Living Life in our “Sweet Spot”
I usually slog through these kinds of non-fiction books over a few months, interspersed with some “fun” reading. With this book, which I pre-ordered and received the day it came out, I finished it in 10 days. I couldn’t wait to pick it up each evening and get ever-closer to figuring out how to reduce the chaos and anxiety in my life and find that ever-elusive, balanced “sweet spot” during this busy phase where I often lament, “I just don’t have enough time.”
Some of Carter’s words are ringing in my ears, reminding me of how I, like everyone, need to be intentional about finding my sweet spot, as it won’t naturally happen in this “more is better” world that glorifies busy-ness.
Here are five things I learned from The Sweet Spot:
#1 Five Priorities
“…there is enough time when we manage our priorities carefully.”
Carter encourages us to spend some time asking ourselves, “What do we value most in life? What are our tippy-top priorities? How can we spend our time in a way that best reflects our ideals?” I like the top two Carter listed for herself which, I think, probably should apply to all of us:
(1) Maintain my own health and happiness
(2) Nurture others
Carter’s other priorities relate to her career, and I think it’s likely true for most that we need to first take care of ourselves and our families, and then pursue meaning in other areas – whether it’s paid work, volunteering, an artistic endeavor, a hobby, or a sport. How often do we stop and assess our schedule and see if it aligns with what we value? In Simplify (Bill Hybels), I read that if being home with our family is a priority, it needs to be scheduled on our calendar just like other meetings, instead of filling what time is left after we satisfy other commitments. If our family is important to us, our schedule should reflect that.
#2 Prioritize Connection Time
“…our health, happiness, and longevity are best predicted by the breadth and depth of our positive social connections.”
After meeting a friend for a walk, I commented, “Why don’t we do this more often? This time together really feeds my soul.” It feels so good to spend time talking and connecting with people I care about, and yet, in my hectic life, I often feel guilty about taking an hour or two to just hang out with someone I love. The busier and more complex our lives become, the less time we spend with people we care about. Carter suggests scheduling regular meeting times with important people in our lives. After all, “nurturing others” is a huge priority, right? For me, that’s translated into a new “first Wednesday of every month” lunch date with my friend Karen. In the end, we’re not going to be happy we answered emails (and there will be more flowing in), but we will remember the relationships we nurtured through those small moments of connection.
#3 Establish “Good enough” Habits
I loved Carter’s description of the exercise habit she’s established. By making it small and manageable, she has successfully exercised every day for more than a year and she’s the most fit she’s ever been in her life. Since I’m a runner who has spent the past ten years training for one race or another, I needed to read that running a mile or two is good enough on some days.
#4 The Problem with Wealth
“Wealth makes it less likely that we’ll have meaningful and fulfilling relationships with others.”
“Materialism – the pursuit of material objects such as a bigger house or nicer car or designer clothes – has been shown to damage relationships, partially because materialistic people spend more time pursuing wealth and possessions and less time with friends and family.”
Carter’s advice? “See your wealth as a wonderful responsibility, an opportunity to be generous, and a tremendous resource for supporting your values.”
#5 Recess and Rest
In our nightly “Highs and Lows” conversation, recess is often a high for my elementary-age son. But, after reading The Sweet Spot, I have a whole new appreciation for the concept of “recess.” I now see recess as more than something to remember fondly from my childhood; it is something I can still take NOW. Carter defines recess as a time of fun, relaxing, no-growth or other-agenda planned time. This one will be difficult for me, and I’m committed to finding my own adult version of recess. Recent finds? Playing on the balance board in the garage while the family plays ping pong, and reading books just for fun in my comfy chair by the fireplace.
There are many more insights and realistic tips that Carter offers in this book, and I’m certain that no matter where your challenges lie in finding your “sweet spot,” some nugget of Carter’s wisdom can help. Carter is a sociologist who has read the research to back up her advice, so it’s not just anecdotal – although I love the stories she shares of her own struggles with finding balance.
I also really appreciate the lists Carter includes at the back of the book, including “9 Ways to Ease the Overwhelm” and “7 Ways to feel More Loved and Connected.” But you don’t need to cut up your book; she has colorful versions of the lists on her website at christinecarter.com. You don’t even have to read the book to start finding your “sweet spot” today—you can go to her website and print one of the lists. But I encourage you to take time to read The Sweet Spot and make 2015 the year you find your balance in an imbalanced world.
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