The Importance Of Slowing Down

Why are we so obsessed with speed?

In everything we do, we want to be quicker, more efficient and more productive. This is really just to say that we want everything to be faster.

Speed is rewarded in our society by career promotions, praise from peers, and even our own personal belief that we’re doing something well.

We rush and cram things together so that maybe we can get more accomplished in a day. Hell, even mindfulness meditation sessions get chopped up into smaller, faster chunks of time. Just look at this post from Psychology Today about mindfulness exercises that take less than one minute. We’re so hyper-focused on rushing through every part of our day that a full minute of mindfulness might be too long for some people.

And yet, despite all this rushing around, we don’t seem to be accomplishing anything extra. Instead, we expose ourselves to more tasks and ideas that we pay less attention to.

Rushing around doesn’t help you do things better. If anything, it only increases your chances of being stressed and negatively affecting the people around you.

What our culture of speed needs is a sedative. Just a taste of something slow to calm us down and bring us back to a more human state of mind.

When you stop rushing and slow down, you enjoy life more. Things are more interesting. You worry less. You care for others more. You make fewer mistakes because you’re more focused.

Below, I’ve laid out a few of what I think are the most important reasons why we need to slow down.

Rushing makes us stressed, causes us to overlook important details of our lives, and fuels egocentrism.

I’m addicted to rushing from one project to the next. Whether it’s projects at work or chores around the house - it doesn’t matter. I’m always trying to move from one thing to the next as quickly as possible.

Sure, I tend to get a lot of mindless work done, but I’m also distracted a lot of the time, and it’s really easy for me to get stressed out.

When we rush through things, we essentially use stress to motivate our minds and bodies to be faster.

Add to the physical stress the psychological stress that we put on ourselves, and you end up with a pretty unhealthy person.

Think about how you feel when you’re trying to work faster. In my case, I hunch further over my computer, clench my jaw, and tense up a lot of different muscle groups.

Tensing up your muscles is a reflexive response to stress. When the stress passes (i.e. when you finish your big project) your muscles relax again. However, if you’re stressed out all the time - if you’re rushing around all the time - you’re muscles are more likely to be constantly tense. When this is the case, you’re also more likely to experience other physical reactions to stress like headaches and migraines.

While experiencing the discomfort of a stress headache is bad enough, experiencing stress over a long period of time can be worse. Having a consistently elevated heart rate and higher levels of stress hormones causes problems for your heart and blood vessels over time. Prolonged stress boosts your chances of having a stroke or heart attack.

Stress is also an acknowledged hazard for employees in the workplace, and over 43% of adults suffer negative health effects related to stress.

Yet, work is still one of the main reasons we force ourselves to rush through our daily lives. Career goals and daily workloads are key contributors to many people’s stress levels. But consider this: We literally have the entire world’s knowledge at our fingertips every day. Efficiently completing your next project isn’t even a challenge anymore.

I think I’d have to try harder to not finish a project by it's deadline. Yet, we obsess over productivity advice and can’t get enough of apps and browser extensions that promise to help us get more done, faster.

Since 2004, our collective interest in productivity tools has increased drastically:

Via Google Trends

To me, what this says is that we don’t know how to be motivated without also being stressed.

We don’t know how to be smart and efficient when we work unless we pressure and rush ourselves. While it's true that experiencing stress in short bursts can be a healthy motivator, there needs to be an end to this stress in order for it to positively affect us. However, for many of us, we don’t even expect slowing down (and de-stressing) to be an option.  

Unless we all want to be burnt out by age 35 (if you're also part of the Gen Y team), we need to rethink how we work and how we hurry.

In addition to having negative effects on our health, rushing causes us to overlook details and to sacrifice the quality of our work for time.

When we try to rush through things, we often overlook our own errors. Some of this is due to the speed at which we try to edit our own work, and some of it is due to the way in which many of us task switch in an attempt to get more done.

On average, office employees switch tasks every three minutes and five seconds. Over the course of an eight-hour work day, that’s a lot of switching between tasks. It may feel like we’re rushing from task to task and getting a lot done, but that isn’t necessarily the case.

I read an excellent article on Quartz recently that discussed why time management is making our lives worse. In it, Tony Crabbe talks about how our societal obsession with time management negatively affects how busy we are, how effective we are, and the length of our attention spans.

He specifically points out that we try to divide our attention between multiple activities and tasks all at once, causing us to pay less attention to each individual activity.

The issue of time management is closely related to our obsession with rushing. As a result, we end up with the scattered attention spans Crabbe talks about.

We think we’re being productive while switching between tasks, but every time we switch we have to take a second or two to refocus our attention and delve back into our trains of thought.

If done often throughout the day, task switching can significantly decrease your productivity levels, causing you to be as much as 40% less productive.

In this way, even some of the things we do to facilitate our speed slow us down.

Rather than switching back and forth between projects or activities, calm yourself down and focus your attention on one thing at a time. Only focusing on one, specific task and working at it diligently can actually help you complete a project more quickly.

Lastly, when we’re in a rushed state of mind, we tend to only focus on ourselves.

A 2015 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General found that people experiencing anxiety were more likely to exhibit egocentric behaviors. And what is rushing if not an anxiety-ridden behavior?

Think about the last time your were hurrying to or from work and saw a car broken down along the side of the road. Did you stop to help that person? Probably not.

My point is that rushing kills our empathy for others. We justify our decision to ignore people in need because we’re too busy or in too much of a hurry.

A similar kind of egocentrism can be noticed in the conversations of our daily lives. For example, if you’re rushing to complete a work project on time and your coworker starts talking to you about how worried he is about his dog, you might not listen very attentively because you’re feeling rushed to get back to your project.

When you’re rushing to get something done, the only thing you’re really thinking about is you.

Your reputation, your track record at work, your plans for the rest of the day - whatever it is, your reasons for hurrying likely have very little to do with others and a whole lot to do with you.

One way to recognize this egocentrism is to pay attention to how much you dominate conversations. If you interrupt others or talk over those around you, you likely aren’t taking the time to slow down and actually be a part of the conversation.

I don’t always realize it, but I tend to interrupt other people a lot, and I think it has a lot to do with how hurried of a person I usually am. I unintentionally try to control and expedite conversations by finishing other people’s sentences (a.k.a. interrupting) or talking over them.

Instead of rushing the conversation by doing a lot of the talking, make a conscious attempt to slow down by asking more questions of others - and giving them plenty of time to answer.

This Harvard Business Review article provides a great way to think about conversations if you’re someone who gravitates toward dominating and hurrying through them. It suggests that we “Be present, curious and quiet — and just see what happens.”

Stop rushing and S.L.O.W. down.

Our reasons for hurrying through things always seem so valid to us at the time. But, when you look back, is it really worth the conversations you can’t remember, the memories you’ve forgotten, and the fun times you’ve missed out on? All because you were stressed and in a hurry?

Slowing down is something I’ve been thinking about a lot in the last six months or so. Not just because I want to slow down and take the time to enjoy things more, but also because I’ve found it rather difficult to do.

Everywhere we turn, there is pressure to hurry and to value when things are done quickly.

Upward promotion at most companies often requires employees to be “go-getters:” fast moving people who blow through projects, rush from meeting to meeting, and can answer emails while also taking a phone call.

But, when we take the time to slow down and really enjoy life, it’s much easier to let go of stress, to be happy and to be healthy. It’s easier to care about other people, and to focus more on quality instead of how quickly we can get something done.

I’ve also found out, through what felt like nerve-wracking experiments, that slowing down when I work doesn’t actually hinder my productivity. Taking my time just seems to help me focus.

It can be so tempting to give into the pressure and hurry through life. But once you decide to rush into something it’s very difficult to slow down again.

In my experience, rushing seems to have a snowball effect. You think to yourself, “I can just rush through this one thing and then I’ll have the rest of the day to do whatever I want.” But that turns into, “Well now that that project is done I should do this one too - just real fast.”

I swear, it’s like an addiction.

I’ve been trying to catch myself in moments of rushing and to slow down before I start feeling overwhelmed. It’s really difficult for me.

I want to share with you a simple exercise I created to keep myself in check:

When you feel hurried or rushed, just S.L.O.W. down.

S. - See that you are rushing.

You’re feeling a little stressed and hurried, like you should be pushing harder to get through whatever you’re doing right now. See that. Notice it and recognize it.

L. - Live that moment.

What are you doing at that exact moment? Stop thinking about what it is that you want to get to, and just live in the moment, experiencing and focusing on what’s in front of you.

O. - Open awareness.

As you continue doing what you’re doing, pay attention to what thoughts and feelings cross your mind. If you keep feeling rushed, just be aware of it without judging that feeling in any way. If you need to, repeat the S. & L. steps to calm down. Then keep an open awareness, notice what crosses your mind, and recognize these thoughts without judging them.

W. - Wait.

After you’ve finished what you’re doing, take a few minutes to wait and relax before moving onto anything else. Even if you take your time on one project, jumping to a new project immediately after is still rushing, in its own way.

Take some time to wait between tasks. Drink a glass of water, watch the sky...whatever you need to do. Just relax. After a few minutes, if you’re feeling calm and unhurried, slowly move on to whatever else you need to do, and enjoy that process as well.

Slowing down doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do anything, it just means you should experience more of the things you do.

If you struggle with slowing down, I hope the information and tips provided in this post will help you find some calm.

 
 

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Images by Joshua Earle, Issara Willenskomer, and Jazmin Quaynor