While growing up, I remember my father constantly reminding me to slow down. I wasn’t exactly a frenetic child, but still, patience and waiting were difficult concepts to put into practice. I was always running to the next activity, wolfing down meals in minutes, and later, driving in excess of the speed limit.
When my father told me to slow down, take my time, I thought it was because he was just, you know, OLD and couldn’t do things as quickly as he’d like.
I would just smile at him, give him a pat on the head, and continue going at my usual speedy pace.
However, thinking back on his advice on slowing down, I can see the larger wisdom he was trying to instill in me as a child and how I should enjoy what I was doing and not rush off to the next thing. And this was well before the Internet and all manners of screens invaded our eyeballs and attention spans.
Slowing down is not easy to do
Taking more time goes against our everyday need to get everything done by all means necessary. This means I’ve seen a busy parent pushing a toddler in a stroller while walking the dog, drinking coffee, and talking business strategy on the phone. All at the same time. I can imagine my father, with his kind smile and with no judgment, saying, “slow down.”
Slowing down is a conscious choice. It doesn’t come naturally for us hyper-busy, multi-tasking modern beings. A recent health scare on my end forced me to do just this, and the things that I learned from slowing down were more important than the medicine I was taking for my well-being.
7 Tips to achieve the art of slowing down
1. Do less.
This is an obvious fact, but very hard to do. Focusing on what really needs to get done, the most important things, and then letting the rest go takes practice. It means we need to constantly ask ourselves, is this important and why? It goes beyond setting priorities, it’s about what we value most in our lives. Doing less means we can do the few things better. Not less is more. Less but better.
2. Prioritize and learn to say no.
I’ve been told that I suffer from the affliction of “the disease to please.” I’ll say yes to most things so that people are happy, and then worry later about how to get everything done. Like most busy women who juggle family, work, and some semblance of a social life (never mind a personal life), the challenge to have and do it all is tremendous. However, saying no can be liberating. If you choose to do less, it means you will have to say no. People might be hurt at the beginning (especially if you’ve always said yes), but hopefully, they will also eventually respect your choices.
3. Be present.
My father never said he was Buddhist, but his practices were very much aligned with mindfulness. You could tell that when he was doing something he was fully aware of his actions, his environment, and the people around him. Breathing evenly helps, as does doing less.
Take a deep breath in and then let it out in twice that time. Your heart rate will go down, which will calm you. So simple yet effective.
5. Slow down.
My recent medical situation meant I didn’t have a choice but to slow down physically. I had to walk slowly, climb stairs slowly, everything just needed to take more time. It was a wonderful change of pace. I noticed things while walking slowly that I would have flown past at my usual rate. With the slowing down, there comes the pleasure of seeing and appreciating the overlooked.
6. One thing at a time.
When you do less, it means you can better focus on one thing at a time. I find that reading, particularly in paper format, is the best way to practice this. The brain is drawn into hyperfocus when reading words and making meaning and images from them. And this is not just because I work at a library.
Everyone remembers when they forget their cell phone or smart device at home. It’s total panic and requires all kinds of inventive ways to retrieve it as soon as possible. However, disconnecting from our devices is a good way of slowing down. Even if it’s just for 30 minutes of not checking. Like any sport, building stamina means that we can do more with practice. One day, it might even be possible to leave home without our devices, on purpose, and not feel anxiety.