When I was a kid my mum would disappear for days at a time, leaving my brother and me with dad and his burnt sausage and potato special. I never questioned this arrangement… ok maybe the burnt food part… but otherwise it made perfect sense that a few times a year mum would pack a bag and head to her version of a cabin in the woods for a retreat. To this day I don’t actually know what her retreat consisted of but, regardless, I grew up understanding the importance of taking time for oneself.
Of course, now that I’m working full-time (and even without kids) I know that it’s not always easy to sign up for a full weekend away. Which is why I’m grateful mum also taught me that it is entirely possible to create a weekend escape and recharge those batteries in your very own backyard, or loft, or bed, or balcony… and within an hour.
I know this because that’s also what my mum has done, for one hour, every day, for as long as I can remember. From very early she developed a routine that included an hour to herself, and she did so while managing two children and the family business from home. Mum called this her ‘quiet time’ but, over the years, as I came to understand that in turning inwards we often encounter grace, I reinvented it as her ‘grace time’.
In hindsight I realise Mum was able to carve this time into her day because she was both consistent and honest about her expectations that we would respect this time. There were also clear rules about quiet time, such as not interrupting her unless it was an absolute emergency (which was pretty much limited to life threatening events). Of course, it didn’t always go to plan. There were occasional emergencies, and toddlers and then teenagers and, well, life in general. But overall, I have 40 plus years of memories associated to ‘quiet time’ and consider myself a beneficiary of her commitment to nurturing herself.
Fast forward to today and I have to admit that I’ve never been as disciplined as she was in this, although I do consider my 15 minutes of yoga in the morning a step in the right direction. What I have learnt though is that the busier I am, the more important those 15 minutes are. I’ve also learnt that without careful planning, whether it’s 15 minutes or an hour, I will easily fritter it away on the unnecessary, the menial… i.e. Netflix and Facebook.
So I thought I’d share what I’ve learnt about setting yourself up for success and carving some quiet time into your daily routine.
- Consistency is key. It will help you and also manage other people’s (read ‘kids and spouses’) expectations if you develop a routine. Schedule your quiet time for the same time every day (or week), remind people, close (and even lock) the door, take ten deep breathes and let go. It will likely take time to ‘train’ everyone (adults and children alike) but, in the long run it will be worth the effort.
- Turn devices off. It’s impossible to fully relax if you are worried the phone might ring (or even vibrate) or that a message might come through on your iPad. Trust me, no one needs to be digitally connected on all day, every day, so turn them off – completely – and give your brain a break from the blue light. If you have decided to spend your quiet time writing or reading, then do it the old fashioned way – with pen and paper or a book.
- Put away temptation. Quiet time should not be about going to the gym, for a run or (heaven forbid) ironing. This is a time to stop, to turn inwards and be still. Start making it a habit that every time you finish watching TV, you put the remotes in a drawer – out of sight. Assign the laundry to the laundry – don’t leave it piling up in the lounge room or your bedroom. This will help avoid temptation or distraction during quiet time.
- Create a relaxing space. It’s important that the space you choose is comfortable and calming. If you need to, invest in a candle, a softer light or a yoga mat – but don’t let the lack of those items prevent you starting in the meantime.
- Have a plan. Know exactly how you are going to spend your quiet time. The last thing you want is to find yourself in the zone of relaxation, twiddling your thumbs and feeling like you are wasting your time. Choose a mindful book to read, keep a notepad on hand so you can record your reflections. Buy a sketchbook and pencils, try your hand at Zentangle or even a colouring-in book. Or down load a meditation (I recommend Oprah and Deepak’s 21 Day Meditation Experience as a good starting place). Keep in mind that your quiet time doesn’t have to be spent inside either. Recognising what helps you recharge, re-centre and quieten your soul will make your quiet time easier to commit to.
- Be kind to yourself. It defeats the purpose of adding a quiet time into your day becomes a chore. Good intentions aside, we all know that there will likely be days when you can not siphon off an entire hour, or sometimes even fifteen minutes. When that happens, for what ever reason, let it go. You haven’t failed, there is no right or wrong, and there is still tomorrow.
- Ease out. Take your time coming back to the world when your quiet time ends. Hold on to that feeling of being still and let it guide the rest of your day.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on including a quiet time in your day. Is it something you do regularly? Have you ever been on a retreat? What are your tips for people who are new to the idea of taking time for oneself?