When it comes to reading, lifehacking tends to focus on speed — more words, fewer minutes. That might be fine if reading is understood as a matter of moving information with maximum efficiency from the page to the brain. The faster the connection, so to speak, the better.
But there are other kinds of reading. No one can race through a poem by Emily Dickinson or a short story by James Joyce and take away very much from the experience. Therein lies a problem for students reading literary works. On the one hand, there’s the impulse to get through an assignment, to knock off a poem or story and move on to another task. On the other hand, there’s the poem or story, the kind of text that invites and rewards patient attention.
My advice: slow down. Here’s what the poet Ezra Pound says about reading literature: “no reader ever read anything the first time he saw it.” Or consider this exchange between Oprah Winfrey and the novelist Toni Morrison: “Do people tell you they have to keep going over the words sometimes?” “That, my dear, is called reading.” Or as the poet William Carlos Williams says in the poem “January Morning,”
I wanted to write a poem
that you would understand.
For what good is it to me
if you can’t understand it? But you got to try hard —
And here’s the novelist Zadie Smith, in an interview, likening the reader of literature to a musician learning a piece of music,
an amateur musician who sits at the piano, has a piece of music, which is the work, made by somebody they don’t know, who they probably couldn’t comprehend entirely, and they have to use their skills to play this piece of music. The greater the skill, the greater the gift that you give the artist and that the artist gives you. That’s the incredibly unfashionable idea of reading. And yet when you practice reading, and you work at a text, it can only give you what you put into it. It’s an old moral, but it’s completely true.
Taking the time to slow down — marking a passage, pondering a detail, looking up a word, writing down a question, changing your mind, looking at the page in a way that allows you to begin to notice what’s there — might change, for keeps, your idea of what it means to read literature. Slowing down will also help you begin to understand how it is that some people seem to see so much in what they’re reading. They know that reading well sometimes means taking your time.
Michael Leddy teaches college English and blogs at Orange Crate Art.
Learning how to live a stress free life may seem impossible, but the truth is that there are specific things you can do to begin eliminating sources of stress.
No, it doesn’t look like a made-for-television movie. No, it doesn’t look like something only people with extra time and money can do. It looks like your life—but without any self-created stress triggers.
Here are 11 ways to help you live a stress-free life:
1. Stop Overanalyzing Situations That Haven’t Happened
The first step to living a stress-free life is to stop overanalyzing imaginary scenarios. It’s easy to spend time in the world of worst-case scenarios. People tend to cultivate this world for one of two reasons.
First, because if you know what the worst-case scenario is, then it won’t surprise you when it happens. Second, if you know what the worst-case scenario is, then you can do everything in your power to control the universe so the worst case never happens.
If that’s really the world you want to cultivate, then become a professional risk assessor. If not, then ask yourself how you are benefiting from continuing to live that way.
Does it make you feel better about yourself and your life? Does it make you want to leap out of bed in the morning, eager to embrace the worst-case scenario? Does it bring you joy or fulfillment?
If your answer to these three questions is no, then stop living in the future and bring yourself back into the present.
2. Don’t Take on Other People’s Problems
The whole advantage of other people having problems is that they aren’t your problems. When you frequently take on other people’s problems, you get into the habit of enabling.
Let’s get crystal clear about the definition of enabling: enabling is the art of continuing to take responsibility for other people, thereby disallowing their personal responsibility.
It is of no service to other people to take on their problems because they can’t/won’t/don’t know how to fix the problem.
It is of service to empower others to take responsibility for themselves and their lives, to encourage, teach, and motivate others to address their own problems. So stop enabling, and start empowering.
3. Get Present in the Moment
Being present in the moment involves being in your body and feeling your feelings—two things that lots of folks actually don’t know how to do.
Ask yourself these two questions: What does fear feel like in your body? What are you afraid of?
If you don’t know the answer to these questions, you probably aren’t present in the moment. Being present involves vulnerability, humility, and openness.
The past and the future stop being so relevant and intriguing when you’re able to get in your body and feel your feelings. When you can do these two things, you actually want to be in the present moment.
To get started, close your eyes, focus on your breathing, and watch your stress levels drop. Then, try these tips: How to Live in the Moment and Stop Worrying.
4. Focus on What You Have, Not What You Don’t
The easiest way to stop focusing on what you don’t have is by not watching TV commercials. Marketing teaches us to focus on what we don’t have, and advertising campaigns spend millions of dollars convincing us that we must have what we don’t yet have.
Can you think of a marketing campaign that teaches you to enjoy what you already have without buying something to enhance it? Odds are you can’t.
In a world dictated by Super Bowl commercials and Facebook ads, it takes stalwart focus to recognize what you have more than what you don’t. If you want a stress-free life now, get stalwart, and stop letting other people dictate your focus.
In order to do this, try cultivating a gratitude practice to help refocus your mind toward what is good in your life. You can get started with this guide.
5. Stop Surrounding Yourself With People Who Don’t Make You Happy
Honestly, what kind of people do you really like to be around with? People who get you, who see you clearly, who accept your flaws and all; people you can be yourself with; people who have shared interests?
How many of those people are in your life? What characteristics do all of the other people in your life have?
If you find that the people in your life aren’t adding anything positive, it may be time to make some changes. If you find that other relationships you have are downright toxic, start working to cut out those relationships immediately.
6. Find a Job That Makes You Feel Good
You don’t have to stay at a job just because it pays the bills. Most people spend more time working than sleeping. The average person spends 40 to 80 hours a week—or 2,000 to 4,000 hours a year—working. That is a significant investment!
If your best friend or child told you that they were going to spend 4,000 hours giving their emotional, mental, and physical energy to something (or someone) that wasn’t going to value them, give anything back to them, or pay them what they were worth, what advice would you offer? Give that same advice to yourself. You won’t be stress-free unless you don’t learn this.
7. Only Take on What You Can Handle
Busyness is an addiction. Slowing down can actually be terrifying because it causes you to notice that you have feelings that you now have time to feel.
I get it.
By the time I slowed down, I had decades of busyness under my belt. I went into a tailspin depression because I didn’t understand how to be in the right relationship with my own emotions.
When I finally figured out that feelings are just feelings and allowing them to express themselves is healthy and natural, I stopped experiencing withdrawal from my addiction to busyness and started figuring out the pace of life that felt best for me.
Remarkably, I discovered that I don’t actually like being busy. What will you discover about yourself?
8. Let Go of Grudges and Anger
For me, it took 20 years of adulthood to figure out that holding on to grudges and anger only hurt me. Lucky for you, though, you can benefit vicariously from my experience just by reading one short paragraph!
No one is holding your feet to the fire, demanding that you hold on to grudges and anger. The energy of anger slowly eats away at your body, mind, and spirit, until one day you wake up more resentful than optimistic.
One day, people no longer want to be around you because the stink of negativity is oozing out of your pores. One day, you even get tired of hearing yourself get angry. And the person or people you are angry at or holding grudges against probably haven’t been affected at all.
Who gets hurt the most in that process of repeating negative thoughts? You do.
Some good advice for you here: How to Let Go of Resentment and Anger
9. Stop Reliving Your Past
To live a stress-free life, you have to stop reliving your past. I know it seems like fun to compare everything in your present to your past, and to experience the present through past-colored glasses, but it actually isn’t.
When you wear past-colored glasses, you can’t truly experience the present for what it is. Your boyfriend or girlfriend gets compared to a list of expectations and failed relationships rather than recognized for the unique blessing they are in your life.
Your boss gets compared to all the bosses who came before her/him. Your friends’ ability to parent gets compared to your parents’ ability to parent.
People, including you, deserve to stand on their own past-free merit.
10. Don’t Complain About Things You Can’t Change
There are always going to be people elected into office whom you don’t like, taxes that you don’t want to pay, idiot drivers who refuse to move out of the left-hand lane, and a person ahead of you in the check-out line who won’t stop chatting with the clerk.
The great benefit of being human is that we get to experience all of what life offers us. To live stress-free is to learn to deal with this fact.
Dwelling on your frustration with something that can’t be changed doesn’t do anything other than drag you down. You are the only person who will ultimately decide how to respond to what is.
11. Stop Living Through Other People’s Lives
Someone else’s life is not your life. Your life is your life.
What that means is you get to live your life in the way you want. You get to make ridiculous mistakes, take leaps of faith, and stuff things inside your handbag of fear just as much as the next person.
Going through stuff is the whole great messy adventure of being human! Being alive and living life is terrifying and glorious and everything in between.
Stop living through social media, trying to soak in all of the experiences everyone else is having. Focus, instead, on what it feels like to be you in this moment. You may find you like it.
An astounding thing happens when you reduce stress and anxiety, get into a relationship with your body, mind, and spirit, and just be yourself without judgment.
Your life literally slows down. You stop wishing for the weekend. You begin to live in each moment, and you start feeling like a human being. You just ride the wave that is life, with this feeling of contentment and joy.
You move fluidly, steadily, calmly, and gratefully. A veil is lifted, and a whole new perspective is born through improved mental health. And this is how you live a stress-free life.
More Tips on How to Live a Stress-Free Life
- Do You Want to Know the Secret to Living a Fulfilling Life?
- 7 Stress Management Techniques to Get You Back on Track
- 18 Basic Rules to Lead A Fulfilling Life
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