My time at work is spent on demanding, intense tasks that have specific objectives, but I have almost no routine on the job. So having rituals at home that aren’t goal-oriented provides a calm point in an otherwise unpredictable day. When I’m playing with my children—whether we’re reading books, jumping on the trampoline, dancing, or pretending that we’re animals—there are no deadlines that need to be met. These are activities that are solely about being in the present. And when I put my son to bed every night, as I have done since he was an infant, it marks a nice, quiet part of the day that I would find hard to live without. It is a tradition that I will not rush, allowing it to take as much time as it requires.
Mikkel F. Andersen, Ph.D., is a physicist and a senior lecturer at the University of Otago, in Dunedin, New Zealand, where he developed a technique to isolate and capture fast-moving atoms.
2. Dive Underwater
My work keeps me on the road, whether I’m driving 200 miles per hour around a racetrack or heading to Capitol Hill to lobby for clean energy. I don’t get away from this hectic schedule very often, but when I do, I find it incredibly calming to be underwater—swimming, snorkeling, or scuba diving—because it gives me the feeling that things are happening in slow motion. Ever since I was a very young girl, a sense of peace has come over me whenever I’m in the water. Its resistance slows down my movements, and it makes me feel like I’m floating in an abyss of blue. The water removes all distractions, and nothing else seems to matter.
Leilanti Münter is a professional race-car driver and an environmental blogger and activist. She lives in Cornelius, North Carolina.
3. Head Outdoors
When I find myself saying, “I don’t have time for…,” I’ll go outside with my camera and look for things to photograph. The camera is like a pair of corrective glasses: Through its various lenses, I locate treasures that I would normally walk right past. A zoom lens reveals so much. The other day, I studied a species of millipede that I hadn’t known before. In addition to the new things that I see through my camera, being outside allows me to discover new smells. Each day has a distinct aroma: Heat has a different scent than cold, for example, and my garden plants each have their own perfume. If I rush, I will miss all of this. There is no more powerful antidote to a frenetic life than a connection to nature.
Margaret Roach is a former newspaper and magazine editor who, in 2007, moved from New York City to rural Copake Falls, New York. She is the author of the memoir And I Shall Have Some Peace Out There ($15, amazon.com) and The Backyard Parables, due out in January 2013.
4. Have a Family Meal
To preserve my sanity and to stay engaged with my husband and four kids, we share Sunday meals. Taking the time to plan the table setting and to prepare the food is how I create a peaceful moment. I’ll set the table nicely, using cloth napkins and place mats. To keep the cooking from being labor-intensive, I’ll serve one of my go-to meals: chicken or salmon with roasted vegetables. Technology tends to make everyone frantic, so we save phone calls and e-mails until we’re finished and instead spend the time catching up on everyone’s activities. By the end of dinner, we’re all more relaxed.
Susan Feldman is a cofounder and the chief merchandising officer of OneKingsLane.com, a home-decor retailer, where she works an average of 15 hours a day. She lives in Los Angeles.
5. Read Poems
Immersing yourself in the written word is a time-honored way to slow down. I try to read a bit of poetry every day. In order to understand what is being said, you simply cannot read the lyrical language quickly. You must savor and enjoy every single word. So it can be very effective at putting your life on pause. Whereas newspaper writing is about utility, poetry is about beauty, and we all need to feed our souls with delightful materials. A few lines of Keats can transport you to a wonderful place.
Tom Hodgkinson is the editor of The Idler, a magazine that celebrates a relaxed approach to life, as well as the author of How to Be Free ($8, amazon.com), The Idle Parent ($16, amazon.com), and, most recently, Brave Old World ($17, amazon.com). He lives in North Devon, England.