Hang up your hats, take a respite

I have a sentence written on a Post-It note stuck to the wall of my office. It says, “What you don’t do, determines what you can do.” Lately I’ve been pretty overwhelmed with responsibilities, duties, obligations, and roles.

We all wear many hats whether it be friend, coworker, employee, volunteer, sister, brother, mom, husband or others. It is normal to take on different projects, participate in different activities and welcome many different passions and hobbies to your life. As the cliche saying goes, variety is the spice of life.

Where the stress becomes intense is when we wear too many of these hats all at the same time. We personify a Dr. Seuss character, carefully weebling and wobbling, trying to walk smoothly so the colorful stack of hats won’t fall off. If you listen closely, Dr. Seuss books are fun but don’t always make a lot of sense. Neither does wearing so many hats at once.

So what we need — is a hat rack.

In the “Power of Now” book by Eckhart Tolle, the concept of conscious awareness to the only time we ever really have is presented to open up a world of opportunity and space for good things to happen. It isn’t a hard concept to think about, but it is hard to put into practice. The past is an illusion of our memory and personal conceptualization of events that no longer exist. So it can be argued that it isn’t real, yet how many do we know who still live there?

The future is an imaginary conceptualization of what we predict may happen, at best. So it does not exist either, yet how many hours are spent trying to speculate what if? The most relevant, and most real “time” we have is now.

We can really only effectively accomplish one task at a time. Even if it often seems like we are multitasking, it rarely means we are doing multiple tasks simultaneously. Rather, we are shifting back and forth from one task to another in rapid succession. Wearing multiple hats at once has this same effect that leads to increased mental activity and a winding up, and often jumbling up, of our cognitive faculties.

Every so often, we need to allow our brains a break from juggling multiple responsibilities, projects, and passions. Just like a computer needs to defragment, so does our own motherboard. Without an appropriate portion of down time, and more time spent in the “now,” we start to short circuit. This can manifest as poor sleep, stress related illness, and negative moods. I often find my best solutions come to me at a time when I’m not focused on forcing a solution; when I put the hats on a hat rack and pick just one, or maybe even none.

I find that whenever I am feeling overwhelmed it’s because I’ve been wearing too many hats all at once, have been reviewing the past to find explanations, and contemplating the future trying to force solutions. It’s a chaotic circle that only intensifies unless I pause for some time spent in the now. What does it mean when you say, “what you don’t do, determines what you can do?” What does time in the now look like?

First it means accepting that you cannot, nor are you expected to, solve all the world’s problems by yourself. As conscientious and involved humans we concern ourselves with so many things that are beyond our individual control that hours upon hours are spent immersed in worry. Time spent in the “now” for me means I don’t wear any hats. I spend time by myself in nature. Maybe it’s a quiet moment out in the yard with some coffee. Sometimes I escape inside a book.

I’m sure it’s different for everyone. What’s important is that we all allow ourselves a break to literally, stop and smell the roses. Allow yourself time for respite.

By association, there is also a concern for caregivers of those with chronic illness or similar circumstances. People who spend most of their time helping others experience a high rate of burnout. Just like the story of someone wearing too many hats.

If you know of someone like this, offer to be their momentary hat rack so they can take a break. When one is allowed a chance to rest and breath they are refreshed and able to take on tasks and responsibilities with even more passion that before, resulting in greater outcomes. Saying no for now means you can say yes later.

Mary Beth Stutzman’s Inspiring A-Town runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays. Follow Mary Beth on Twitter @mbstutz.