The Art Of Slowing Down

“There is more to life than increasing its speed.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Busyness

Busyness is the new currency by which we measure our success and probably fulfillment. It has become the status symbol no one talks about, woven into our work, and lives. If you are not busy you do not have a life! 

Busyness is reflected in our phones and computer screens filled with apps, text messages and tons of emails, to-do lists, and events accumulating on our calendar daily. Mornings have become an anxiety trip to get out of the house and lunch hour has turned into another “catch up spot” instead of a release and enjoyment time. There are not enough hours in a day to take on all that we are expected to accomplish, not even at the speed of light! 

Busyness also shows up in our messy homes, laundry baskets pilling up and refrigerators filled with take-out food and endless sticky notes. Depending on the circumstance and our personality being busy might leave us exhausted or invigorated. However, it does not matter how stressed we are and how unhealthy these traits have proven to be, they have become an addiction tugging at our drive to do more and more, faster, and faster so we will not feel less and less

In some cultures, like the American one, people somehow seem to attribute higher status and social standing to individuals who are always busy. Although loads of work and responsibility might go hand in hand with hierarchy positions and roles in the business, political, financial, and career, arenas; looking busy does not always mean many productive projects and roles, it can reflect how some “bumbling bees” probably unconsciously, are just giving the impression busyness when they are putting up fires, suffering from savior syndrome (taking tasks and roles from the hands of those who should be responsible for them) or distracted over non-productive, mind-numbing tasks.

MOooove ! It is LATE! HURRY UP

Being busy walks hand by hand with another illness of today: being in a rush. 

Getting things done and fast is a highly valued commodity too. Our society lives on two speeds: lethargic sleepwalking or go-go-go. Rushing through one thing to another is paralleled by the way we experience life, moving from one moment to the other without discerning the impact events and people have and/or the lessons offered throughout our existence.

Our overall health and quality of life have been deadly compromised, stress and burnout are common issues robbing us not only of years to live but the ability to apprehend the quality of the experiences and connections we are exposed to.

Deceiving Turbo button: Multitasking

Ever present in any job description, multitasking has been absorbed into our roles and identities as such tender ages as being a child, moving into becoming students, neighbors, entrepreneurs, parents, and professionals.

Neuroscience has brought down the myth of multitasking. Research shows how by forcing ourselves to focus on more than one thing at a time we sacrifice our inner power and the ability to be present for the sake of a perceived benefit of improved productivity that simply is not.

Moreover, multitasking not only accomplishes less, but it also has a dangerous downside polluting our daily lives: the loss of our ability to focus enough to learn. Why? Because by constantly attempting to multitask, we do not give ourselves the chance to practice tuning out the rest of the word to engage in deeper processing and learning.

For the sake of efficiency and the likes

The idea of efficiency was originally developed to improve the functioning of machines during the Industrial Revolution. However, it moved beyond machines and conquered human beings under the promise of allowing us to do what we already do or want to do, better, faster, and cheaply.

This idea has gotten out of control, and we are left with a “fake” urgency to move faster in every layer of our lives without stopping to think why or if it is worthy at all!

Today, entire markets are devoted to time management and personal productivity. Apps and tools around goals, to-do lists, and similar have taken over the markets promising a sense of control in this often unpredictable and constantly evolving world. The coveted grail? Peace of mind.

I am not saying that efficiency is bad or that the tools are useless, I am just reflecting on why we want to be efficient, and what do we need more time for.

What does it mean to be effective?

First, let’s clarify some concepts that we sometimes use exchangeable…

Efficiency is the state or quality of being able to accomplish something with the least waste of time and effort (*). Efficiency is a performance competency that not only measures how well someone does his job, but how quickly and/or cheaply he can do it.

Efficacy, on the other hand, is the capacity for producing a desired result or effect. The term self-efficacy thus refers to a person’s belief that they can accomplish what they set out to do.

Effectiveness is being adequate to accomplish a purpose; producing the intended or expected result. When you are measuring somebody’s effectiveness, you are looking at how well they do whatever it is they are supposed to do.

Efficacy and effectiveness are close enough in meaning that they are used interchangeably. However, the former conveys the extent to which someone accomplishes a task at all while the latter refers mostly to how well that task is accomplished.

(*) Definitions from the Online Webster Dictionary

Wait! Effectiveness does not depend on speed?

Being effective requires creative thinking, intuition, and grasp. These things need space to build up and flourish. Nothing shuts down inspiration and learning faster than forcing it. In music performance, for example, running through passages trying to fake-sounding “smart” and “capable” (virtuoso) is a recipe for disaster that brings muscle stress, frustration, and disappointment.

I admit that taking time sometimes feels completely indulgent, embarrassingly, and highly unproductive. It invites the old destructive patterns and perfectionism to scream “not good enough”. Yet, if I can remind myself that deliberated attention is simply giving me an opportunity of immersing myself in my work/art, I shall rip the benefits not only of a high productivity result but the inspiration and wonder that comes from allowing time for magic to happen.

Sleepless Nights

The idea that time is running out (it does not matter for what) punches me in the stomach and enters my dreams turning them into nightmares. The clock is a jailer that puts the fear of God in our bones, we forget what is important and go on sweating the small stuff and achieving goals that are supposed to make us feel happy, but do not. Urgency has overrun meaningful. No wonder why the feeling of emptiness is spreading without sparing even our kids!

Shame

Behind the need to be busy and rushing is a feeling of embarrassment. If I am not busy enough, it means my life is small, insignificant compared to what I think life worth living is. If I am not fast, I am incapable…

 “Voice” – Expression – is also compromised

Communication suffers when rushed. Not only do we have little time to actively listen, but it is much easier to make a mistake and do something we might regret.

I have experienced the horrifying feeling of losing control and being “about to crash” when performing my instrument. Time stops and I can see the sequence of events in slow motion producing the most undesired outcome. My mind screams to stop but my hands do not obey. I might survive, yet the unease and fear that follows stay with me until the end.

It requires deliberated practice to train myself to recognize the triggers, hold back my horses and work steadily and consciously to produce the beautiful or brilliant musical phrase I want every time. It takes, even more, to settle the emotions propelled by these “mistakes” and escape the doom of feeling inadequate and incapable. The work done for weeks, even months, goes down the drain as I am unable to let go of the instant and focus on enjoying the rest.

I am not sure what comes first. Busyness or rushing-ness. In my experience, the more I rush, the busier I am, and vice-versa. Both make it tough to enjoy my day or have a sense of achievement. I believe we all have a natural pace, a rhythm that allows a depth of processing things that makes our efforts worthy.

What if instead of rushing we committed to being generous with ourselves, to take the time we need? 

How might we differentiate between being busy for the sake of it or busy because we are tackling a complex task in depth?

“Take it slowly, because we are in a rush!”

The above is a rough translation of a saying from my birth country. It expresses the need to slowly work our way in and out of a challenge, to allow our abilities- mental, emotional, and physical- to process the necessary steps to achieve anything and in time benefit from their compound effect.

Rushing through musical passages when I am in the process of learning or practicing them, even though it might be enforced by passion, has the same result: indiscriminate action that is nothing but undercover laziness or fear. Passages cannot be reproduced at will (which is paramount and the measure of true learning) unless I have a grasp of them. No matter how many times I manage to play them well by luck, because onstage, under the pressure of an audience and adrenaline, the truth shall be revealed…

You do not have to be a performer to understand. We all have our fair share of horror stories where a rushed or reactive conversation, response, or text resulted in confusion, embarrassment, or outright war.

The Importance of slowing down

Slowing down gives our logical brains a chance to catch up with our emotions, and our bodies the time to apprehend the multiple motions that are required to make “that something” happens. Not only we are teaching our bodies and minds how to respond, rather than just react, but we are also downloading a reliable mechanism that will be set by default when similar circumstances present themselves (what in music would be “it requires the same technique”).

There is a great difference between getting bogged down in analysis paralysis and deliberated practice.

It’s only when we slow down and give ourselves time to think, that we notice the difference between getting things done and getting the right things done well. “Thinking time” might need time to feel productive, but you will not regret it.

Unless we have painstakingly trained ourselves to pivot and get back on track, it is hard to change the response when under pressure or about to crash. The same goes for the conversations we have with ourselves. Slowing down helps the inner critics to be kinder, much more reasonable, and much more inspired too!

Faster, smarter, and easier comes from slowing down

There is an intrinsic need of being able to reproduce what I can hear inside of me, the feeling the sound, the quality… expression. There is also a hidden need to prove myself that I can. And it is this need that hinders my progress because not being able to do it fast does not mean I am not talented; it only means that every challenge and process has its own time to be grasped, apprehended and as long as I give it the necessary breath, it will go well. Trust and faith are built and strengthened as well.

We all have a natural rhythm that allows us to flow and seize what we need to be sustainably “productive”. I have realized that it has nothing to do with our smarts. My natural rhythm is slow, I a detailed oriented and a perfectionist, I know that I can scan very quickly anything and get a general idea, but if something matters, this behavior leaves me unsatisfied. 

Nothing angers me more than putting up fires or having to drag open messes that never end. I can live with shallow responses if the matter at hand is unimportant or is not a foundation for something else. I can skip steps if they are not necessary. I am good at pivoting and spontaneously allowing something to be born. But doing “fast” because things have accumulated due to lack of attention, irresponsibility, or laziness. That makes pisses me off and conjures the unmerciful inner judge in me.                                                                                     

Slowing down invites scaffolding

The learning process has hierarchy levels of improvement and plateaus that need to be met. In doing so the process shall allow the reduction of time as one level or tool ‘conquered” serves as a foundation for the other. In addition, when a process gains momentum, it ignites the belief that we are capable of doing that which we intended and in turn becomes a reality.

Moving at an unsustainable speed and denying our natural pace is more than ignorance, it is a real threat to our survival and the enjoyment of life.

Slowing down, as any other skill, can be developed and perfected through practice. If you as I decide to master the art of slowing down, you will enjoy each moment instead of rushing through to get to the next. You will be granted the comfort of knowing your pace and rhythm and seeing the watering of your ideas bloom beautifully.

More productive, relaxed, and happier? I’ll take it! 

 

 

 

 

Image Credits: Featured- Skitter in Pexel. (2) Cottonbro – Pexel. (3) Rodolfo Clix from Pexels. (4) Nicola Barts from Pexels

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