April hath put a spirit of youth in everything. - William Shakespeare

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Take a Load Off, Part 1

Richard Swenson, M.D.

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Margin is the space between our load and our limits-a space that's recently disappeared. Most of us routinely spend ten percent more than we have, whether in money, time, or energy. When life is continuously maximized, however, there is no margin for priorities, relationship, or healing. Essentially, for all the things that matter most.

Marginless people are overloaded, overextended, and overwhelmed. In an even more generic sense, marginless people are simply unhappy. They try to do too much too fast with too few resources. As a result, joy disappears and life becomes a weight.

Margin is a simple principle. For example, we do not follow two inches behind the car in front of us, or allow only two minutes to change planes in Chicago-that would leave no margin for error. Why then do we insist on leaving no buffer, no space, no reserves in our day-to-day?

There was a time when people had margin in their lives. People lingered at the dinner table, helped the kids with homework, visited with the neighbors, took long walks, dug in the garden, and slept full nights. None of this was regarded as unusual.

Those were the days when progress was mellow. Today, however, progress is different-it's turbocharged. This is the genesis of our margin problem. Progress works, in essence, by always giving us more and more of everything faster and faster. Getting 'more' is wonderful as long as that's what we need. But when overloaded, getting 'more' is painful.

The bottleneck is the established fact of human limits-in time, finances, physical strength, emotional resilience, and intellectual capacity. Progress cannot and will not regard these limits. It cannot slow or stop even if 'more' has now become an enemy. If progress were to slow or stop our economy would fall apart, and to date, this lacks bipartisan support.

As a result, most of us now live beyond the threshold of our limits. Overload is the new normal. We have too many choices and decisions, too many activities and commitments, too much change creating too much stress. We have too much speed and hurry. We have too much technology, complexity, traffic, information, possessions, debt, expectations, advertisements, and media.

Restoring margin to overloaded lives is possible if a person is willing to think and live differently. Hundreds of practical suggestions have been proposed to assist in such a lifestyle change. But the first step, as always, resides within each human heart.

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