I’m lucky to live a pretty luxurious life – not in terms of expense (although rent is ridiculous here in Los Angeles), but in the use of my time. One of the big things I’ve learned is mindfulness in how I spend mine. It comes down to one simple rule: if it’s not a 100% yes, it’s a no. This means that if you don’t love the idea of going to a happy hour with your coworkers, or maybe seeing a show with some friends, you’re not going to agree to it just because it’s an option.
I used to be the first one to say yes when a friend invited me to something a few weeks away – only to realize day-of that I didn’t actually want to go to Disney’s California Adventure. After a few weekends of running around instead of relaxing, reading, cooking, and playing video games, I finally adopted this rule and started saying no.
One big example? My family takes an annual holiday trip, and lately we’ve gotten to go to some amazing places together. This is something that we’re all so lucky to get to do, but every year I feel dread and anxiety creep in the month leading up to the trip. While we would travel through beautiful parts of the world, the little fights would become more and more biting, and about halfway through each trip I’d wish I was home instead.
After years of muttering about how I’m not sure I want to go again, I finally confronted a question I should have asked myself years ago. If it’s not 100% yes, why go? Even though they’re my family, and even though traveling more is a huge goal for me, it’s not worth the stress and anxiety that always comes with the week’s vacation.
For the first time ever, I’m sitting it out this year, and I’m already feeling relieved. Instead, I’ll celebrate the holiday season with everyone before they leave, and have a vacation that really is a break.
This rule has also evolved to apply to my relationships, although on less rigid terms. When my aha moment came, I started looking to compare my life now to my life when I was overwhelmed. Perhaps not surprisingly, the biggest difference was the people in my life. The most high-stress, high-tension moments are often cast with the same characters, and after a while I asked myself the same question. If spending time with them isn’t a 100% yes, why stress myself out to do it?
I started to question my involvement with anyone who was adding tension into my life, instead of making things better. In my mind, to be a healthy relationship, there had to be more joy than stress. I started thinking of my relationships in terms of a scale:
Instead of the Crazy-Hot scale, I’m thinking in terms of how important the relationship is, and how much stress it causes me to maintain. The more important the relationship (think your family, boss, or in-laws), the higher the stress threshold. However, the less important the relationship, the less stress I’m willing to endure for the sake of it. I plotted that threshold (big green line) and evaluated some of the big relationships in my life (x’s), and the result was this:
Most of my strongest relationships also have the least amount of stress involved, and fall well within the green zone. For those that were causing more stress than they were worth, in my mind, it was time to move on.
This is a hard change to commit to – oftentimes, someone who stresses you out is in your life for a reason, whether it’s a bully family member, a high-strung boss, or a manipulative roommate. It initially felt wrong to put my needs ahead of the people with whom I’d built these stressful relationships, but I can’t tell you how good it felt when all was said and done.
Not having to spend my time in ways that stressed me out is a form of true freedom. It’s counter-intuitive – paring down the relationships and experiences in my life – but it creates space for what really matter to me. It’s given me more peace of mind than I’d imagined, and I’ve been able to put my energy into the things that really matter to me, whether that’s inching towards an end-goal or strengthening my relationships with the people that matter most to me.