“You’re only here for a short visit. Don’t hurry, don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.” – Walter Hagen
A few years ago, I worked for an executive search firm. My boss used to tell me often “slow down to speed up”. At the time, I don’t think I really understood what he meant by that. Ever since I can remember, I’ve always rushed to the next thing and the next thing. It was a key theme of my life – chasing the next thing; and never pausing long enough to celebrate, take in, or notice what was happening in the now.
When I was doing my master’s, I embarked on a spiritual journey to discover the power of now. And even though I had brief moments of being present, I still inevitably got caught in the cycle of running from one thing to the next. Then, at the end of 2017, we immigrated to Canada and suddenly everything I knew, loved and sometimes took for granted, fell away in an instant. I was faced with the uncertainty of what lay ahead with no clear plan on how I would “chase the next thing”. I was forced to slow down and to really look at my life. And it was hard.
Realising how I had just been a passenger in my own life and how I had let moments slip by without really appreciating how precious each one was… Realising how much I had taken for granted and how much I longed for my simpler life back in South Africa, brought me tremendous heartache and regret. At the same time, I started to understand the idea around slowing down… because now I didn’t have much of a choice. Life was forcing me to slow down.
I wish I could say that I finally managed to learn how to slow down, but it’s still a daily struggle for me. And the theme of slowing down has once again popped up in my life. From the moment I started working with my coach, the first thing she said to me was that I needed to slow down – both outside in life and inside myself. So, I’m on a journey towards really slowing down things deep inside myself and uncovering what’s there. I’m learning how to slow down conversations with clients and how to get them to slow down things inside themselves.
If there is one thing, I’ve discovered over the last two months, it’s that we all have a need to slow down to some extent or another. We live in a world that encourages us to hurry up; to chase the next thing, and to ensure that we don’t fall behind. We live in a rapidly changing world that puts tremendous pressure on people to work harder, do more, want more and to never slow down. The end result? We feel like we handed over control of our lives to someone or something else. Or at least, that has been my experience. I feel so rushed and pressured that I don’t feel like I have the “luxury” of thinking or reflecting or discovering. How absurd is that?! How are we to discover anything new if we are unable to slow down for long enough.
As a society we have developed an aversion to idle time or to “doing nothing”. Doing nothing has become an unforgivable sin. We should always be busy. In fact, we feel uncomfortable if we are waiting in line at the doctor’s office or the grocer or if we are sitting on the bus or the train. We feel like we need to be “doing something”. So, we immerse ourselves in our phones and social media. We block out the external world and get trapped in our own minds. We don’t notice what is happening around us anymore. We don’t pay attention anymore.
When last did you just wait in line somewhere without feeling the need to “do something” or be “busy with something”. When last did you pay attention to people around you? When last did you really slow down and listen to someone – really listen without judgment? When last did you notice the sunset or sunrise or hear the birds outside. When last did you spend time in nature doing nothing? Just connecting with nature…? When last did you slow down inside yourself and asked yourself what you were really thinking or feeling? Would that scare you to ask yourself these questions or to explore what is going on inside?
What is the value of slowing down though? What do we gain from slowing down? We gain our humanity and our connection with nature and with other people. We notice things we would otherwise not notice. We see how our lives unfold and we notice the gifts of joy and presence that are right in front of us. We can experience life – really experience it in deep and rewarding ways. We have time to think and discover solutions we haven’t thought of. We have time to notice – notice the passing of time, notice the lines on someone’s face, the tone of their voice, the hesitation in their step. We have time to think and be.
According to Andrew Thomas, slowing down could actually help you succeed faster. I think that is what my boss was trying to tell me years ago… Thomas discusses four important benefits to slowing down. First, you’ll have more clarity. Sometimes we are in such a rush that we don’t even realise we are rushing in the wrong direction. Slowing down enough to figure out what you really want, could actually help you move more effectively in the right direction. Ultimately, it’s more important to move slowly in the right direction than to be moving very fast in completely the wrong direction. So, do yourself a favour and slow down enough to figure out what your really want. Explore your core values and what matters most. What would bring you the mot joy and satisfaction? It’s worth it to take the time to find the answers to these questions. The alternative is ending up somewhere you didn’t intend to go in the first place and feeling completely disconnected from your life.
One of the biggest drawbacks of always rushing, is that we overextend ourselves to the point of exhaustion and burnout. How many stories have you heard of people literally working themselves to death?! And usually at something that doesn’t even fulfill them, but brings them tremendous misery. You owe it to yourself and your loved one’s to slow down and take care of yourself. If you are to derive the most value from this one life you have, you need your health.
We underestimate the importance of our own physical wellbeing, until the day we suddenly find ourselves facing illness and death that could have been prevented by slowing down enough to live more consciously and take care of ourselves. Taking care of yourself, is not selfish. It’s the most selfless thing you can do. As Thomas states: “Claiming that slowing down is a privilege, or a luxury, is an excuse. You have the same amount of time in your day as Oprah, and she meditates. So does Marc Benioff (CEO of Salesforce), Arianna Huffington, Beyoncé, and Jeff Weiner (CEO of LinkedIn). If they can do it, you can too.” You owe it to yourself and the people you care about to be fully present in your own body and preserve your energy for the things that matter most in life.
The third benefit of slowing down, is being able to access your emotions and managing them more effectively. Too many people fail to see the benefits in their emotions. Emotions are a guide. They help you take inventory of what’s happening in and around you, and figure out how best to respond. Successful people feel and manage their emotions, and they don’t let them trigger bad behaviours. However, the only way to successfully manage your emotions, is by slowing down enough to notice them in the first place.
There’s a mantra that sums this up well: If you can name it, you can tame it. By slowing down, you can feel the emotions you’re experiencing and describe them. In doing so, you can process them and let them guide you to a healthy response. By understanding your own inner space, you can be more present in your life and relationships.
The fourth benefit in slowing down, is that you empower yourself to make better decisions. To put it simply, your mind is like a car engine: If you always have your pedal to the floor, the engine will redline, overheat, and fail. When you slow down and make time for rest and meditation, you lower your baseline for mental stress. When your mind isn’t racing, it’s free to absorb information, assess the circumstances, and make better decisions. When you have clarity about how you think and why, you have access to inner wisdom you would normally ignore if you were just rushing from one thing to the next.
So, my challenge for you today, is to try to slow things down inside yourself. How can you be more present to your thoughts and feelings? How can you pay attention to what is happening in your internal space as well as to what is happening in your environment? Next time you find yourself waiting in line somewhere, try not to distract yourself. Try to be present. Pay attention to your surroundings. Notice the colours and sounds. Notice what is happening inside you. Are you feeling uncomfortable? Is your mind screaming for you to reach for your phone or to disconnect yourself from the world in front of you? Ignore this impulse and see how long you can stay present to what’s happening right in front of you.
The next time you are in a conversation with another person, see if you can slow down the conversation and really listen with interest and curiosity. The next time you eat a meal, see if you can pay attention to the taste and flavours exploding in your mouth. Can you identify which ingredients were used to prepare the meal? Can you notice yourself chewing?
The next time, you are outside, pay attention to the sunlight and the sounds around you. Take in your surroundings. Try to describe to yourself what you are noticing and how this taking time to notice your environment is making you feel. The challenge is to learn to be with the discomfort of slowing down, until it no longer feels like effort. When you do catch yourself slowing down without trying, notice what’s in your inner space. Notice how you feel and what you are becoming aware of in yourself… Are you discovering something new about yourself?
Tell me about your experiences of slowing down in the comments below. Share your challenges in slowing down. Let’s all find ways to “slow down to speed up”. The greatest reward is more conscious living. You will feel like less of a passenger and more like the driver in your own life and that is worth the discomfort of learning how to slow down.
- Thomas, A. (2019). 4 Reasons Why Slowing Down Will Actually Make You More Successful: It sounds backwards, but slowing down is actually a faster way to succeed. Here’s why. January 2019. Available online at: https://www.inc.com/andrew-thomas/4-reasons-why-slowing-down-will-actually-make-you-more-successful.html