How I’m Teaching Myself to Relax

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My mom is a professional wild kitten tamer. Now, I don’t believe any kittens have ever paid her to professionally tame them, but if the opportunity arose, she’s got it down to a science.   

Here’s her bona fide 4-step strategy: 

  1. Place wild kitten on lap, preferably with a towel or old pillow. Because claws. 
  2. Gently–but firmly–hold kitten in place and begin to pet. Kitten will struggle. 
  3. Maintain gentle firmness. Continue petting until kitten relaxes. Purring may occur.  
  4. Repeat several hours a day until you’ve created a lifetime lap cat.


My mom calls this “forced petting.”

I thought of forced petting recently, as I tried to figure out how to get myself to slow down. You see, my default mode is go-go-go, do a million things at once, respond to the client email while cooking dinner while helping a kid with homework. I always figured this was par for the course for a suburban mom with three kids and a business, and perhaps it is. 

But lately, I don’t want to play on this course anymore. 

Because honestly, living like this exhausts me. And more than that, it distracts me. From what really matters. From myself. I keep myself in this constant state of busy-distraction so that I don’t have to examine some of the deeper stuff… like what I’m trying to distract myself from. Like the fact that I tend to base my self-worth on how much I “get done” rather than how much I just am. 

Ouch. Truth. 

But I figure it’s cheaper to blog about this than go to therapy, right? 😉 I also figure that this is the logical next step in my minimalism journey–I’ve decluttered the physical stuff, now it’s time to declutter the internal stuff: the feelings, the thoughts, the distractions. 

And this, my friends, is much, much harder than tackling a cluttered closet. 

But it’s worth it. 

I’ll be honest. Unlike the aforementioned closet, I really don’t know where to start. So I’m doing what people who don’t know how to start something have done since the beginning of time and I’m just… starting. 

Which brings me back to my mom and the kittens. I can still picture her, sitting on our couch in my childhood sunroom, a feisty kitten on her lap, as she gently–yet firmly–forces it to relax into human touch. 

In case you aren’t getting this metaphor…

I am that kitten. A wild creature who wants to chase a million balls of string, texts, Tweets, and notifications. Who wants to scamper under couches and leap at shadows and never, ever truly relax. 

Relaxing feels strange, uncomfortable. I don’t trust it. Just like those wild felines, it’s not in my nature. Or is it? Perhaps I’ve simply lived in distraction-mode for so long that it feels natural.  

So I’ve started my own forced petting routine. 

It looks like this:

I have 20 minutes of free time before we need to leave for an appointment. My internal feral kitten wants to… check email (again), switch laundry, check Facebook, pick up the shoe clutter by the door, check my Starbucks app to see if I have enough stars for a free drink (Yes! Awesome! We can stop on the way!), text my friend Tracy to say thanks for the orthodontist rec, check Instagram, call the bank to see the balance of our mortgage to see how close we are to paying it off, start planning all the trips we can take when we pay it off, begin cost comparison research on family-friendly cruise lines… 

In other words, I want desperately to chase all the metaphorical balls of yarn in my life. 

But because I am forcing this kitten to sit. And relax. And actually notice things in her life, it’s starting to look like this: 

I have 20 minutes of free time before we need to leave for an appointment. I feel the urge to do all the things. I want to do them SO BAD. But I don’t do them. I take a breath. I notice my son Reese reading on the couch. I force myself to put away my phone and sit down next to him. I ask him what he’s reading. It’s a graphic novel about a kid who’s always getting in trouble at school. I ask him to read it to me. He does. With silly voices. I actually pay attention to the story. I ask him teasingly if he’d ever do the things this kid does. “No way, Mom!” he says, laughing. I put my arm around him because he’s almost 10 but will still let me do that. I stay. I stay. And then it’s time to leave. 

I’d love to say that this type of behavior is normal and natural and easy for me. It’s NOT. Like a wild kitten, I want to jump around and do all the things all the time.

But I realize that MO is not resulting in the kind of life I want to live. It’s not making me happy, and worse, it’s causing me to miss the happy things that are happening in front of me, all the time. 

I’d also love to say that I’m doing this perfectly. Ha! I’m totally not. As a mom, wife, and business owner, I still have to do lots of things: laundry, dishes, meal planning, kid shuttling, client communication, social media. These are facts of my life. But these do not have to BE my life. My life is much more than posting on social media and getting my kids to soccer on time. My life is about much more important things–family, friendships, a sense of personal peace. 

And in order to live a life that actually looks like that, I have to train myself to live like that. 

So whaddaya say? Would you like to try some forced petting relaxation training in your own life?

If so, here are 5 steps you can take: 

Step 1: Recognize the urge to go-go-go. I know, this seems like a totally skippable step, but it’s the most important. We often live our lives completely unaware that we aren’t really there. We’re so distracted by busy. So recognizing the urge is the first step. And honestly, you could just stop here and be a total success! But if you’re in it to win it (and all you overachievers out there totally are!), go on to step 2…

Step 2: Ask yourself: do I really NEED to do these things? Be honest. Perhaps some of them you do. Perhaps some of them you don’t. (Spoiler alert: probably most of them you don’t.) But if you DO need to do some of them, this is great. You’ve just prioritized! That’s a major struggle for most overachiever/perfectionist types. Way to go! Again, you can stop here and still get a gold star in forced petting. But I know you, you wanna catch the big fish. Alright then, move on to step 3…

Step 3: If you actually NEED to do some things, do them. Yep, it’s okay to do things. I’m not promoting navel gazing for the sake of navel gazing. We’ve all gotta eat and keep the lights on. Do the things you really NEED to do. But just those things. (Note: this won’t take as long as you think.) Once you’ve done the things–or if you didn’t need to do anything–move on to step 4…

Step 4: Ask yourself… what else could I do right now that would be personally fulfilling? Read a book? Call a friend? Snuggle a kid or a dog or a spouse? Go for a walk? Bake something? Choose your own adventure here. It’s your life. 

Step 5: Do that thing. This is where it’s going to feel weird. But this is where we separate the men from the boys, the wild kittens from the calm cats, the be-ers from the do-ers, the contented people from the ones who are merely busy. Force yourself to stay with it even when you want to distract yourself with the million other things. Be in that activity, even for a short time. Even just five minutes. See how it feels. 

And repeat. 🙂  

Here’s the truth… you could live your life–every single moment of every single day–following those exact steps. And if you can do that, I will stop writing this blog and let you take over because you are my new hero.  

But we’re all learning and experimenting and trying. I know I am. I’m a long way from being a professional wild kitten tamer, especially when that kitten is my own self. 

But I’m learning. I’m getting better. I’m starting to relax into my life in little pockets here and there. 

And you know what? Just like that kitten who eventually begins to purr… I’m starting to like it. 

Now if you’ll excuse me… I think I have a nap to take.

Cheers to more relaxing and chillaxing,

PS Are you ready to start your own minimalism journey by tackling your physical stuff? If so, check out my FREE Minimalism Starter Guide!




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