The futurists of the 1960s predicted that advances in technology would lead to mass boredom by the turn of the century. Time-saving developments would leave people with a plethora of spare time, they said, and society would have to learn to deal with too much leisure.
I don’t know about you, but boredom and excessive leisure are not issues in my world. I don’t have time. While real and alleged time-saving technology has been integrated into virtually everything we own and do, it seems we’ve filled our so-called leisure time with more work, more technology, more activities and more stuff.
And we sleep less. A hundred years ago, Americans averaged more than nine hours of sleep a night. Now we’re down to about 6.5 hours, and 70 to 80 million suffer from some form of sleep disorder.
It’s no wonder that we hunger for “balance”.
What’s responsible? In a word: progress.
“Progress is a friend to all of us, but there is also a down-side to progress,” says Richard A. Swenson, futurist, physician-researcher and award-winning author who focuses on cultural medicine. “Progress always results in more and more of everything, at a faster and faster rate. It will not stop.” (Click here if you want to access Swenson’s books or bio. )
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a sucker for electricity, modern medicine, faster computers and the myriad of things that allow me to live an “easier” life than my parents and grandparents. Still, the thought that the average American has to learn more than 20,000 pieces of technology in his or her lifetime is more than a little daunting. (I wonder how much the average dairy farmer has to learn — I suspect it’s even higher, as our industry gets more sophisticated.)
Progress automatically leads to increasing stress, change, complexity, speed and overload, says Swenson. “Everything on this list is good and everything on this list is bad,” he says. “You have to decide how to deal with each of them. Remember, a stress-free life is fatal; we don’t want boring but we don’t want hyper-stress, either.”
Look to your margin
Swenson suggests that we can find that balance in the margin of life. That’s the space between our load and our limits — our reserves. It is the opposite of overload. You don’t begrudge a book the margin between the text and the edge of the pages, so don’t begrudge yourself a margin.
This may be getting a little touchy-feely for some, but look at it this way, you spend a great deal of time, money and effort to make sure your cow’s ration meets her nutritional and health needs. Isn’t it appropriate to devote just a little to your own well-being in this crazy world? “Our margin is where we recharge our batteries, recover our health, rest our bodies and spirits, nourish our relationships and think deeply about priorities,” Swanson explains.
Restoring our margins takes effort, and there are many facets to cover, but Swenson says the most important margin to restore is that of emotional energy. His prescription is to nourish relationships rather than let them falter or fail from neglect. Next, define and defend your personal boundaries. “This is not selfish or rude, but is actually self-care,” he insists.
He also suggests that when things get too hectic, you take an opportunity to slow the pace when possible, and try to get adequate rest.
Finally, take advantage of these three free things: laughter, music and nature.
“You build up and drain out emotional energy,” Swenson explains. You need to find ways to build this bank so outflows don’t tear you down. “The most important things in life have always been simple, and important you still focus on them. You need to be able to put it in ‘park’ occasionally,” he concludes.
In other words, slow down and feed your soul. You’ll be better for it. I’ll try it, too.