We all remember the children’s’ story “The Tortoise and the Hare” where the two of them race and everyone is sure the hare will win easily with his much greater speed. But of course, after a number of adventures and misadventures, the tortoise wins in an upset. The moral of the story, we were told, was that slow and steady wins the race, usually with emphasis on steady.
That is good advice, but the emphasis is on the wrong habit for a truly happy, healthy life. It is slow that truly wins in life.
Society typically recognizes and rewards the fastest. Fast and furious lifestyles are what we see with thousands of likes in social media. Fast cars, fast relationships, fast food. Overnight or even same-day delivery because we can’t stand to wait five days to get our newest toy. We laud people in fast paced jobs and careers in finance and real-estate. In technology you are either fast or you are dead, with “first mover” advantages bestowed on the fastest.
Fast, faster, fastest. We are pushed every day to go faster and disposed of if we are too slow. Just ask an Amazon or FEDEX employee.
But why? Really, why?
Fast operates on a model of scarcity, there’s only so much of that good stuff and it’s probably not enough to go around to everyone so I better get mine first.
We go fast because we are inherently afraid. We are afraid that we will miss out on “the good stuff” or not get our share. Like starving kids around the dinner table, we try to consume our lives as fast as we can so the person next to us doesn’t get more than us. Have you ever watched children at an Easter egg hunt as they madly dash around seeking those cheep plastic eggs? For too many of us that’s how we live each day.
Sometimes we go fast to get away from where, and perhaps who, we are in order reach some mythical “better place”, that greener grass on the other side. Dissatisfied with where we are, we want to quickly get somewhere else or be someone else.
The inevitable result of all this haste is misery, the opposite of what we really want. We wind up never being satisfied with anything as we rush to get to the next thing. Oh, we may have a brief moment of happiness just after we’ve gotten the bright, sparkly, new thing, but all too soon we forget it as we rush to the next and the next and the next.
We spend our lives stressed out as we worry that we are missing out. In the words of Henry David Thoreau, we live lives of quiet desperation. In beautiful homes packed with wonderful stuff, most of which we never use, with tables overflowing with food we can’t finish, we are miserable.
The solution is to ditch the hare’s lifestyle and emulate instead the tortoise. We need to slow down. But slowing down can be really scary, and going fast can be a hard habit to break.
Slowing down, or even stopping, lets us see and appreciate THIS moment with all its beauty and wonder, even if it is a bit stained. When we slow down we can actually enjoy the moments we are in instead to looking to the next one. Accepting “now” allows us to recognize that we actually do have enough for this moment. We remember that we are not starving or freezing or boiling. There is a roof over us and we are surrounded by people who like and even love us. We may even see that we are surrounded by bounty instead of scarcity, that our lives are full of good people and things. “Now” is pretty nice.
Except when it’s not so nice.
There are lots of “nows” that are incredibly painful. When we lose someone close to us like a spouse or child or parent or even a pet. When we get fired from a job or we get injured or sick. In those situations, “now” is not so pleasant or desirable and we want to run as fast as we can to get away from that situation and that pain. We want to move on as fast as we can.
The instinctive reaction of “fight or flight” kicks in during times of stress and we go into hyper-mode. Hyper-alert, hypersensitive, hyperactive, hyper-fast, and it almost never serves us well. Unless a tiger is actually chasing you, being in hyper-mode almost guarantees we will miss something important and make mistakes.
We teach new scuba divers that when something seems like it is going wrong they should STOP, take a breath, and then begin to figure it out. Slowing down the instinctive reaction prevents panic and possibly doing the wrong thing. Slowing down by pausing between stimulus and response is the only way to break the grip of pain and fear.
Going slow in our lives can also be scary for another reason. It virtually forces us to look at ourselves and most of us don’t like what we see when we do that. We see our faults and mistakes and our own shallowness. We see where we have rushed to judgement or hurried past someone in real need or ignored the people we love most as we hury “forward”. We are often not very proud of the person that being fast has made us.
However, the only way to become someone you like and want to be is by slowing down, taking some time, and really looking yourself. Don’t do it in judgement or with guilt. Rather, look at those problems or perceived deficiencies with compassion and forgiveness. You were doing what we have all been trained to do and now, perhaps for the first time, you can see what it results in. Now you can begin to (slowly) change.
Here are some simple things you can try to help yourself slow down and enjoy your life, and yourself, more than you ever thought possible.
- Walk slower. Even a little bit slower and then watch what’s happening around you just for the sheer entertainment and joy of it.
- Drive slower. Give yourself a little more time to get “there” and be less impatient with the traffic and other things that would have made you late if you were rushing. Turn off the radio and pay attention to the world.
- Speak slower. In particular, pause before you answer or respond to someone. Even pausing one breath tells them that you actually heard them and their words were important. Now respond.
- Eat slower. Try to enjoy each bite and pause between bites instead of rushing to shovel the next mouthful in. Perhaps try eating silently and without reading or watching something. Just pay attention to the food.
You may think these are so simple and trivial, and they are, but that is why they can be implemented pretty easily. But the effects of these simple steps on the rest of you will be profound. Making little changes will lead, with patience, to big results.
Slowing down will change your life, I guarantee it. You will continue to move forward in your life, to grow and build and even acquire, but doing so at a slower more measured pace will let you feel the joy of this moment and truly celebrate each step.
So slow down and smell the roses all around you.
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