One of my closest friends often teases me when it comes to making plans, "You say no a lot." I simply smile and agree whole-heartedly. Yes! Yes, I do say no. I do the mental math to avoid overbooking. On the weekend, if I’m struggling to make something fit in, I assume it won’t. If it feels like something I "should" do instead of something that I want to do, I politely decline.
I wasn’t always this way. I was as crazed and addicted to busyness as most people I know. But all of sudden, I was having thoughts that I wanted to leave our beloved urban Brooklyn neighborhood for the suburbs. I wanted to take a summer off and spend time upstate. Those changes felt simultaneously overwhelming and necessary. At the time I was also making the switch from my corporate job to building my own business and as part of my transition, I revisited my values and the life I wanted to create for myself. And there it was. Peace had snuck in under the radar as one of my core values.
It felt like too many changes at one time to leave my corporate job AND our neighborhood and family support, so I said to myself, "If peace and calm is so important to me, how do I bring it into the life I’m currently living? How can I add peace without making dramatic changes?" As it turns out, this was quite a fun exercise!
I made a list of peace possibilities:
Add non-negotiable writing time into my week.
Decrease subway time.
Plan a vacation in February, the shortest but feels like the longest month.
Go to fewer crowded school events with a gazillion screaming kids—especially when my kids are not asking to go!
Take walks in the middle of the day.
Add buffer time into my schedule—as in not scheduling my day with back-to-back appointments.
Add more unstructured time into my life and less weekend overscheduling.
Set clear boundaries about when I can see people and when I can’t. Don’t say, "We should get together." if I don’t mean it.
Don’t apologize when I can’t see people. I’m either available or I’m not. No need to apologize.
Implementing my new possibilities was as liberating as making the list. When I would get an email from a fellow parent saying, "Will we see you at the Pajama and Pizza Party at the preschool?" I would simply say, "I’ve stopped going to those things." Instead I’d take a walk with the kids or take them to the park. Ah, peace—why have I not chosen you before?
Even beyond the overt ways I’ve diminished noise in my life with less commuting and crowded school events, the addition of clearer boundaries with plans and relationships has helped me to wipe out the mental noise that kept me from the peace I was desiring. I know I’m clear on my commitments and I don’t have a lot of maybes taking up valuable space in my head. In looking at this list now, I can say that of all the changes I’ve made in my life in the past 4 years, these were among the easiest to stick with and have made a tremendous impact on my happiness and wellbeing. Some people thrive in scheduled, busy lives. I’ve learned I’m not one of them—and I’m OK with that. It may mean that things move more slowly than I would have expected, or maybe it doesn’t. Either way, I’ll find out—and with my peace list in play, I’ll be much more fun to be around in the process.