Counting today, there are only 11 Mondays left until Christmas. In other words, most of our schedules will only get busier from here.

So why talk about slowing down now? How is that helpful?

The truth is, most of us will pack our schedules to the brink this year. We always do– and we probably won’t choose any differently. We will say yes to too many people, purchase too many gifts, and eat too many cookies. There’s a connection between celebration and indulgence in our culture, after all.

But what if this season could mean so much more than overstuffed, overspent, and overwhelmed? What if we could actually take control over these final weeks of the year, as though our lives actually ARE the direct consequences of our choices?

The cliche of “just say no”

We’ve all heard this: “Just say no more often.” But why is it so hard? If I were to answer the question for myself, I would start with perfectionism and performance. I don’t like people to think I have limits. I want to appear strong, capable, lively and likable, often at the expense of what I know is true, right, and good. Always at the expense of what really matters.

So if we’re to discover when and how to say no, we have to look out for signs. These signs are subtle at first, but quickly become a pattern that, if unchecked, can easily become a new reality.

But before they become that new reality, we can put an end to them. However much of our lives are in our control, we are responsible for that portion.


1) You’re constantly experiencing physical ailments.

You’re always sick. You’re always sore, You always have some kind of infection (no matter how small). You can’t fight off a cold. You  get regular headaches. You can’t keep food down. The list goes on and on.

These pesky little problems are easily chocked up to stress and dismissed. But they’re actually precious signs that our bodies are not well. We often forget that we are supposed to be able to fight off disease, think clearly throughout the day, and feel generally alert and active. Exhaustion and overwhelm can cause things to go wrong physically, and when our bodies cry out, we need to listen.

2) You’re not your best self… ever.

We all have moments when we slip up and have to apologize; and if we’re honest, this often happens around the people we love most. We speak unkind words, tell lies, lose our temper, choose self-gratification over service, and generally forget the commitments we’ve made.

But when you are more often your worst self than your best self– and it feels as though being your best self requires too much exertion– it’s probably a sign that it’s time to slow down. Rather than giving a mediocre 60% to many things, try giving 90% to the most important things. Your family, friends, and coworkers will thank you.

3) You’re always waiting for a storm to blow over.

Normalcy feels like a foreign concept. Every week is volatile. Something dramatic is always happening. You’re always barely making it through.

While there are busy seasons that can last for months (or even years), life should have rhythm, constancy, and a healthy amount of predictability. If you find yourself running from one storm to the next, it’s likely time to remove some commitments from that calendar.

4) You’ve lost all your creative ability.

A sign you’ve got too much on your plate? You’re unable to innovate or engage new ideas. Creativity is a delicate gift that flutters away when its environs are too cluttered. When I have too much going on, I lose interest in creative pursuits, including writing, cooking, music, photography, or generating new strategies at work.

We all are creative in our own way– and even if creativity doesn’t feel like a part of your daily life, it likely plays a role in your ability to stay flexible and solve problems. We need creativity to move forward. Without it, we get stuck– despite the possibility that we are “accomplishing” a lot.

5) You’re motivated by shame and fear, not love and grace.

I’m borrowing this last one from my amazing boss. She’s juxtaposed these two major motivators in contrast: one crushes our spirit and sense of worth; the other invigorates our spirit and sense of worth. When we are driven by shame and fear, we’ll make decisions that only strengthen those influences. We can’t quench shame and fear by hustling– in fact, by hustling, we perpetuate them.

Feeling overwhelmed, and choosing not to make a change, can often point us toward this downward spiral. The only way to choose love and grace over shame and fear is to let go of those things we use as shields against our insecurities. It may take time for us to accept our limits. But acceptance will help us walk in love and grace.

Bottom line: You will get exactly what you tolerate.

We put ourselves through most of the misery we experience. Regardless how difficult it is for us to admit, most of us choose our lot freely. And the good news is that we can decide what we are willing to put up with.

It’s possible to sojourn through life, shattered, and ashamedly picking up the broken pieces of ourselves. But we don’t have to live like that.

When you realize it’s time to slow down, and you allow yourself to reach for the kind of normalcy for which you were intended– a life-giving contribution to the world– you’ll find that an overpacked schedule and overflowing plate is optional.

What are other signs that tell you that you’re doing too much?