It is undeniable that most of us live a fast-paced existence that includes instant gratification and Instant Breakfast. We have fast-food communication with our family, friends and co-workers that leave much to be desired, since it lacks the interpersonal feeling of eye contact or at least voice-to-voice inflection. We spend our workdays living for the weekend when we mistakenly believe we will slow down, but then fill the 72 hours from Friday night to Sunday night getting the tasks done at home that we didn’t have time to accomplish during our workday. If we “take time off,” it is generally filled with hustle and bustle travel to someplace away from home. Rare is the person who takes a “staycation,” during which they kick back and do nothing but eat, sleep and breathe.
Stephanie Brown, PhD, author of Speed: Facing Our Addiction to Fast and Faster — And Overcoming Our Fear of Slowing Down says “many kids haven’t experienced slow time at the dinner table with everybody present,” when Gallup finds that more than 80 percent of American families with children eat together at least four times a week.
Children are wired up and riled up. Electronic devices replace face-to-face friendships. Time in front of the computer or television are preferred to playing outside or being involved in other creative endeavors. In a study conducted in 2010, the Kaiser Family Foundation discovered that ‘the average 8- to 18-year-old American spends nearly every minute, while not in school, using a smartphone, computer, television or another electronic device.”
According to John Grohol, Psy.D., “Screen Time Is Not Making Kids Moody, Lazy and Crazy”, since it is serving needs for socialization. It is still important for young people to slow their pace and take in the beauty of nature and creative outlets such as art, music, dance and writing.
And the formula doesn’t change for the better in the adult population. According to a recent report, “The number of smartphones, tablets, laptops and Internet-capable phones (exceeded) the number of humans in 2013.”
The correlation between addiction to substances is relevant as Brown adds her observation that “It is common that people become addicted to alcohol or drugs as they try to control the symptoms of their addictions to speed.”
Might as Well Face It, You’re Addicted to Speed
There was a time in which this recovering Type A overachiever workaholic was described by a friend as “running around 100 mph with your hair on fire.” I thought it was necessary to move at that pace in order to accomplish the monumental list of activities that was before me. Little did I realize that it would send me careening into a wall that required becoming a tortoise instead of a hare. Major health challenges necessitated taking one step at time as if traversing a labyrinth, since that was all I could manage following a heart attack in 2014.
With each footfall, I needed to take a breath and a break. As frustrating as it was, it was also rewarding, since it taught me patience and brought me face to face with the reality that, indeed, work was my addiction. Even as I told myself that I would slow down, like any addict, I would sneak my fix and be up writing at 4 a.m. (I still do that on occasion) because the ideas were fresh in my mind. I feared that I would forget them otherwise and I wanted to be productive. I would never expect a car to run 24/7 without a rest; meaning regular maintenance.
The adrenaline rush I would experience when checking all of the items off the to-do list was akin to what I imagine an amphetamine user would feel when the drug hit the bloodstream. I couldn’t get enough. Added to that was the praise I would receive from those I knew who would marvel that I would accomplish more in a day than many of them would in a week. I prided myself on being a multi-faceted multitasker who could spin plates as skillfully as Eric Brenn, who did so on the Ed Sullivan Show.
What studies are showing, despite my denial, is that multitasking is a myth. “People can’t multitask very well, and when people say they can, they’re deluding themselves,” says Earl Miller, who is a neuroscience professor at MIT. He adds, “The brain is very good at deluding itself.” Miller observes that as we move rapidly from one action to another, “you think you’re actually paying attention to everything around you at the same time. But you’re actually not.”
What I have discovered is that as I mindfully focus on one item at a time, I am better able to accomplish more, with greater accuracy and efficiency. It flies in the face of what I thought was so. When working with clients who share my affliction, I ask them to imagine working behind a customer service counter and then inquire how many people they can serve at one time. The obvious answer is ‘one,’ and when that person is satisfied, they say, “next.” There is immense gratification in doing that since the bonus is that I am not physically or mentally exhausted as I had been prior to the cardiac condition.
Checking On the Pizza: A Metaphor for Impatience
Imagine if you had a craving for a pizza: gooey cheese, veggies and zesty red sauce piled high on thin and crispy or thick and chewy crust. Your inclination would be to call a local shop and place your order. The person on the other end of the phone tells you that it will be ready in 20 minutes for you to pick up. You wouldn’t call again in five minutes and ask where your food is, would you? If you did, the one who took your order would think that you hadn’t heard the answer or were incredibly impatient. This is what we do in our daily lives as we expect things to happen at the speed of thought and become agitated if that isn’t the case.
How Do We Slow Ourselves to the Pace of Life?
Co-authors Richard Carlson and Joseph Bailey offer an answer to this conundrum in their book entitled Slowing Down to the Speed of Life. They say, “The answer lies not in sacrificing your work productivity or your lifestyle but rather in changing your attitudes. By using simple exercises to slow down your mind and focus on the present moment, you can actually achieve greater productivity and creativity — all while maintaining a calmer, healthier state of mind.”
As fate would have it, on December 13, 2006, the words on the calendar on the desk of Carlson, who is best known for the “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” series, read, “When you die, your in-box won’t be empty.” He indeed passed with an in-box filled with love of family and friends, books and other activities that enriched his life. From all accounts, he took time to be present with each person who crossed his path.
Take Time to Make Time
There are concrete steps that can assist with going from 100-0 mph. They include:
Something as simple as awareness of the intake and outflow of oxygen can bring attention to the present moment. Place one hand on your heart and the other on your abdomen. Imagine pulling a bucket dipped into a well filled with air and then dump it out and refill it.
- Be a nature boy or girl.
Walk barefoot in the grass, dig your toes into the sand, splash about in a lake or hike up a mountain.
- Color with your creative juices.
In the past few years, adult coloring books have become a means of stress reduction as well as firing up creativity.
- Spend time with animals.
Four-legged beings have a way of slowing the heart rate, reducing blood pressure and making for happier humans.
Mindfulness meditation can be a brief means of mitigating stress that has long-lasting benefit.
- Listen to music that slows your heart rate.
- Walk a labyrinth.
“Strolling through a labyrinth can help you feel the relaxation response, which is the opposite of the stress “fight or flight” state, says Herbert Benson, MD, founder of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and author of Relaxation Revolution.
- Realize that you need not be Superman or Wonder Woman whose cape goes flying out behind them when hurtling through space or spinning in place. It isn’t your job to practice ‘savior behavior.’