The other day while running late and driving, I was famished and starting eating my sandwich. On the seat beside me, my phone was vibrating and I regretted not being able to answer it hands-free.
Instead, I adjusted the radio volume and glanced at my watch, realizing it was even later than I thought. My phone dinged, letting me know a text had come in and then announced an email. My back was killing me so I straightened my posture to stretch in the driver's seat. And that's when I noticed the flashing lights in my rear-view mirror.
I pulled over to let the police car pass. But instead, the officer pulled up behind me. Well, that's weird, I thought in a cascading fashion: there must be a mistake; I wasn't on my phone; my safety belt is on; I didn't have a glass of wine at lunch; my tail lights must be burned out; did I let my insurance expire?
The officer looked stern as I passed him my license. He informed me that I had been driving 90km in the 80km zone, 70km in the 60km zone and 60km in the 50km zone. He had been following me as the highway transitioned into city limits. I didn't even notice him, or the fact that I been speeding so consistently.
Then I heard four magic words, "Consider this your warning."
And I did, because I realized this wasn't just about driving.
We know that speeding on the road can kill. But speeding as a lifestyle is also a dangerous pattern most of us can relate to. We overdrive, overwork, overreact and overeat. At some point it is bound to catch up with us. And while an officer of the law has the discretion to give us a warning, when we lead the rest of our life like a runaway train, the outcome may not be so forgiving.
How to get your habits back into balance? Slowing down and being more mindful is a good place to start. Meditation can help with this, by repositioning our thinking into the present moment, allowing us to pay full attention to the task at hand (such as driving) unimpaired by distractions. There are many books, tapes and meditation sites to teach simple mindfulness techniques. Locally there are classes and practitioners, workshops and casual meditation drop in practices. On-line, getsomeheadspace.com has a free, 10-day, 10-minute meditation program (that I decided to sign up for).
Ignoring our devices is not only safer while driving (obviously), it can also assist with stress relief in general. If your phone and text and email aren't constantly nagging you, you can focus on priority tasks and attend to messages on your schedule, offering a better sense of control. Rather than constantly checking our various inboxes, experts suggest scheduling specific blocks of time for this, first thing in the morning, at noon, and at the end of the day, for example. This will leave your more room to work on the important things. When driving, instead of hands-free, I'm turning off my devices completely.
If your work-life balance has gotten totally out of whack, consider a radical intervention: a sabbatical. Find a way to temporarily divorce yourself from your day-to-day (usually work) obligations by taking a leave of absence or extended vacation and do something completely different. Or, do nothing at all. Think you can't afford to take a sabbatical? Consider the alternatives of total burnout: a mental or physical health crisis or even getting fired.
If you need a little assistance getting back on track, counselling or coaching can help. In addition to business and personal counselling, time and organizational management counselling is useful and locally available. The library has many useful books on this topic as well. I'm starting with the aptly titled, Manage your time to reduce your stress : a handbook for the overworked, overscheduled and overwhelmed by Rita Emmett.
Finally, your workspace and fitness routines might also need adjusting. Consider an ergonomic workspace if you work long hours at your desk and be sure you invest in an excellence office chair. Fitness activities can be as simple as taking a walk each day, attending a yoga class or signing up for a sports team.
When your life is in balance, you feel more centred, secure and relaxed. It's a safer more enjoyable way of being that we can all strive to work towards.