By Michael Winters
“When you want to hurry something, that means you no longer care about it and want to get on to other things.”
—Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
It is now possible for us to be connected to an array of devices almost 24/7, only pausing a few hours for sleep before waking up and starting all over again. We feel compelled to always respond, and our attention spans are shorter than ever. But does this connectivity make us happier? Does it make us better at our jobs? Are there alternatives?
As 2015 begins to unfold, it may be worthwhile to evaluate the pace of your life and considering slowing down. Ask yourself:
• Do I wake up feeling rested and ready to start the day?
• Can I identify what’s important to me and do I live up to and in accordance with those values?
• How do I react when I am in a traffic jam? Am I upset or anxious about the delay or do I take that time as an opportunity to reflect on my day?
• When a loved one talks, do I ask questions? Do I really listen? Do I check my phone while they are talking?
• Is there any sacred time when I can’t be reached?
If you answered any of these questions in a way that is inconsistent with the person you want to be, consider slowing down. Here’s how.
Set aside time to disconnect each day.
By carving out a block with no obligations each day, you are creating space in your life to take a breath and slow down. Contemplation, prayer, and a nap are great ways to spend that period and take life down a notch. It doesn’t matter how you choose to slow down as long as your needs are the only consideration during this sacred time. You can start with as little as 5 minutes.
A few days away can be relaxing and reenergizing if you commit to disconnecting. Try it at least once. Block out a weekend on your calendar, give your colleagues sufficient forewarning, get your work covered, and then take off. If you must maintain some contact, include in your out-of-office reply a specific time each day that you will be checking email and messages—and then stick to it. Focus on your immediate surroundings and sensations while away and rein in those thoughts of the office.
Take a page from the Slow Food movement.
Eating slowly is good for your physical and mental health. A simple exercise is to put your fork down between each bite and chew your food completely, until it slides down your throat. Savor the multiple flavors. And enjoy the social benefits of not rushing through a meal by listening to and talking with your dining companions.
Think through complex decisions.
In some situations you may be rewarded for making quick decisions, but during other times, it may prove beneficial to weigh options before making a commitment. Instead of immediately hitting “reply” (or worse, “reply all”) to a distressing email, wait until the following morning, after you have had time to think about it overnight. Consider how your response may be interpreted. Even if you return to your typical style of thinking and decision-making for less important tasks, engaging in this exercise will leave you with a different perspective on the benefits of slowly thinking through complex decisions.
Slow down as a means to an end.
Eknath Easwaran, the author of Take Your Time: How to Find Patience, Peace and Meaning, noted, “Slowing down is not the goal; it is the means to an end. The goal is living in freedom—freedom from the pressures of hurry, from the distractions that fragment our time and creativity and love.” Easwaran is right. Slowing down allows us to be truly present; it is a way of experiencing life to its fullest and helps us identify and enjoy what is most important.
Michael Winters is a psychologist in Houston. He has cultivated his practice around the concept of meaning-centered living and is a frequent guest on local television and radio programs. For more information, go to DrMWinters.com.