To Have Or Not to Have Breathing Space
If it isn’t already the case, the critical measure of successful living soon will not be how much money you’re making, the size of your home, or the number of friends you have. It will be how much breathing space you have in your life. Breathing space, as I define it in my book, Breathing Space®: Living and Working at a Comfortable Pace in a Sped-Up Society, is the ability to control your life amidst an array of tasks and activities competing for your attention. Breathing space is:
- the ability to experience a sense of calm and relaxation despite your surroundings.
- knowing that you run your life and that your life doesn’t run you.
- having the room to be, explore, or simply do nothing.
Why Do We Feel The Way We Do?
It’s no accident that virtually every working man and woman in America today frequently feels pressed for time. Too many individuals do not recognize the big picture of our frenzied existence and blame themselves for not being effective time managers. They believe that if they could just get “caught up” once and for all, everything would be okay. The truth is that time management can no longer provide the benefits that it did when the world was far less complex, characterized by clearly defined roles, linear progression, “nine to five,” and producers verses consumers.
In the present world there are five present realities, or “mega-realities” as I call them, that uniformly impact each of us. Let’s explore each in detail to gain a better understanding of the actual impediments to our sense of breathing space and how to regain control. The mega-realities include:
- Population growth
- An expanding volume of knowledge
- Mass media growth and electronic addiction
- The paper trail culture and
- An over-abundance of choices
From the beginning of creation to 1850 A.D., world population grew to one billion. It grew to two billion by 1930, three billion by 1960, four billion by 1979, and five billion by 1987, six billion by 1996, and seven billion en route. Every 33 months, the current population of America, 314,000,000 people, is added to the planet. The world of your childhood is gone forever. The present world is crowded and becoming more so all the time. Each day, world population (births minus deaths) increases by more than 272,000 people.
Regardless of your political, religious, or economic views, the fact remains that geometric growth in human population permeates and dominates every aspect of the planet and its resources, the environment, and all living things. This is the most compelling aspect of our existence, and will be linked momentarily to the four other mega-realities. When JFK was elected President, domestic population was 180 million. It grew by 134 million in 52 years.
Our growing population has not dispersed over the nation’s 5.4 million square miles. About 97% of the U.S. population resides on 3% of the land mass. Half of our population resides within 50 miles of the Atlantic or the Pacific Oceans, and 75% of the U.S. population live in urban areas, soon to be 80%. Predictably, more densely packed urban areas have resulted in a gridlock of the nation’s transportation systems. It is taking you longer to drive merely a few blocks; it’s not your imagination, it’s not the day of the week or the season, and it’s not going to subside soon.
Our population and road use grow faster than our ability to repair highways, bridges and traffic arteries. In fact, vehicles (primarily cars) are multiplying twice as fast as people. Some 86% of American commuters still get to work by automobile, and 84% of inner city travel is by automobile. The average American now drudgingly commutes 157,600 miles to work during his lifetime, equal to six times around the earth. Commuting snarls are increasing.
City planners report there will be no clear solution to gridlock for decades, and all population studies reveal that our nation’s metropolitan areas will become home to an even greater percentage of the population. Even suburban areas will face traffic dilemmas. If only the gridlock were confined to commuter arteries. However, shoppers, air travelers, vacationers, even campers–everyone in motion is or will be feeling its effects.
Everybody in America fears that he/she is under-informed. At this moment, you, and everyone you know, are being bombarded on all sides. Over-information wreaks havoc on the receptive capacities of the unwary. The volume of new knowledge broadcast and published in every field is enormous and exceeds anyone’s ability to keep pace. All told, more words are published or broadcast in a day than you could comfortably ingest in the rest of your life. America leads the world in the volume of data generated and disseminated.
Increasingly, there is no body of knowledge that everyone can be expected to know. In its 140th year, for example, the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. added 942,000 items to its collections. Even our language keeps expanding. Since 1966, more than 60,000 words have been added to the English language–equal to half or more of the words in some languages. Harvard Library subscribes to 160,000 journals and periodicals. With more information comes more misinformation.
Annually, more than 40,000 scientific journals publish over one million new articles. “The number of scientific articles and journals published worldwide is starting to confuse research, overwhelm the quality control systems of science, encourage fraud, and distort the dissemination of important findings,” says New York Times science journalist William J. Broad. In America, too many legislators, regulators and others entrusted to devise the rules which guide the course of society take shelter in the information overglut by intentionally adding to it.
We are saddled with 26-page laws that could be stated in two pages, and regulations that contradict themselves every fourth page. And this phenomenon is not confined to Capitol Hill. Impossible DVD manuals, insurance policies, sweepstakes instructions, and frequent flyer bonus plans all contribute to our immobility.
The effect of the mass media on our lives continues unchecked. Worldwide media coverage certainly yields benefits. Democracy springs forth when oppressed people have a chance to see or learn about how other people in free societies live. As we spend more hours tuned to electronic media, we are exposed to tens of thousands of messages and images. In America, more than three out of four households have dvd players, while the number of movie tickets sold and movies rented in the U.S. each exceed one billion annually. More than 575 motion pictures are produced each year, compared to an average of 175, more than 20 years ago.
In 1972, three major television networks dominated television: ABC, NBC and CBS. There are now more than 450 full-power independent television stations, and many cable TV subscribers receive up to 140 channels that offer more than 72,000 shows per month. All told, the average American spends more than eight solid years electronically watching how other people supposedly live. To capture overstimulated, distracted viewers, American television and other news media increasingly rely on sensationalism.
Like too much food at once, too much data, in any form, isn’t easily ingested. You can’t afford to pay homage to everyone else’s 15 minutes of fame. As Neil Postman observed, inAmusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Television, with the three words, “and now this…” television news anchors are able to hold your attention while shifting gears 180 degrees. Radio power–Radio listenership does not lag either. From 5:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. each weekday in America, listenership far surpasses that of television viewership. Most people don’t realize that since television was first . . .
Jeff Davidson is "The Work-Life Balance Expert®," is a preeminent time management authority, has written 65 mainstream books, and is an electrifying professional speaker, making 836 presentations since 1985 to clients such as Kaiser Permanente, IBM, American Express, Lufthansa, Swissotel, America Online, Re/Max, USAA, Worthington Steel, and the World Bank. Jeff is Executive Director of the Breathing Space Institute; a popular speaker; and the author of books such as:
- Simpler Living (Skyhorse Publishing)
- The 60 Second Innovator (Adams Media)
- Breathing Space (MasterMedia)
- Complete Idiot's Guide to Managing Your Time (Alpha/Penguin)
Jeff is the premier thought leader on work-life balance issues and has been widely quoted in the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, New York Times, and USA Today. Cited by Sharing Ideas Magazine as a "Consummate Speaker," Jeff believes that career professionals today in all industries have a responsibility to achieve their own sense of work-life balance, and he supports that quest through his websites www.BreathingSpace.com and www.Work-LifeBalance.net and through 24 iPhone Apps at www.itunes.com/apps/BreathingSpaceInstitute.
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