Most of us are running around way too much. Say you bump into a friend you haven’t seen for a while and ask, “How are you?” Twenty years ago, a typical answer would be “fine.” But today the reply is more likely to be “busy!”
We’re caught up in e-mails, phone calls, long hours working, schlepping kids from here to there, and trying to match velocities with everyone else who has speeded up.
Whatever the particular causes may be in your own life, it’s easy to feel like a short-order cook at the lunch rush.
There’s a place for revving up occasionally, whether it’s dealing with an emergency or cheering like a maniac because your fourth-grade daughter has finally taken a shot while playing basketball (that was me).
But chronic speediness has many bad effects:
- It activates the same general stress-response system that evolved in the brain to protect us from charging lions, which releases nerve-jangling hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, weakens your immune system, and wears down your mood.
- It puts the alarm system of the brain on red alert, scanning for threats and often overreacting. Have you ever noticed that when you speed up, you’re quicker to find things to worry or get irritated about?
- It gives you less time to think clearly and make good decisions.
Even though “the need for speed” may have become a way of life, it’s always possible to make a change. Start with little things. And then let them grow. Honestly, slowing down is one of those seemingly small actions that could really change your life.
The Here are some ways to slow down. I suggest doing just a few of them: don’t rush to slow down!
- Do a few things more slowly than usual. Leisurely lift the cup to your lips, don’t rush through a meal, let others finish talking before jumping in, or stroll to a meeting instead of racing. Finish one task before moving on to another. A few times a day, take a long, slowbreath.
- Back off the gas pedal. One time, as I zoomed down the freeway, my wife murmured, “What’s the rush?” She made me realize that slowing down a few miles per hour meant arriving just a few minutes later, but with lots more ease along the way.
- When the phone rings, imagine that it is a church or temple bell reminding you to breathe and slow down. (This suggestion is from the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh.)
- Resist the pressure of others to get things done sooner than you really need to. As the saying has it, their lack of planning does not make it your emergency.
- Find what’s good about this moment as it is, so you’ll have less need to zip along to the next thing. For example, if you’re stuck on hold on a phone call, look around for something that’s beautiful or interesting, or enjoy the peacefulness of simply breathing.
Over time, wrap up existing commitments and be careful about taking on new ones. Notice and challenge any internal pressure to always be doing and getting more and more. What’s the net bottom-line effect on your quality of life: Does racing about make you happier? Or more stressed and worn out?
All the while, soak in the ease and well-being that come from slowing down – and don’t be surprised if people say you look more confident, rested, dignified, and happy.
It’s your life, no one else’s. Slow down and enjoy it!