Last month I got a speeding ticket. [Yes, again.] In my defense I was “caught” at the bottom of a hill – just like I was the past three times I’ve gotten caught speeding.
Now, don’t get distracted by the inexcusably high number of tickets I’ve received over the past few years. That’s not my point. But, for the record, the reason I was speeding on those occasions was actually due to the way my car worked and – fine – the fact that I wasn’t really paying attention to my speedometer.
See, the way my car is made makes it pick up crazy speed when I’m coasting. Even if my foot is nowhere near the gas pedal, going down a hill makes that car take flight! It’s insane – and frustrating, especially when I get caught by an unsympathetic member of the police force.
Coincidentally, the day after receiving my most recent ticket, we traded that treacherous car in for a smaller one that drives the way it should. My new-to-me car is not only going to save me money in gas, but probably also in speeding fines. It behaves like it’s supposed to, keeping its speed steady – or even slowing down – when I take my foot off the gas.
Just in case, though, I’ve been relying heavily on cruise control. That way, I know – without a doubt – that my car will go the speed I want. Sometimes that might be a few miles over the speed limit (I know, okay? I know!), but even if it is, it’s the speed that I’VE chosen – not a random speed my car chooses.
As I was thinking about the difference between cruising and coasting, I realized that our lives can be a lot like my old car. Sometimes, without even realizing it, our lives can start going faster and faster – and before we know it, we’ve completely lost control. Maybe it’s our fault for not paying attention, or maybe the fault lies on our busy schedule and chaotic life. Either way, we’re flying down the highway and bound for a speeding ticket – or worse.
Coasting never seems dangerous at first. You’re not purposely driving – or living – at breakneck speeds; you’re not being reckless for the fun of it. You’ve just taken your foot off the pedal – and, oh yeah, given up control over your speed.
Coasting happens to me when life gets busy – even more busy than normal. [You know, like during the holidays?] My to-do list and my schedule get full to the point of overflowing and I just . . . take my foot off the pedal.
I stop writing down appointments.
I stop consulting my to-do list and just do – or don’t do – what’s in front of me.
I stop considering whether a request is urgent or important or neither.
I stop protecting down time, me time, family time.
I stop controlling my life and let momentum, chaos, speed take over.
Has that ever happened to you?
How can we keep ourselves from driving – or living – out of control this holiday season? How can we regulate the speed of life and hold onto our plans, our values, our sanity? How can we manage to do any of that over the next six weeks, when the world – pretty as it is, decorated in glitter and tinsel and merry songs – spins at a maddening pace?
Just like I’m happy my new car is geared properly and shouldn’t pick up so much speed when I’m coasting, you might think this month, this year, this holiday season will be different.
But just like I can’t afford to simply rely on my car’s gears to maintain a consistent, safe speed, I don’t think we can afford to rely on this time being different enough. It might be different, but it might still throw us into a tailspin at a moment’s notice. So what’s the solution?
Cruise control. Setting parameters and limits for ourselves from the beginning. Deciding, intentionally, how fast we will go and how fast we will not go. Choosing control instead of chaos.
What could that look like this holiday season?
Decide today how many parties you’ll attend.
Make a list of 10 holiday projects instead of 25.
Decide which days you’ll reserve for family only.
Plan a day for yourself – and stick to the plan.
Schedule your decorating, shopping, cooking and cleaning a few days early.
Print address labels for your Christmas cards in November.
Bake your cookies now and freeze them until the cookie exchange in three weeks.
Factor in spontaneous fun (or work), and leave margin in your calendar.
Tell your family what you can do this year – and what you can’t.
This holiday season, I’m going to set my cruise control at a speed slightly under my usual manic pace instead of coasting through the season and finishing the year exhausted and out of sorts. How about you? What will you do this year to help you cruise through the holidays?