From a really young age we are taught to speed up. To push for more. To try harder, push harder, be the best we can be. It’s not necessarily communicated to us explicitly, but our culture, the values and beliefs that are what makes us a society, all point towards this ideal.
More is better.
It’s the central idea that underpins so much of the Western capitalist perspective and it is the source of so many problems on both a micro and a macro level.
This piece is about the micro level. How this idea impacts you and me every single day and what we can do about it.
First off, let’s drop the judgement. Any guilt, frustration, resentment or any other thought you have about yourself when you think about this is just not helpful. You’re innocent. Anyone alive in this time, who has been brought up with the values and ideologies that we have, has been brought up to think this is the right way to be. You didn’t choose that. You’re innocent in this. This is not about saying it’s right or wrong or putting any moral judgment on it, this is an open and judgement free exploration of the thinking and behaviours that drive us to push ourselves when maybe, just maybe, we don’t need to.
How do I know if I could do with slowing down?
Do you ever find yourself:
Feeling rushed or with a sense of urgency?
Pushing back appointments or invitations because you have “run out of time”?
Feeling exhausted, burnt out or overwhelmed?
Lacking energy and enthusiasm?
Wanting to say no to people and opportunities but feeling guilty and saying yes instead?
Being really busy but constantly feeling like you haven’t done enough?
Struggling to sleep at night because you’re thinking so much?
Feeling guilty about having a lunch break, taking a nap or having an extra day off?
Feeling unsettled as if you’ve forgotten something important?
I could go on but I think that’s enough to indicate what I’m pointing to.
If you experience more than one of these symptoms on a regular basis then this is an indication that you are operating with the “more is better” programming running the show.
There are so many reasons why this isn’t the best way to be, not least the impact it has on your decision making, your ability to communicate effectively and your ability to relax. Or what about your ability to focus, to recall important information or your ability to turn off when you need to?
The experience of living life in the fast lane is so normal for most people that we have forgotten how to slow down. But it doesn’t feel good to operate like this and we don’t get our best results when we do. This isn’t a surprise because we didn’t evolve to live like this.
This is a relatively modern phenomenon that is cultural. We have learned to live like this because we were taught to live like this but this is not how the human system works best.
We need rest, we need recovery time, we need mental space and we thrive when we have these things.
Feeling guilty about needing to take a break is a sure sign we took a wrong turn somewhere!
And here is the counter-intuitive bit:
The more you slow down, the better you will perform.
You can create more of the results you want by doing less. I’ve seen this countless times and I’ve experienced this myself in profound, life changing ways.
I’ve had clients who’ve doubled their business turnover by reducing their workload, sometimes by as much as by ten to twenty hours per week.
I’ve seen several clients experience profound shifts in their closest personal relationships by slowing down their life.
I had a client experience a massive drop off in chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms by consciously slowing down their life.
In the last year I worked less than hours over the year than any year in the whole of my professional working life, and yet I had the best year yet my business.
I have resolved some long standing physical injuries by slowing down my exercise programming. I’m actually fitter and stronger by exercising less!
There are so many examples of this that I could list and I bet you have some too.
This is not magic and it is surprisingly easy and quick to implement, if you can get past the thinking that is constantly driving you to speed up. This is an ongoing challenge because the conditioning runs deep and societies voice is loud, but it is possible. If you’re willing to experiment and try out a different way of being you might just surprise yourself.
There is an inner game and an outer game to this. Let’s talk outer game first.
The outer game is about how you run your life and what you spend your time doing. Now I am not advocating just not doing anything and sitting around watching daytime TV all day. I can’t think of anything worse. This is not about not taking action. If you’ve ever read or watched or listened to any of my work then you know that taking action is absolutely central to my approach. You can’t change anything if you don’t take action, it’s as simple as that. But not all action is created equal.
Most of what we spend our time and our energy and our life doing just doesn’t serve us.
So in the outer game, slowing down means doing less of the things that aren’t serving you. You know, those tasks, habits and activities you do because you think you should or because you’ve always done them, despite really not wanting to. Those things that drain you of energy and seem to cost you a lot more than they give you back. I’m sure you think of a few.
There are two benefits to this. One is the freeing up of your time which means you can focus on only the things that really matter. The people, the activities, the ideas that make the biggest positive impact in your world. The other is the freeing up of your energy. Some tasks or people or activities seem to use up so much energy and when you stop doing them it impacts everything else because all of a sudden you have so much more energy to bring.
This requires some self reflection and honesty. It means really looking at what you spend your time and energy doing each day and making a call about how much it is serving you. It is about taking the decision to stop doing things.
But this is just half the equation. You could be sat on a beach somewhere with nowhere to be and nothing to do but if your mind is racing then you will probably still experience some of the symptoms above. Doing less is not enough.
The inner game is a different kettle of fish. More than anything, this is about awareness. Noticing when your mind is sped up and your thinking is frantic and allowing it to relax. It is about not engaging with that busyness in your head and being more present to what is going on right now. Allowing the turbulence in your mind to pass on through and turning your attention into your body and into the moment.
The inner and the outer are related. It’s a whole lot easier to slow your mind and notice your thoughts if you’re not in back to back meetings, and it’s a lot easier to organise your calendar differently if you are present enough to think clearly about where you could make some changes.
So what can you actually do about this?
Well, this is actually more about what you don’t do than what you do. Here are some practical, tried and tested approaches to slowing down both internally and externally.
1. Turn your phone off.
Yep, no-one likes to hear this but it’s one of the quickest and easiest ways to start the ball rolling. You could do this right now if you wanted to, it would take you a matter of seconds. Try turning it off for a day. Pick a day, make whatever arrangements you need to and then turn it off. Leave it off for as long as you dare. If you’re feeling adventurous turn it off for the whole weekend or even try a week. If you have never done this before you will be staggered by how quickly it changes things. You might not even want to turn it back on!
2. Take an hour and do absolutely nothing.
Just sit. Don’t read, use any devices, eat any food, listen to music, go for a walk, meditate, write, nothing. Just sit. This will likely feel extremely weird and uncomfortable at first but if you stay with it long enough to get past the discomfort you will experience your mind naturally beginning to slow down.
3. Do a time audit.
Look at your calendar for an average week and make a list of every single thing you spend your time doing. The more detail the better. Then work out how much time in the week you spend doing each thing. This can be an eye opening and quite uncomfortable exercise. Now look at the list you’ve made and ask yourself two questions. The first is:
What can I stop doing that is not going to negatively impact my life?
There will be at least one thing, possibly many. Now, just for the next couple of weeks, stop doing those things. This will be surprisingly easy to implement because you don’t have to do anything, just stop doing something! Now look at what’s left on the list and consider what you still need to do but that you don’t particularly enjoy or that drains you of energy. Then ask yourself this question:
How can I spend less time on this and still get the same result?
Some ideas will come to you. Maybe there’s a different way of doing it, maybe someone else can do it, maybe there’s some technology that will help you? Again, just for the next couple of weeks, experiment with different ways of doing those things.
4. Take a day off.
Find a day in the next two weeks that you weren’t planning to take off and make it a day off. Consider it a rest and reflection day. Think of it as an investment in your health if it helps you. If you were sick you’d take a day off so why not for this?
Don’t book anything in for that day, leave it open and do whatever you feel called to do on that day. If you want to sit and watch films all day, do it. If you want to go on a long hike, do it. If you want to spend all day cooking an extravagant meal and then eat it, do it! It doesn’t matter what you do but do whatever you want to, not what you feel you should.
Play, experiment, try these ideas out. Test them to see what they do for you. I am not here to preach to you about what you should do. I am writing this to share with you what I’ve personally found to be extremely helpful and the ideas and practices and behaviours that I share with clients of mine that really do make a massive difference. Not only in terms of how they feel but also in terms of what results they get.
Here’s another counter-intuitive truth. The more uncomfortable you feel about any of these ideas, the more impact they will have on you when you actually try them out. If you don’t try you’ll never know, but if you do you might just surprise yourself. The idea above that you feel the most resistance to is probably the one that will impact you the most. Don’t believe me? Try it…
Living life in the fast lane is overrated. It is not a natural way for us to live and it actually hinders our performance. A busy mind and a busy life always eventually takes its toll. The main idea, usually unconscious, that is driving this behaviour is the idea that more is better. But this is just an idea, and once you see how this is running your life you have a choice. You can choose to continue with it or you can consider a different way of being.
If you experience some of the symptoms above then taking a step towards slowing yourself down, both inside and out, will very likely make a huge difference to your quality of life and the results you are getting.
You might find yourself feeling better, sleeping better and experiencing deeper relationships. You might find yourself getting fitter and healthier. And you might find yourself having game changing ideas, startling business successes and profound emotional experiences.
It might just change everything.
If you want some support to slow your life down even more, here are two ways I can help you:
- Take 3 days to really disconnect from day to day life so you can reconnect with yourself. If you are a man based in the UK the next Men’s Circle is coming up soon. One place left.
- Join a small group of people actively working on slowing down in order to create radical change in their lives. Enrolment for the next Create Your Future program is open now, contact me to see if you’re a good fit.