Do you remember the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare? The story about the race between the tortoise and the rabbit, where the moral of the story is slow and steady wins the race. While this seems like a nice children’s story, it can also be a cautionary fable about our over-scheduled, distracted, fast paced busy lives. Many of my clients and friends are living a life-style that I call, ‘water skiing across the surface of life’. I know this well because that is how I lived for years. Moving quickly, speed for the sake of getting more done, feeling adrenaline and even, to feel important. (Surely someone this busy must be a valued member of society.)
I am so grateful for wise therapists and spiritual directors who have helped me begin to walk away from this lifestyle. However, many people I know are still stuck racing across life at the water ski pace. There is comfort in this speed, you stay so busy you don’t really have to feel much of anything, and you don’t have to face the unpleasant things or sensations occurring inside your body because you are just moving way too fast to pay attention!
There is a huge downside however, in the long run, this pace causes ill health and physiological problems. And, sadly, you are actually getting less done and accomplishing less than you think you will. There have been recent studies done on human attention spans and productivity and the same results show up. The best cycle for productivity is to be “on” or focused intently for 50 minutes, then “off” or resting for 10 minutes. Our bodies and brains are wired to be at maximum potential when they are working intently for a short amount of time and then resting. Stopping and taking a break makes us more productive mentally, not less. So that “balls to the wall” lifestyle where you don’t take a lunch break, don’t stop to pee or even eat, is not conducive to productivity. You look really busy and important, but you are so full of stress chemicals your mind is not able to work correctly and your ability to focus intently is mostly shot.
The other problem with this lifestyle is that speed generates adrenaline, which is not your friend! It is a stress chemical and its job or purpose is to be released in times of danger, to help us run from a tiger, or lift a car off our child, it is not meant to be used like a secret stash or cache of methamphetamine. When we race about all the time our muscles are braced and the adrenaline is coursing through our bodies. So we unconsciously/physiologically feel as if we were in danger, which brings in our old nemesis, body anxiety. If you don’t believe me, do an experiment. The next time you catch yourself racing, wolfing down your food, moving as if you were being chased, catch yourself. Stop and deliberately move at the speed of a turtle, for a bit. It will be challenging and you may even feel a bit more anxiety at first. However, if you stick with it, notice how your shoulders begin to detach from your ears and how your heart rate begins to decrease and how your breath begins to come in deeper and slower. One of the gifts of Slow is that you will feel calmer and more grounded.
So this week, try slowing down at dinner with the family or friends, slow down as you drive (the freeway will be a safer place), slowing down when you have a conversation and see that you are able to be more present, more available. And the best part, you will be able to feel the love you have for the people in your life and feel their love for you. Love and anxiety originate in different brain regions. So, getting out of the racing/anxiety mode, will allow you to access the parts of your body and brain that experience and take in the love. The love you are blessed enough to be surrounded by on a daily basis. For more information and benefit, read the book called, “In praise of Slow”.
1) What is your normal life pace? Is it manageable and relaxing, or is it too fast and too stressful? If so, what maintains this pace on a regular basis? Is it habit, or choice?
2) Take inventory this week. Notice your weekly/daily activities. Is there space to “be”, to breathe, or are you rushing from one activity to the next? Are there places you could create more space and rest by leaving earlier, or saying NO to some invitations or activities?
3) Try doing everything much slower this week. Slow down while eating, washing dishes, even exercising. Try to enjoy each activity and notice how a slower pace allows you to be present in your life. Let me know how it goes!