramming as much as possible in a day. And there’s no joy in getting up and doing it all over again tomorrow.

From the moment we stepped off the plane in Venice, it felt like we stepped into another world. At the end of our meals, there was no rush to bring us the bill. We were encouraged to linger at the table and continue talking and laughing, long after savouring the last morsel of dessert.  Tourists and locals alike meandered down the narrow streets, like they had no place to be anytime soon. People stopped and conversed with one another as if they had all the time in the world – you could feel the strong sense of community.

I decided that this is what I wanted to bring home with me. The sense that I have all the time I need to do what’s important to me. Living fast is not the path to joy and fulfillment. Rushing is merely a habit – one that I am happy to begin changing.

So during my first week back, I resisted trying to catch up on everything in one day. I let some things go. I just did what I absolutely had to do and took my time. I felt calm, relaxed and at peace. And the funny thing is that nothing catastrophic occurred! In fact, I was able to focus and get quite a few things accomplished. I eliminated the words ‘hurry up’ from my vocabulary, whether I was saying them to my family or to myself. I ate slower (food tasted better and I got full faster). I sipped my tea instead of guzzling it. I connected with people while walking in my neighbourhood. I stopped and gazed at the lake rather than just walking past it.

I did some research and discovered that the fast life and the stress it causes can lead to cardiovascular disease and accelerate aging. On the other hand, slowing down can lead to greater satisfaction in our job, in our family and in our life in general.

When we rush, mistakes are made, things are misplaced or forgotten, accidents happen, and this sets us back even further than if we just took our time in the first place. (Driving is a perfect example).

Do you find that your days feel like you are just running on a treadmill – and that life is passing you by too fast to enjoy it? Is there an area in your life that you could slow down a little? Please share in the comments below. I welcome your feedback.

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This post has 19 comments

  • Welcome back, Hellen. We did miss you! I love this post, because it rings true. When I was in the Greek islands, I did notice — and admire — the slower pace. One Sunday morning, sipping coffee at a large outdoor cafe, I saw that most people were speaking to each other. A few were perusing printed newspapers. I didn’t see any iPhones or BlackBerrys in use. The pace was peaceful.

    In our quest to succeed, we go too fast. Not only do we not smell the roses, we don’t make time to THINK.

    • Donna, I’m glad I’m not the only one that was struck by the slower in pace in the Greek islands. It really caused me to revisit what succeeding really means to me…it sounds like it had a similar effect on you. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  • Shelly says:

    Thank you for this – I need this “forgiveness”. It’s become so fast-paced that I forget where I’m supposed to be at what time. Mowing the lawn before soccer games, laundry in the middle of the night, breakfast… what’s that?
    If only everyone would read this post and “forgive” each other for a slower pace – Canada would be an even better place. In celebration of this posting, I’m going to actually sit and enjoy a cup of tea this evening – while it’s still warm. lol

    • Shelly, I love that you bring up the concept of “forgiveness”. I never thought of it that way but it makes so much sense now. We really need to start letting each other off the hook. Enjoy your tea and your evening.

  • Wendi Yates says:

    You’re living my dream Hellen! That trip is exactly one of the things on my vision board. But back to reality and the reality is that I haven’t had a vacation since 2006 nor do I see one in the near future and I’m not saying that to illicit sympathy merely the facts of life as it is NOW. I can’t afford to slow down because as soon as I do, one area of my life starts accumulating chores that it then takes me weeks to catch up on. The reality is that I went through a very nasty divorce and have had to reinvent myself several times over the course of the last few years until I find myself here, starting a business of my own and trying hard to keep juggling all the balls in the air – somedays I am successful and others, well my head has gotten pretty used to the knocks! So between getting my children through university and college without debt, 2 downsizes, unemployment and all the stress that that entails and now a business along with trying to get my life organized (went through an emergency reno of my basement when I discovered mould after Christmas this year – paperwork and files all over the place – it is taking me so long to get things back in shape….but hopefully by the end of August, God willing! But you know what? To quote Elton, I’m still standing!!

    Thanks Hellen – love your posts and the advice you give I really try to put into implementation!

    • Wendi, it’s clear that you have a lot of your plate right now, so you may consider introducing the slower pace in bite-sized chunks. For example, can you take 15 minutes to enjoy a cup of tea outside, like Shelly? How about 5 minutes to take some deep breaths? Or choose something else that doesn’t take a lot of time but provides you with some peace. And you may want to monitor your self-talk – if you tell yourself you CAN afford to slow down, or that you can’t afford NOT to slow down, you will begin believing it and making it a reality. Believe me, there is hope….try it and let me know how it works out.

      • Wendi Yates says:

        Thank you Hellen and Lorraine for the advice and pep talk – for sure, I will plan for a 15 minute “time out” for good behavior! That is doable. The reason for the August deadline is that my crazy-busy period at my store starts to ramp up in September and goes through to New Year’s Eve, so I have to clear-up the personal clutter before that happens so that my focus is on my business. And the really good thing is that despite the bad economy, my sales are increasing! Thank you so much again to you both – I really appreciate the feed-back. xoxo

    • Lorraine Gordon says:

      You sound like a winner, Wendi. The fact that you even have a vision board tells me that. With everything you have dealt with and are still dealing with, you still look ahead to a better time. I’m sure you’ll take that trip some day. If you don’t meet your August deadline, you’ll meet it in September, or October. Keep the optimism, but try to ditch the overwork once in awhile — you’re in this life for the long haul, right?

  • Sandra Rumfeldt says:

    Hmmmm. And which countries are in debt?

  • Silvana says:

    I can’t speak for Greece’s economic crisis but I know Italy has a government with former civil servant lifetime pensions of 7,000 euros a month and pensions that are payed out to an ever-increasing aging population. There are a number of reasons that Italy is in debt crisis that doesn’t have anything to do with the enviable lifestyle… Italians who are already taxed 50% of their incomes are being asked to contribute more. It’s not a utopian state by any means but there are definitely positive habits they can teach us that just make life “lived” better. In any case, their ability to enjoy life, family, food, friends, the entire month of August off is an ideal that North Americans can only dream of.

    • Silvana, nicely said. I couldn’t help but notice that people in Italy and Greece seemed happier than they do here, despite the economic situation. I too believe there are things they are doing right that we can learn from.

  • Melissa says:

    One of the things that struck me on our visit to Italy was all of the old churches and buildings that appeared to be under constant restoration or maintenance. When I asked my Italian friend when they would be finished, he laughed. He explained that they start working in one spot and go all the way around a building cleaning and repairing. When they finally get to the “end” they are back at the “beginning” and the whole process starts again! The European concept of time is very different from that of North America. When you are surrounded by a culture that was built over centuries of time, getting something done five joyless minutes faster seems pointless.

  • Elizabeth says:

    Loved this article! I took several things off my plate this spring in order to just ‘hang out’ with my children this summer while they’re out of school. I love the relaxed, no-rush days that are upon us! I had a friend over for coffee the other morning and she came at 9 a.m. and stayed until 2 p.m.! I am loving this slow-paced summer! I have even been able to carve out some “me” time and have been walking a mile each day to refresh myself so I can keep positive while spending time with my three kids!

    Thanks for all your great inspiration!


  • Natascha says:

    This is a wonderful post that touched me and the concept of forgiveness speaks volumes. Wendi I can relate to your situation as I went down a similar path divorce, new company, reinvent myself and studying until my health deteriated. It was then I had to step away from everything and focus on me. When it comes to your health nothing else matters at that point. It started with yoga to get my brain from drive into park and several life style and attitude changes. That was 8 years ago, today I live the European way and am healthier than ever. I’m happIy married to a wonderful man, I work only 3 days per week so I can spend 4 days with our 3 year old son. My company that I once thought would collaps from my absence is thriving. Today I focus on the journey not the destination. Here’s to sipping tea, smelling the roses and stopping to enjoy life.

  • Irene says:

    Hi all,
    Leaving for Italy tomorrow. I am going to incorporate Helen’s advice when I get back.
    Being a realtor with a family can bring different time stresses.

  • Sylvie says:

    Welcome back Hellen. Great post. It has been over 13 years since my last visit to Italy and … one of the things that surprised me the most… was that often I would cross businesses… with signs on the windows indicating they were gone for holidays for a month or so… In essence that’s what I had done with my business in order to be there… but it had come with guilt and fear that my customers would go to someone else, but seeing how it worked in Europe gave me confidence. When I returned, my business resumed… busier than ever. My customers became used to the idea of my taking time for me… I also incorporated a rule which I still maintain today… in fact if 1 month off seems a bit of a stretch… maybe try to take your birthday off… not on a different day like the weekend… on the day of your birthday. For 13 years now I have never never ever worked on my birthday. I plan ahead. I treat that day as sacred. If I think it will meet with resistence I don’t even say why… I just say I am not available… 1 day out of the entire 365 is not too much to ask… one day to do only what you want and only what is fun for you… it’s amazing how that feels. I start the year feeling rejuvinated. In fact I can hardly wait, for me it’s coming up on the 25th… I’m already thinking of what little treat I will be serving myself with my first morning coffee… woohoo. 🙂