I am hardly a minimalist, but I have one home design rule that I live by; if I add something to my space, I must take something away.
Exchanging items helps me avoid clutter and ensure that only valuable objects get to occupy space in my home. It’s the same way that I have come to think about exchanging my time for mental health self-care. The time that I used to spend on one activity gets moved to another, more worthwhile exercise.
We can never make more time out of a 24-hour day. Not even the mightiest superheroes can. The best they can do is shift time, travel through it, or reverse it; even then, we are witnessing different versions of their time choices.
We aren't time-shifting superheroes, but as humans, we have a little thing called frugality that can help us. Our ability to act sparingly about money helps us save for important events and rainy days and gets us the best value for our hard-earned cash. Being frugal helps us make plans to maximize our limited resources. So why not apply the same practice to how we spend our time?
The 2011 movie In Time, with Justin Timberlake and Cillian Murphy, is clever storytelling that reminds me that time is a form of currency. In the film, all humans are gifted time up to age 25. To live beyond that, they must exchange their labour to ‘buy’ more time. The result of this story about the haves and have-nots is that the rich would live forever and never age, while the poor would die young. In Time is an entertaining presentation of the moral dilemmas we face each time we exchange our time (and labour) for things we value. One of my favourite taglines from the film is “life is paid out one minute at a time.” Another one is “tomorrow is a luxury you cannot afford.” These messages come back to me each time I think about my needs and why I need to exchange my time for mindfulness practices.
There are a few definitions of mindfulness floating around out there. I prefer the working definition used by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Full Catastrophe Living. Zinn says mindfulness is ‘paying attention on purpose to the present moment, without judgment.’ In simple terms, mindfulness is awareness of what we do when we care to take notice. And when we notice what we notice, we do so without judging ourselves and accept that we are where we are. We then take steps to act gracefully in the next moment.
In 2020, I published Ten Million Baskets, a poem about how I had come to reframe my time as a currency that I can choose to spend on the things that bring me more value. The poem came from months of journaling, spending time with my children with open eyes, and taking time away from the other noises and distractions that demanded my time but gave me precious little in return. In the end, the poem emerged as a manifesto about how I care to spend my time going forward.
If you are like me, earning a living, parenting, homemaking, and mental health self-care are only a few things competing for space in a very tight 24-hour schedule. It might be helpful to remind ourselves that how we spend our precious time is extremely important. Choosing how we spend our time is more than saying no to specific demands. It involves a deliberate effort to exchange our time for things that give us greater personal value.
If we think about time as currency, we have room to imagine that saving time for ourselves is an act of banking a precious resource and immediately enjoying its dividends. Here are five ways to save time and directly invest in your mindfulness and self-care.
- Gain 5 minutes. Sit for 5 minutes longer after eating supper. Before clearing the table, try to find three positives in the preparation and the sitting down for the meal that just happened. Whether you reflect on a conversation, people’s reaction to the meal, or a laugh, you can use this time to pay attention to things that tend to be taken for granted. Five minutes to express gratitude like this can improve your overall health and happiness.
- Gain 10 minutes. Slowly hum the Happy Birthday song each time you wash your hands under warm running water. Pay attention to the feel of the water, the soap, and your fingers on your hands. You can also spend a few more minutes in the shower just enjoying the feeling of the water on your skin. In addition to better hygiene, slowing down to do these mundane tasks can help you think more clearly and achieve your goals faster.
- Gain 15 minutes. Wake 15 minutes earlier to give yourself time to make your morning beverage slowly and deliberately. Then sit with your drink and notice its taste, fragrance, and warmth before you take your first sip. Try this recipe for hot cinnamon cocoa from Hot Cuppa Connections. It comes with some advice about finding joy in our small moments.
- Gain 30 minutes. Watch a video or listen to a discussion or podcast episode that can help you learn about someone else’s experience with a subject or topic you care about. If you are interested in mindfulness and mental health, and well-being, you can join our community and access our library of classes, events, and mindfulness practices.
- Gain 60 minutes or more. Set aside one evening each week to avoid reading or watching the news, scrolling through social media, or watching TV. Sit with a pen and a piece of paper or a notebook. Write down the thoughts that are running through your head. If you feel creative, try to write your thoughts as a narrative of things happening to a fictitious person. If you are interested in learning how to process those thoughts or how to turn the thoughts into creative writing pieces, check out our upcoming courses and workshops.
The bottom line:
Cultivating mindfulness is about taking the time to bring awareness to our own mental and physical states. Mindfulness is more than meditation. It is a living, breathing, eyes-open practice of making a deliberate choice to become more aware of how we exchange our time. Saving time to engage in mindfulness is an exercise of re-valuing our self-care. We can’t make time, but we can choose to spend it wisely. It’s just one of the many things we can do to become the superheroes of our own stories.