Slowing down

Slowing down is hard to do when everything around you demands that you speed up. You’ll never succeed, you’ll never stay in the game if you don’t hurry up – that’s the message most of us constantly hear. But it’s impossible to focus, to live in the moment and to allow yourself the space and time you need for mastery if all you’re concerned about is doing things quickly.

As a society, our insatiable demand for quick fixes and immediate responses is truly unprecedented. Other generations did not live like this – and our grandparents aren’t old fogies for thinking that there was something better about a slower life. Making wise decisions, keeping our relationships strong, doing good work – all of these things demand, above all else, space and time. Elbow room. Breathing room. A little peace and quiet and calm. And if you’re constantly going at 100 miles an hour, this doesn’t happen.

The truth is, many of us are afraid of slowing down because if we do, we might have to face the fact that our lives are empty of meaning and purpose. By filling all your waking hours with tasks and chores, television and video games, and by keeping yourself in constant motion, you don’t have to address fundamental questions – am I happy? Is my family happy? Am I doing what I was meant to do? And if those questions do cross your mind, you certainly don’t have time to answer them.

I spent years piling my life full of things to do so that I wouldn’t have to face the fact that I’d never had the nerve to strike out and try to succeed as a freelance writer. It was only through training in martial arts that I began to see that my excuses – I’ll start writing once I finish graduate school, I’ll work on that novel when I get time after I finish grading all these papers – were just that, excuses that meant I would never try to do the one thing that I truly wanted to do. I guess I assumed that at the end of my life, I would tell myself, gee, too bad I was too busy to become a writer the way I always dreamed.

All too often we spend our lives in a rush waiting for our real lives to begin. We think, if I just work really hard this year, then I’ll get promoted and next year I can slow down and spend more time with the kids. Or, once I retire, I can join the Peace Corps like I always meant to. Or, fill in the blank. By slowing down, you’re forced to focus on those things that truly matter to you. You stop having excuses for why you’re not doing what you should be doing.

It’s stimple enough to find ways to slow down in your everyday life. You can start by not filling up every spare moment with things to do, places to go and people to see. Trust yourself. If you have a spare hour tonight, you don’t have to schedule anything for it. In fact, you can start by scheduling an appointment to do nothing. Sure, you could treat yourself to a luxurious bath, but you could also have a long conversation with your husband, or read a good book, or just listen to the rain against the window. Making space for the little things you never have time for enriches your life. Try it once a week and then once a day. Guard against the pressure to speed up – to do more, to do it faster, to have results now – and soon you’ll be discovering what really matters to you and how you really want to live your life.