September has come gently for me. But it hasn’t been without a fight.

Last week I started to feel the familiar internal shaking, the kind that won’t let me sit down on the inside. I used to ignore this, thinking it was just a normal part of an active life.

September - Emily P Freeman

But after writing a whole book about small-moment living in a fast-moving world, I recognized the inside shakes are a sign that my soul was being held under the thumb of hustle once again.

I don’t want this to be normal.

It happens to everyone, I think – it’s why my main focus here at Chatting at the Sky is to create space for your soul to breathe. I need regular reminders to take a breath, to slow, and to consider.

If you wonder if your soul is being held hostage by hustle, here are three obvious symptoms I experienced last week and maybe you can relate.

1. I’m easily distracted.

The hustle hostage usually comes on the tail end of a big project. For me, it was a book launch. I have also experienced this after back-to-back travel, a busy weekend with houseguests, or when our routine is interrupted for an extended period of time.

To counterbalance the frenzy, I will try to do something calming like read a book. But instead of sinking into the story, I read two sentences and notice my mind wandering. Or I’ll take a picture of the book and put it on Instagram instead of actually enjoying the book. Anyone?

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

2. I lack inspiration.

When hustle has seeped into the level of my soul (meaning my thoughts, my emotions, and my will feel rushed) I realize it most readily when I lack inspiration. I’m particularly sensitive to this because, as a writer, inspiration feels important.

To be clear, it’s maybe once a month that I write from a truly inspired place. Usually it’s more of a discipline, a walk of faith from one word to the next, trusting that because God made me a writer, he will turn my tired words into something meaningful eventually.

But when it comes to my life in general, I know hustle has taken over when I don’t feel inspired in anything. Whether I’m in my kitchen, deciding what to wear, planning out my calendar, or having a conversation with John, if I feel unable to see the lovely, if I notice that I am only able to see the downside of everything, this is when I know hustle has too loud of a voice.

3. I can’t make a decision.

From inability to choose my meal at a restaurant to prioritizing goals and vision for my work, when hustle takes over I feel unable to make a decision.

Sometimes this feels like I’m drowning in a sea of options, as if there are so many directions I can go and I don’t know which to pick. Other times it feels like the opposite, like all my options have dried up completely and any hope for moving forward is gone.

Maybe you can relate to this distracted, grey, indecisive mindset. Maybe you are feeling it too: the rush to produce, the pull to compete, the thoughts flying fast and furious, the mad sprint toward the finish line.

I’ve got a secret for us both: that kind of race doesn’t have a finish line.

Last week, when I noticed I was feeling all of these things – chronically distracted, inspriation-less, and indecisive – I realized I needed to evaluate some things.

I decided to ask myself one simple but important question.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

What events, circumstances, or activities are life-giving and which ones are life-draining?

It might seem unrelated, like why would I ask this question in particular rather than work on prioritizing my time or doing something to relax myself?

For me, it’s because when my soul is being held hostage by hustle, I can’t see clearly to prioritize or to relax. So for me, this practice is a way to re-calibrate my body, my soul, and my spirit with the ways God has made me and my family to function.

Some people do this on a daily basis with the spiritual practice of the Daily Examen. I’ve done this some as well, but this time I wanted to have a clearer picture of the roots of overwhelm in my life and how God might be inviting me to rip them up.

Here is what I did specifically:

I used my Bullet Journal and methodically sifted through our past year and looked at six main areas:

  • Travel – Both for work and with family
  • Work – What projects have I prioritized? Which ones make me want to die? Which ones make me want to sing with joy?
  • Leisure – What downtime activities did I engage in during the past 9 – 12 months?
  • Everyday schedule – How have I been spending my actual day-to-day time?
  • Kids – What have their schedules looked like? What activities have we done together that we’ve loved or not loved?
  • John + Me – When were we really connected and when did we feel disconnected?

I handled each event or activity and asked myself if it was life-giving or life-draining.

This is a slow process and I had to stay focused, which was hard. I found myself reading through notes I took on books I read or checking off old to-do list tasks. They key here is big picture so try to keep that in mind.

I wrote them down with a  pen on paper so I could see them all at once.

This part is important for me. Physically writing down each event, activity, or circumstance with a brief description of why it was life-giving or life-draining was so informative.

I looked for patterns.

This is about as far as I’ve gotten in the process. But next I will:

Prayerfully consider how to incorporate more life-giving and less life-draining in the months to come.

To be clear, there are many life-draining tasks and activities I simply don’t have the luxury of giving up. But this practices has helped me realize there are many I can. These are the ones I want to pay attention to.

I’m still evaluating my lists as I just started last week and I’m not sure it can be done well in a couple of days unless you are on a retreat for this purpose. But so far here are a couple of conclusions.

  • I often avoid things that are life-giving to me because initially, I fear they will be draining. For example, having people over. The idea of it sometimes overwhelms me. But the reality is it’s life-giving.
  • Some projects are both life-giving and life-draining. This year I finished writing a book – the writing of it was life-giving. The editing  was life-draining. But you can’t have one without the other.
  • I check email too much.
  • John and I don’t get away enough.
  • I want to play the piano more often.
  • I want to read more books.

As I said, this is somewhat of a slow process, but I think it’s an important one. In a way, it’s the contemplative older sister to our monthly What We Learned link up. Speaking of that, here are a few other resources for you if you recognize yourself in this post and want to learn more:

  • What I Learned In August – Here you can read 10 things I’ve learned this month (silly and serious) and add your own post (the link up closes this Friday)
  • How I Keep Track of What I’m Learning – If you like the idea of this reflection practice but don’t have a regular routine of recording your monthly activities, this post on how I use my Bullet Journal. might help.
  • Free Video Series – If you haven’t signed up to get these videos yet, I want to invite you to do so. They are completely free and will give you practical ways to take a soul breath even in the midst of your busy life.
  • Simply Tuesday – The ultimate companion for a hurried soul who has grown tired of do more and dream big, offering perspective for your home, work, family, soul, and the plans you make for your future.

Hustle does not have to be normal. I hope you’ll join me on this journey of reflection and listening to your own life so that we might face the world with less fear and more love.