I’m not good at slow. In fact, I have never seen enough value in it to even attempt to cultivate my skills. On the surface, it has always felt like doing anything slowly was a bit of a waste of time. Intellectually, I have understood that doing things methodically and carefully is the way to avoid errors and assure thoroughness, but I just figured I was doing well enough at my hurried pace.
Recently, I’ve begun to question my reasoning—not so I can achieve greater accuracy, but because the true value of time is becoming clearer to me by the day. I started thinking about this last week when I was scanning one of the thousands of articles I read about weight loss, my lifetime obsession. “Eat slowly,” the article advised, “and you will feel full faster and you won’t keep eating.” I knew this was true, and I’d read it many times before, but something about it stuck with me.
Like many women, I feel like I am always devising some scheme to make things better.
The next day, when I was eating lunch, I took more time to do it. I have no idea if I actually felt fuller more quickly, but I did pay much closer attention to what I was eating. Consciously slowing down let me notice the flavors of the yogurt and the apples, the texture of the walnuts and sunflower seeds, a hint of the cinnamon I’d sprinkled on top. More than anything, though, slowing down just allowed me to be present in the moment. I felt the cool granite counter in my kitchen, noticed the trivet Jodi had recently hung above the stove, and heard the low hum of the air conditioner. In order to slow down my eating, I had to pay attention to my chewing, my movements, and even my posture. Paying attention to slowing down made me notice everything around me. This was more helpful than I'd realized.
But extending this to other areas of my life is not my natural inclination. Going fast is one of my most reliable defenses. It is a practice I developed years ago to stay out of the fray. It is usually unconscious, of course, but I know that if I move quickly, eyes focused on the goal, then I don’t really have to engage with much else. This behavior satisfies my needs as an introvert and gives me a sense that I’m on top of things, without having to slog through the real details.
Growing up in my chaotic family, I stayed busy at all times to prevent getting sucked into their dramas. Busy only really looks busy if it’s done quickly.
Plus, my brain also moves quickly—not a sign of intelligence so much as a kind of instinctive response to possible trouble. Again, I never knew which family member might have a meltdown and what that meltdown might look like. As early as I can remember, I was quickly scanning the scene for trouble, making a plan to calm things or to get out of the way. Like many women, I feel like I am always devising some scheme to make things better. This turns my thinking on high and keeps me moving as fast as I can toward the right answer.
But anyone whose speedometer is turned to high, like mine is, will tell you that this is not a particularly comfortable state in which to exist. Many times, the stress of it has prompted me to consider meditation and other mindfulness activities, but I have never been very good at disciplining myself to do it more than a couple of times. My recent experience with the yogurt reminded me that I’m probably making being mindful harder than it needs to be.
So I’m working on my own mindfulness plan now—just reminding myself to slow down. Period. If I think of it when I’m racing across campus, I’ll slow my pace. If I’m on some self-imposed race in the morning to do 35 things before I leave for work, I try to just slow down and do what I can do before I need to leave. If I’m thinking of 18 things at once I’m practicing slowing my thoughts to one at a time. These are small steps, I know, but I can feel a difference. If I just focus on slow, I start noticing more, my heart rate decreases, and my breathing feels more normal. I’m here, in this moment. Don’t race through it. Enjoy it. I’m trying—slowly.