Perhaps it was watching the Road Runner blast around at a lightning pace in Bugs Bunny cartoons as a kid, or marveling over the impressive feats of athletes known for speed, like track and field star Florence Griffith Joyner or soccer legend Mia Hamm. Whatever the case, I developed a deep-seated belief early on that moving and thinking fast was the key to success. Like a Pavlovian dog getting a treat, I was rewarded for acting quickly for decades. I won trophies for extemporaneous and impromptu speaking competitions during my academic career. I got praise at work for helping companies be the first to promote innovative ideas and services. No wonder this became a default behavior — until I realized this past year that the self-induced pressure to move fast increased my stress and anxiety while hurting my well-being.
This epiphany took place last May. Dancing as fast as possible, my days were spent juggling a busy, full-time corporate job with starting to work on a book project I had shelved for years. I spent most weekends and nights creating a new website and building my social media presence, while continuing to rise at the crack of dawn for exercise, make time for my husband, and see friends. With hindsight being 20/20, I would bet that I subconsciously kept up the fast pace because pausing for a moment would have meant admitting I was exhausted. Then my 80-year-old mom had a heart attack. Overwhelmed, I suddenly couldn’t think straight.
Luckily, I had a call scheduled a few days later with my executive coach, Michelle Goss. That’s when she gave me the advice to slow down. Sure, I had heard iterations of that from others for years. But something resonated during that conversation, as Michelle helped me see that the need for constant speed came out of negative self-judgment. And rather than causing me to give up on achieving, slowing down would really help my mental, emotional, and physical health. Checking into my gut, I saw she was right. It was like a hundred-pound weight slipped off my shoulders. I decided to make changes to go slower and deeper in every part of life. My new steps included:
- Prioritize my time and energy. Looking at everything on my plate, I began prioritized things one at a time rather than trying to do everything simultaneously. I cut back on business travel commitments and spent time with my mom instead, who is now fully recovered. I applied the same practice to the rest of my interests, choosing to finish the website before resuming the book project and social media. I did keep up the early morning exercise though, since that reduces stress, gives me a shot of happiness-building endorphins, and bolsters my energy.
- Be realistic about what can be accomplished. I make a daily task list at work. That sucker was on steroids before, typically including somewhere between 12-20 items. Just thinking about it makes my teeth clench. Now, I focus on the top five tasks each day and plan how much time is needed to accomplish each one. I do that because if you try to stuff 28 hours’ worth of work into a 10-hour period, that leads to frustration instead of productivity.
- Emphasize quality over quantity. Last weekend, I planned to spend an entire day writing before realizing that the growing piles of papers scattered throughout my home office were distracting me from thinking as clearly as possible. Having decided that decluttering the space was a higher priority, I dug in and ignored the four other items on my list. I went through everything, filing documents, paying bills, getting tax forms ready, and clearing out folders of junk that hadn’t been touched since moving into our new home two years ago. Making that one task my focus and taking the time to slowly and deliberately accomplish it was freeing. Plus, I eventually did everything else on my list more effectively.
This turning point helped me realize that life isn’t a race, but an experience that I get to savor, influence, and create as it unfolds. Ironically, slowing down has helped accelerate happiness, well-being, and success in all parts of my world.
Stay up to date or catch-up on all our podcasts with Arianna Huffington here.