Finding time to focus on well-being can be difficult. Even when it’s clear that we’re overextended, we find ourselves caught up in chores that could wait, organization projects and other work. Why isn’t it easier to do the things that help us feel happier and healthier? The difficulty partly stems from socialized beliefs that only productive activities are worthwhile.
Philosophers say that human nature as teleological (i.e. goal driven); the self is an entity whose purpose is to create change. Religions teach that work is worship; idle hands do the devil’s work. Capitalist society threatens us, contribute or be cast out!
The flavor of these statements is what keeps us busy. Oftentimes when we’re not keeping busy, we find ourselves at odds; our desire to rest conflicts with the internalized belief about productivity and results in guilt. What happens then is that we soothe our guilt by distracting ourselves with films, food and drink – consumption gives a false sense of accomplishment. By the end of the day, the one hour a day you’ve dedicated to self-care and insight practices becomes 15 hurried minutes.
Self-care in 15 minutes
I woke up this morning and asked myself, if I could only recommend three practices to increase well-being and life satisfaction, what would I recommend? Lately, I’ve been thinking about the 80/20 Pareto Principle, which states that 20% of what you do is responsible for 80% of what you get. If the Pareto Principle is true, then what activities offer the most bang for the buck?
Metta is an incredibly powerful meditation technique that cultivates a friendly attitude towards all beings. The meditator practices wishing happiness for himself, then his family, friends, teachers, acquaintances, strangers, and finally, enemies.
The practice is usually attributed to the Eastern philosophy of Buddhism. But you might be surprised to learn that there’s a corresponding meditation in ancient Greek Stoic philosophy (attributed to Heirocles). Metta is, therefore, a universal meditation practice with a 5000 combined years of history showing that it’s good for all of us.
Why I’m recommending Metta meditation: 1) it takes less than 10 minutes, 2) it’s free and you can do it anywhere, 3) it’s powerful as an emotional healing practice and, surprisingly, can create lasting structural changes in the brain (at least one study showed that it can be more effective at treating depression than medication.)
I won’t go into the details, but here are some useful renditions of metta meditations: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S5JAVk3Qwi8, and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wfHnP9ouuhA&t=131s
Journaling for Insight
Journaling for insight is a deliberate self-study practice that increases self-knowledge and acceptance. Journaling techniques include contemplating blessings and gratitude, recalling and reflecting on events and answering journal prompts. By questioning your thoughts, emotional reactions, beliefs and behaviors, you begin to know yourself. By retrospectively evaluating events, you spontaneously practice imagining alternative perspectives and become more optimistic (think: hindsight reveals a tragedy as a blessing in disguise). By clarifying your internal motivations, you start to reveal the activities that bring meaning to your life, which allows you to choose to focus on them.
Why I’m recommending journaling: 1) it’s highly effective but can be done in a mere 5 minutes per day, 2) making peace with yourself requires spending time knowing your mind, and 3) it’s hard to un-know what you know, so the benfits of this practice are lifelong
A good place to start is with writing prompts. Check out my project Know Thyself, a 365 Day Journal Project.
It was difficult to choose a third practice. I am an avid yogi and really wanted to recommend yoga. I also wanted to recommend vipassana meditation or breathwork. But then I realized what I said earlier: “an hour a day… becomes 15 hurried minutes,” – 10 minutes of metta and 5 minutes of journaling means I’m already out of time.
So what’s the one practice that you can do that takes absolutely no time, and moreover, can give you back some time?
Answer: fasting, a.k.a. choose to eat nothing for a given amount of time
That’s it. Choose a reasonable amount of time for yourself based on your lifestyle and health – 12 hours, 16 hours, 24 hours, etc., and don’t eat during that time. It’s simple, not always easy, but simple.
Why I recommend fasting: 1) it takes no extra time, and might even make you more productive, 2) it forces you to reconnect with your body’s signals and learn to differentiate appetite from true hunger, 3) it prevents us from hiding from our emotions and negative thoughts using food.
A good place to start learning about fasting are from religious texts. Religions such as Christianity (and Catholicism), Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism have combined, many thousands of years of fasting experience. It doesn’t really matter which fasting you do. You can try one and if it’s not right for you, try another! If you want to read more about my own fasting experiences, try here and here.
Thanks for reading – I hope these tips were helpful! Please like or comment below, as I use feedback to improve my content! It only takes a few seconds and anyway, my tip about fasting is almost a time machine – you save time on meal prep and planning!