Hands Free Life: Nine Habits for Overcoming Distraction, Living Better, and Loving More

Hands Free Life: Nine Habits for Overcoming Distraction, Living Better, and Loving More

by Rachel Macy Stafford


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780310338154
Publisher: Zondervan
Publication date: 09/08/2015
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 155,434
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Rachel Macy Stafford is the New York Times bestselling author of Hands Free Mama and Hands Free Life. Her third book, Only Love Today, releases on March 7, 2017. Rachel is a certified special education teacher who helps people overcome distraction and perfection to live better and love more. Rachel’s work has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, The Today Show , Global News, TIME.com, and FoxNews.com. Rachel loves taking long walks, baking, and volunteering with homeless cats and nursing home residents. Rachel lives in the South with her husband and two daughters who inspire her daily.

Read an Excerpt

Hands Free Life

Nine Habits for Overcoming Distraction, Living Better, and Loving More

By Rachel Macy Stafford


Copyright © 2015 Rachel Macy Stafford
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-310-33815-4


Habit 1:


And the only thing people regret is that they didn't live boldly enough, that they didn't invest enough heart, didn't love enough. Nothing else really counts at all.

Ted Hughes

Perhaps when completing medical documents or school registration forms, you've come to three very important lines labeled Emergency Contacts. These blank spaces cause you to go to dark places you don't often go and ask questions you seldom want to consider. Who could you call at 3:00 a.m.? Who could decipher your inaudible sobs? Who could you trust with your most precious gifts?

My pen always hangs suspended over those lines. No matter how much of a hurry I am in to submit that form to waiting hands, I am always forced to pause. Those empty lines are sacred spaces and cannot be taken lightly. I didn't always have this perspective, though. It wasn't until recently, when I was pulled aside by a woman at a party, that I saw the significance of the Emergency Contacts spaces as they related to a Hands Free Life.

"Are you Rachel Stafford?" a woman with a familiar face asked me over the low roar of party conversation and festive music. When I nodded, she said, "You are the emergency contact for half my preschool class."

It wasn't meant as a compliment, but as the words rolled off her tongue, I felt like she'd placed a crown on my head. I felt the magnitude of the message's meaning in a way I hadn't before.

Rachel Stafford, Emergency Contact

Although there are many esteemed titles in today's society, I could not think of a higher honor at that moment. I know that might sound strange. After all, we work tirelessly to have prestigious labels added to our name — PhD, PTO President, VP of Finance, Bestselling Author, Employee of the Month, and so on. But I wasn't considering the woman's comment from a mainstream point of view; I was looking at it from a Hands Free Life perspective.

And that makes all the difference.

You see, the inherent responsibilities required to inhabit the sacred space on an Emergency Contacts line — connection, trust, time, and availability — are also essential for building close relationships, which is one of the key features of a Hands Free Life. It was through Avery's desire to learn to play the ukulele at a young age that I learned both the importance and the ease of filling the sacred spaces of our days with meaningful interpersonal connection.

Not quite four years old, Avery needed my assistance whenever she practiced the new ukulele chords her instructor Mr. Andrew taught her. I clearly remember sitting beside her on our golden-yellow sofa as the late afternoon sun poured onto my lap. Being forced to focus on one thing and one thing only caused my left leg to jiggle nervously. With clenched teeth and frazzled hair, I watched in angst as my child stumbled through "Kookaburra," the first song she ever learned.

As small, uncoordinated fingers struggled to find their home, I'd eventually have to cover her fingers with my own in order for her to make a clear sound. Despite the Grand Canyon – sized lulls between each strum, I could not fold towels (I tried) or write grocery lists (I considered it) during practice sessions. For Avery to create any musical sound whatsoever, I had to be in the moment.

For a woman whose life was based on efficiency, productivity, checklists, and tangible results, ukulele practice was a form of slow, grueling torture. But although ukulele practice cramped my multitasking style, I did it because my daughter loved that tiny wooden instrument. And when she sang, her God-given purpose filled the room and I felt an unexplained peace within my soul.

So we kept practicing — Avery on her C chord and G chord and me on sitting still and not multitasking the moment away. We both made considerable progress relatively quickly. By the time Avery moved on to her first Taylor Swift song, the urge to get something accomplished while she practiced was completely gone. Perhaps what was even more monumental was that my mind was at rest too. I stopped thinking about a million other things and allowed myself to simply be all there. Avery began announcing, "Time to practice!" more and more. As much as she loved singing and strumming, she knew this was our time — and that was significant.

During one of our connective practice sessions, I noticed the spaces between her teeth — specifically the baby teeth gaps that are only there for a short time. Her big sister's were already gone. As Avery strummed and sang with an openmouthed smile, I blinked back tears of joy because, for the first time, I could see my child clearly. Every exquisite detail of my child that had slipped by me unnoticed before was now magnified through my new Hands Free lens. Filling small increments of time with loving presence had not only drawn my child and me closer, but my outlook on life was being transformed. As my priorities began to shift, I felt great hope that I could reclaim my life despite my previously distracted existence.

If ten minutes of daily ukulele practice could strengthen the bond between my child and me, what could happen in the ten minutes that my children spoon breakfast cereal into their mouths at the kitchen table? What could I learn about them in that three-minute wait for the bus? What could develop in the four minutes that it takes for my husband to remove his tie and dress shoes as he begins to unwind for the day? What memories could I glean from my dad's still razor-sharp mind in those forty-five minutes he sits on my back porch when he comes to visit?

Suddenly those little pockets of time that were so easily devoured in the name of productivity were viewed as opportunities to focus my undivided attention on what really mattered. Making it a daily practice to be fully present while in the company of loved ones meant the difference between intimately knowing and superficially knowing the people I love. It meant the difference between living each day catching glimpses of joy or just barely surviving each day without even a smile.

Filling the spaces, the first intentional habit of a Hands Free Life, doesn't require large amounts of time, elaborate gestures, mastering new skills, or extensive planning; it does require you to show up — heart, mind, body, and soul — when in the company of those you love. In this chapter, we'll explore three ways you can fill the spaces of everyday life with loving intention. It is my hope that you discover, as I have, that regardless of your occupation, past history, or current life challenges, creating deep and lasting connection is possible.

Whether we are talking about the Emergency Contacts lines of an official document or drawing closer to another human being, the critical element needed to fill the sacred spaces is the willingness to be all there. Being someone who shows up consistently in everyday life or one who shows up in a time of need are both traits of a life well lived. After all, it's not the prestigious title behind our name or type of car parked in front of our house that gives meaning to our lives — it's knowing we didn't miss the gaps in the teeth or the lyrics of our life.


For a culture that prides itself on immediate results and instant gratification, it may seem strange that we are also experts at putting off living — the best parts of living. "When I drop a pant size ...," "When things at work slow down ...," "When schedule isn't so crazy ...," "When I get that promotion ..." are just a few of the twenty-first-century ambitions that keep us from taking a break, having fun, and connecting with the ones we love. But this type of procrastination comes at a great cost: the opportunities of today are lost in that delay of truly living.

Although we've been led to believe that our fondest memories are made in the grand occasions of life, in reality, they happen when we pause in the ordinary, mundane moments of a busy day. The most meaningful life experiences don't happen in the "when," they happen in the "now." This concept is not earth shattering, nor is it something you don't already know. Yet we still continually put off the best aspects of living until the conditions are right. But what happens when we continually put productivity above investing in relationships?

One day I decided to find out.

As a personal research project to fuel my writing, I spent a few hours compiling every email message I'd ever received from individuals who wished they could turn back time. I simply typed the word regret in my subject search and with that, I hit the mother lode. I read the messages one by one — real stories of real people with wishes that could never come true.

I wish I hadn't spent so much time working.

I wish I'd spent more time getting to know my kids.

I wish I'd developed a relationship with my sister when I had the chance.

I wish I would have forgiven my mom a lot sooner.

I wish I would've said, "I'm sorry" once in a while.

I wish I would've said, "I love you" every chance I had.

Although we are inundated with the advice to "cherish every moment" to the point that it sounds meaningless, something powerful happens when you read the regrets of real people with real names and real pain. Their heartbreaking truths wake you up.

And that's exactly the state I was in this particular evening; I was fully awake to the preciousness of time. And it just so happened that I had the rare treat of being alone in the car with my ten-year-old daughter, Natalie. We were coming back from an outing, just the two of us. I was taking the curves of a meandering country road at the pace of a leisurely Sunday drive. The sun was setting and we were talking.

In the midst of a discussion on how to pass a driver's test, Natalie heard the first three notes of her latest favorite song faintly drifting from the car speakers. "Turn it up, Mom. I love this song!" she exclaimed.

Natalie immediately began singing without restraint — as if she was alone in the car. As if no one else's opinion mattered. As if she suddenly discovered the liberating freedom that comes with open windows on a warm summer night.

I couldn't believe what I was hearing — this was my computer whiz, my studious planner, my competitive swimmer, my baker extraordinaire. I would fully expect this musical outburst from my ukulele-playing younger daughter, but not Natalie! I couldn't remember the last time Natalie sang uninhibitedly like this — perhaps when she was three or four years old.

Looking in the rearview mirror at that moment was like looking into a crystal ball. Suddenly I could see Natalie at age sixteen: a burst of colorful style bounding into the kitchen — the scent of teenage grooming quickly overpowering the smell of bacon and eggs. I envisioned her nails, cut short and square with vibrant polish, grabbing the car keys. She wouldn't have time for a hot breakfast. With barely a wave, the door would shut, and I would be left in eerie silence wondering where the time had gone.

The collection of email messages I'd gathered earlier that day prominently came to mind. With vivid detail, I saw a tangible form of Regret. It was plopped down before me like an old dog wanting a little acknowledgment, a little attention, a little respect. And it wasn't going anywhere.

With longing eyes, that old dog looked at me, and I could practically hear his persistent line of questioning. "So what are you going to do about me?" asked Regret. "What are you going to do now so I'm not lying at your feet later when your hair is silver, your hands are arthritic, and time is no longer on your side?"

Suddenly a painful commentary went through my head: I know I can't possibly cherish every moment. I know it's not realistic to neglect my life responsibilities to soak up every word and every expression of my family members and friends. I know that telling myself to savor every stage of childhood or every season of life is just setting myself up for failure. So what do I do? How do I realistically live life now to avoid the pain of regret later?

As I looked in the rearview mirror, my daughter's chocolate-brown eyes met my gaze. With a sudden sense of urgency, I felt opportunity staring me right in the face. Stop thinking what if and sing! Sing before the song ends! I told myself.

So I opened my mouth and joined in. Surprisingly, Natalie didn't give me an exasperated look. She didn't roll her eyes and beg me to stop. She didn't chuckle and say, "That sounds terrible, Mom!" My daughter's smile grew, and she kept right on singing.

When we walked in the house a few minutes later, it was eerily quiet. Natalie surmised that Avery was still running errands with Daddy, and it would be the perfect time to purchase a gift for her little sister's upcoming birthday.

Natalie sat down at the computer and typed in the web address of Avery's favorite store. I saw the American Girl doll site appear, and I knew my meticulous child would spend quite a bit of time carefully examining each and every item before making her decision.

I stood there a moment studying the back of Natalie's head — each strand of hair perfectly highlighted by the powerful combination of chlorine and summer sun. As much as I wanted to reach out and gently smooth her hair, I felt a pull — a pull to the dirty dishes piled in the sink ... a pull to the mess scattered around the family room from a hasty departure ... a pull to check the messages in my in-box ... a pull to check at least one task off the to-do list.

But the song is half over, I remembered.

"Can I sit with you while you look?" I asked my thrifty daughter, who'd gone straight to the sale section of the site.

"Sure, Mom," Natalie replied in a cheerful voice that indicated her face held a smile even though I could only see the back of her head.

And although looking at the American Girl doll website for almost thirty minutes wasn't the most entertaining activity ever, listening to my child carefully determine what two items her sister would love best was unforgettable. And that's when it hit me. Cherishing every moment until my child leaves home is not possible. After all, there are jobs to do, bills to pay, and deadlines to meet. There are school assignments, extracurricular activities, home duties, and volunteer duties. But there are moments in between life's obligations when we are in the presence of our loved ones that can be made sacred.

Meals at the table, caring for pets, walking around the block, morning send-offs, afternoon greetings, and nightly tuck-ins all hold great potential — potential to be all there. Within the duties of life, there are opportunities to meet her gaze in the rearview mirror ... to ask her questions ... to listen to her thoughts ... to sit beside her as she does something she enjoys ... opportunities to sing along to her favorite song ... opportunities to sing along to the music of her life.

Believe me, I could fill those opportune moments with todos. I was born with the ability to spot tasks that need attention every second of every day. But during my highly distracted years, I found that it doesn't take long before those lost opportunities begin to accumulate. When they start to pile up, they get heavy and the pain becomes inescapable. And farther down the road, I imagine that pile of missed opportunities will look a lot like Regret — the kind of Regret that lays at your feet after your loved ones have gone, making you wish you could turn back time.

But this story is not about Regret. This story is about hope because there's a song playing right now. If you listen closely, you can hear it ... you can see it ... and you can learn to seize it.

It's a Lego creation on the f loor. It's a tea party in the playroom.

It's a pickup basketball game in the driveway. It's a cozy table for two in the corner of Starbucks.

It's a wheelchair ride down a musty corridor to show feeble eyes the beauty of a summer morning.

It's a phone call to an estranged friend that begins with "I've been thinking about you ..."

It's an apology, a white f lag, an olive branch between two people who love each other very much but will never see eye to eye.

It's a lingering hug, the smoothing of a stray hair, an invitation that sounds like "What do you want to do today?"


Excerpted from Hands Free Life by Rachel Macy Stafford. Copyright © 2015 Rachel Macy Stafford. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Introduction: Living a Life that Really Matters, 11,
Keeping Track of Life Manifesto, 19,
PART ONE: Creating Lasting Connections, 21,
PART TWO: Living for Today, 83,
Part Three: Protecting What Matters, 147,
Conclusion, 211,
The Ultimate Hands Free Life Habit Builder: If I Live to Be 100, 215,
Acknowledgments, 217,

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Hands Free Life: Nine Habits for Overcoming Distraction, Living Better, and Loving More 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
michelemorin More than 1 year ago
Remarkable Things Spoken With a huge garden, an apple tree that produced two pies this fall, and a rainbow of full canning jars in my basement, it is quite possible that my life approximates Rachel Macy Stafford’s day dreams in the Home Depot outdoor garden section. Or could it be that my brand of rural chaos demonstrates that her book, Hands Free Life, is helpful for anyone in any context who wants to begin noticing what is truly remarkable? It’s for the woman who believes that “life is best lived with open hands, open eyes, and an open heart,” but nonetheless, struggles to embrace the sacred pauses; fails to stoop down and marvel at the color of a ripe tomato; and forgets to make time for looking straight into the eyes of a wild Morin boy before he explodes out the door into the woods in search of squirrels and adventure. In a glorious follow-up to Hands Free Mama, Rachel, a former special-education teacher and mother of two, sets forth nine habits for overcoming distraction, living better, and loving more. Four mournful words from Rachel’s husband changed her trajectory: “You’re never happy anymore.” Busy-ness, fretting over inconsequential details, and the ceaseless striving for perfection and productivity had stolen her joy and had led to a lifestyle of distraction and impatience. Each of the nine chapters of Hands Free Life is a parfait of Rachel’s family life layered with principles that emerge in which she trumpets the breath-taking virtue of “keeping track of life” — cultivating a focus on what truly matters through the implementation of mindful strategies that curb distraction and perfectionism, of principles that promote balance: •Leave a legacy by grasping simple joys. •Fill the spaces by seeking two fully available moments each day. •Take the pressure off by accepting a less than perfect day. Hands Free Life is an invitation to join Rachel in the joyful discovery that “a life well-lived [begins] with a minute, an hour, a single day well-lived. As Annie Dillard so wisely observed: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Shall we begin filling our days and our hearts with the things that are remarkable so that when we open our mouths to speak, we will have words of consequence to say? This book was provided by Zondervan through the BookLookBloggers program in exchange for my review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
After reading Hands Free Life, I began to understand myself better. Her poetic, philosophical, spiritual, and above all, inspirational writing reminds me of Kahil Gibran's masterpiece, The Prophet. But Stafford is also a contemporary Maria Montessori. Perhaps, a beautiful blend of the two. The shining heroines of the book, in my opinion, are Stafford's two young daughters. They are the inspiration for Stafford's transformation from harried to loving, from distracted to attentive, from micromanaging mom and adult to trustful parent and global citizen. Papa Green Bean (John S Green) For my full review of Hands Free Life, please go to my blog at papagreenbean.blogspot.com
caeb19 More than 1 year ago
I don't know about you, but I find it is so easy to get distracted these days. There are so many things competing for my attention, whether it is the dirty dishes in the sink, my little boy's incessant "What's that?" questions, or the never ending stream of social media posts. As much as I seek to distance myself from it, the pressure seeps in from all angles, pushing me to be more, have more, and do more, and in the end, it just leaves me feeling overwhemed. Author Rachel Macy Stafford recognized this pressure in her own life and the toll it was taking on herself and her relationships. In her new book Hands Free Life, she describes how she started taking steps to change her "distracted, perfectionistic, and hurried existence" and began to live her life differently, and she invites her readers to do the same. Through a mix of personal stories and insights, she shares nine intentional habits to help foster a Hands Free Life and one that is more about living and loving than simply keeping track of everything. Overall, I was a bit disappointed in the book. Prior to reading the book, I was only vaguely familiar with the author and her work. I haven't read her blog or her previous book Hands Free Mama, so I am not sure if that made a difference. However, in general, I had a hard time really connecting with the content and understanding Stafford's writing style. The concept felt somewhat too abstract for me, and I found myself wishing for more concrete examples or specific steps to implement. I appreciated how each chapter included affirmation statements and poetic reflections, but since I wasn't connecting with the content, I didn't spend much time mediating on these or repeating them aloud to myself. That said, I did enjoy reading some of the author's stories on motherhood and her call for readers to reflect on their choices and be sure they are investing in a life that really matters to them. All in all, I think it was a good book, but it simply wasn't what I was hoping for nor my preferred writing style. If you are a fan of Rachel Macy Stafford's first book or her blog, I would venture to guess you would enjoy this book as well. If you haven't read her stuff, I would recommend checking those two places first before diving into this book. Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
JennRead More than 1 year ago
This book is an incredible guide to help you refocus on living your life to the fullest and engaging in the things and people that really matter most. It equips you with strategies that help you to build life altering habits that enable you to be less distracted, feel less of everyday pressures and more LOVE for those around you. It also gives you the piece of mind to know you are not alone in the daily struggles we all face. Rachel's writing gives us freedom to fail, forgive and move forward. So excited to share this with my friends!
CarrieWerth More than 1 year ago
Hands Free Life is a book I will display for years and years to come ... not because it is a beautiful book (it is), but because I personally need a constant reminder to let go of the little things and cling to the things that are THE most important. The to do lists, the over extended calendar (ironically, most of which is filled with things I tell myself are helping my children), keeping up with the house and yard, the emails and texts, being as much as I can to everyone ... all can be so incredibly exhausting, leaving me with zero energy left for the ones who mean the very most. Through her personal experiences, poetry and a book filled with Rachel's words which radiate so much true love, compassion, and grace, Rachel teaches us HOW to live a more fulfilling life by taking us through 9 Specific Habits. I found Hands Free Life to be very well organized, very thoughtfully written, and completely "Rachel" - which is a very wonderful way to be. I couldn't put it down and am so glad I didn't. I hope you gain as much as I have through reading this lovely and important wisdom filled book. Thank you, Rachel Macy Stafford! You have done it again!!
DonBlackwell More than 1 year ago
Every now and then a Knowing Heart appears on the literary landscape - someone with a life-altering and life-affirming message borne of their own mistakes and missteps, who has the courage to lay their soul bare gracefully, honestly and insightfully, so that others might have the freedom and be inspired to lay down their own shame and guilt and pick up hope instead. Rachel Macy Stafford is one of those rare individuals and, thankfully, she’s at it again in her new book, "Hands Free Life – 9 Habits for Overcoming Distraction, Living Better & Loving More". Candidly, it couldn’t have come at a better time. On some level, I think all of us recognize the many distractions that are such an integral part of our daily personal, family and work lives. What is far less obvious, however, is the impact our 'distractedness' has on us and on those we love, let alone how to 'disconnect' in ways that will make room in our hearts and in our lives for the people and experiences that matter most. Who better to hold our hand on that journey than someone who has 'been there, done that' and developed thoughtful and thought-provoking strategies for embracing a more Hands Free Life? Best of all, Rachel’s 'habits' are practical and accessible. I can’t recommend this engaging book any more fervently, especially to young moms AND DADS! It’s simply the greatest gift you may ever give yourself - and your children.
MrobbinsCA More than 1 year ago
What a wonderful book! Rachel Macy Stafford writes in a way that speaks right to the heart and the message in this book is spot-on, especially with all of the distractions we face in life today. I love this book and am excited to get more copies to share with my friends and clients!