10 Ways To Slow Down (OR: Don’t Be A Russian*)

I love rushing around.

It’s a great way to feel like you’re getting stuff done. In its best moments, it can be inspiring, even euphoric.  And it feels virtuous: For years, I used moving around as fast as possible, doing way too many things, as a way of feeling a sense of self-worth. It’s also a great way to avoid other feelings: the adrenaline high cuts off pesky emotions and bodily needs.

But rushing is a terrible way of being effective, enjoying life, and focusing on friends, family, and what’s important. And for you fellow workaholic, overachieving types: Yes, it feels good, but let’s be honest. It’s like running a rat wheel with only brief moments of satisfaction: You achieve! — and 5 min later you think, “What’s next?”

THE SYMPTOMS

You may be moving to fast, if:

  • At the end of the day, you have a hard time describing what you accomplished
  • You eat lunch and a few minutes later struggle to remember the taste
  • Spending time with your nearest and dearest feels like wasting time
  • You’re always walking as fast as you can (even when you’re not late)
  • The thought of leisure fills you with a) intense longing or b) dread

…you’re probably moving too fast.

But slowing down isn’t easy, especially if we’ve developed a rushing habit and rush around even when it isn’t necessary.

10 WAYS TO SLOW DOWN

  1. TAKE A BREAK: “Well, duh,” you say. But how often do you actually do this during the course of a day? And now, taking a break by working on something else or trolling the internet doesn’t count. Seriously, how often do you rest for at least 5 minutes and do NOTHING? (That’s what I thought.)
  2. BREATHE: Take a breath in, let the breath go out, and repeat. Feel free to let your mind wander, but try to let go of thoughts related to what you’re taking a break from. Often when you return to your work, you’ll find you have a new perspective.
  3. STARE OUT A WINDOW:  It’s amazing how much it can help to just notice that the world is trundling along just fine outside your stress bubble. Trying watching people walk by or staring at the clouds moving. [Ever notice how clouds don’t seem to be moving until you stare at them? Sneaky bastards.]
  4. SAVOR SOMETHING: Drink a cup of tea. Enjoy a piece of chocolate. Whatever you do, do it slowly and really taste it. Focusing on the detail helps slow the brain down.
  5. WALK SLOWLY: As you go to your next meeting or walk to catch the bus, walk at 1/2 your normal speed. When I walk fast (and people have complained about how fast I walk since I was 5) my mind moves fast, too. When I slow down, my mind opens up to the world around me. I notice my neighbor or the sunshine on my face rather then being lost in a haze of work-related anxiety.
  6. NAP: This is one of the best ways to relax, recharge, and get out of the adrenalized zone. 10 or 20 minutes is best for most of us. One of my favorite things in the world is the feeling of lying in bed, quietly awake, after a good nap.
  7. TALK TO A FRIEND: Ask them to listen to you (without commenting) for 5m. Warning: Often people think that 5m seems as long as the grand canyon is wide, and fear they’ll run out of things to say. Never had this happen with people who I’ve listened to: usually a torrent of words emerges. Getting all that pent up stuff out, even if it’s boring and mundane, helps clear space to slow down.
  8. LISTEN: Now that you’ve babbled like an idiot to your friend, return the favor by listening to them. Actively listening is something we rarely do; often we’re thinking about what we want to say or some other thing we have to do. Just listen.
  9. ONE PROJECT: Now that you’ve finished your break and you’re getting back to work, trying focusing on only one thing for the next hour. Ask your colleagues to hold off on questions until then. Don’t multi-task: just work on that one paper, email,  batch of cupcakes, or plot for world domination. And move at 1/2 speed while you’re at it.
  10. DON’T RUSH: Again, obvious, but rare that we actually do it. Whatever you’re doing, try it at 1/2 speed. Even if it’s only for 5 minutes. If you’re like me you’ll find you go slow for about 30 second before getting dragged back into whatever you’re working on. Notice this when it happens and slow down again. Have patience.

In 2012, I’ve made a concerted effort to slow down. I mostly focus on walking slowly and taking breaks. They’re small changes, but life is more enjoyable, I am calmer at the end of the day, and more aware of myself and the people and world around me.

It’s not easy. Especially if I have deadlines or commitments to other people and feel like I have too much to do. Instead of cutting back or prioritizing, my instinct is to work faster rather than smarter. Even while writing this blog post, I’ve had to remind myself to let go and take a break that doesn’t involve the internet.

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

What helps you slow down? What makes you rush?

*Bad pun is free of charge.

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2 Comments to “10 Ways To Slow Down (OR: Don’t Be A Russian*)”

  1. As a parent, I feel like I have to do everything all at once. I need to read while pooping. In fact, the baby is napping and the boy is distracted – QUICK! poop now while I can do it alone! NOW! GO!!

    Ahem.

    I feel like I need to read stories with my son while also nursing and while also silently plotting dinner in my head. I need to write and answer email and read the blogs I love all at once because if it doesn’t happen in this hour it won’t happen at all.

    I don’t know how to fix this multi-tasking, except by being as present as possible in each task and waiting til the kids grow up a little more.

    • First of all I laughed my pants off at “QUICK! poop now while I can do it alone!”

      I can’t imagine being a parent. Well, I can, but I don’t relish the thought of having to place my attention 10 places at once. My ADD brain already does that without little ones running around to worry about it!

      As such, I’d like to offer some ideas about how to focus, but don’t feel qualified to do so. Your idea about being present makes sense to me. There are times when I’ve been super rushed and needed to get 8 things done at once but the quality of my attention has been such that I’m focused and calm, even as I move around quickly. If I am running around constantly, carving out time, however briefly, to be present with the walls of the room around me also helps me.

      I’m interested in this topic. I think someone should write a book about being creative while being a parent.

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