There was a time in my life where every minute of everyday was planned, and used fully. Barely getting any sleep, working more than one job and a full time student, I would sometimes literally have to run from one thing to another. Thankfully, those days are behind me.
My ability to slow down came over a long period of time, only after I moved to North Carolina the first time. You see, up north, at least in my experience, the tendency is to rush around from one thing to another. To fill the schedule up with as much as possible, very rarely relaxing. Perhaps it was just my upbringing, but it was as though relaxing or even enjoying a restful moment was shamed.
The first few months of living in the South had me so confused. Looking back, I can laugh at it now. But remembering the person I used to be, and just how confused I really was that people took their time, paid attention to one another when conversing and actually stopped to enjoy a view was so new to me. Now, ever so thankful for the cultural shift, I never want to go back to the rushing way of life. The benefits of slowing down are a plenty.
The truth is: faster isn’t better.
How to slow down
Okay, let’s be realistic. Slowing down might seem like a great idea to you, something you want to do. But you may very honestly not know how. Or where to start.
Step 1: Create a schedule
In my experience, having a calendar with a clear schedule, and blocked off time is where it starts. Simply having this visual to know what is happening in your week is the first place to start.
Step 2: Determine what to add or take off the schedule
The next step is to prioritize those things on your schedule and truly determine what is needed. Move or remove the meetings, appointments or anything else that can wait. I would also recommend (once you have some practice) to remove anything that doesn’t give you an excited feeling. In other words, remove anything that feels like an obligation instead of a joy.
Slowing down, starts with reviewing how you spend your time and what you get out it.
Step 3: Plan wiggle room before and after every meeting and appointment
This was a game changer for me. I started blocking my calendar before and after every meeting so that I’d have time to stretch, use the facilities or refresh my coffee. During the pandemic, these 15 minutes would be used to walk my dog or tidy up a bit around the house. Once we started leaving the house more often, I’d plan extra wiggle room to get to an appointment and get home. Not only would I never be in a rush, but I also was able to build better relationships with the doctors office, or other service provider. If they were running behind, I wasn’t worried because I had extra time built in.
If you fear being in a situation waiting because of someone else – always make your appointments first thing in the morning, have a limit to how long you will wait before rescheduling AND bring a book or other activity to do to keep your mind off the clock.
Again, this takes practice, but it for sure makes life more enjoyable and a lot less stressful!
Step 4: Plan to do nothing
Alright, alright, I can hear a few specific people in my life not happy right now. But seriously, plan in 30 minute periods to do nothing. This could mean a number of things. Literally doing nothing, petting the dog, making this your only 30 minutes to scroll through your phone or social media. Or it could mean journaling or meditating if you’d like to ease into the feeling. They key to this is practice and pushing aside any guilty feeling you might have.
Step 5: Plan to do more enjoyable activities
This one might be the most obvious. It however, is not something that many of us truly do. I see my own friends leave behind their hobbies, their instruments, and the activities they love, trading in the time for more work or an obligation they feel chained to. Because this is the only life we know we get, it is important to honor our hearts and do things we truly enjoy. The things that set our souls on fire. The things which recharge us, and relight our pilot light.
Step 6: Enjoy it
Depending on your current disposition, the process of slowing down could take a simple month to get used to. Or, perhaps it could take years (like it did for me). Once you embrace it, it will be time to truly enjoy it. Enjoy it with loved ones, give yourself credit for having more peace in your life, and if there are the rare moments when you truly start to feel bored, plan something interesting. Just don’t rush to get it done.
If you’d like further examples and inspiration on the how of slowing down, check out this amazing article. It covers the areas of life where slowness helps: food, communication, fashion, exercise and decision making. A quote from the article:
“By slowing down, we can train the mind to focus completely in the present. Then we will find that we can function well whatever the difficulties. That is what it means to be stress-proof: not avoiding stress but being at our best under pressure, calm, cool, and creative in the midst of the storm.”
A benefit of slowing down: Connection
One of the steps above, I mention how slowing down helped me to build better relationships with those around me. In Stephen Covey’s book “Speed of Trust”, he speaks behaviors which build or break trust. One of behaviors which breaks trust is: being efficient with people. This specific call-out convicted me. After hearing it put this way, I realized just how often I wouldn’t even see the person checking me out, or handing me my coffee. I’d be so focused on getting something done and moving on to the next thing, I wasn’t stopping to take the time to build a relationship with people who were regularly apart of my life.
Research as shown that as humans, what we typically truly crave is connection. Not to mention, connection is essential to our health. To connect with others, we must slow down. Allow for time to have an extra ten minutes of talking. Or allow for time to potentially help someone else.
As I started my slow down journey, I started with building in an extra ten minutes to go get my coffee in the morning. After about a week, not only did the barista’s know my name, but we’d look forward to seeing one another and briefly catching up on the on-goings of life. Of course, there were mornings when the line was too long for them to talk, but just us smiling and saying hello warmly made each of our days better.
Soon after, I started to get to know the people in the grocery store, many who were students and aspiring to be business people or doctors even. And finally, with my neighbors. These simple but ever so important people that may only ever be acquaintances make up our actual life. We don’t have to tell them our life stories, or even share a meal with them; but to have a connection even brief makes a huge difference.
And yes, Mayberry is a real town in North Carolina 🙂
I ask that you stop using speed as a measurement of capability. Try slowing down today, being more mindful as you go about your day. See how it feels. And, see who’s day you change by stopping to talk, smile or acknowledge them.