How do I slow down and start enjoying life?

Getting off the Hamster Wheel

A few years ago, I was forced to slow down. There was no choice involved and I desperately didn’t want to.

I’d burnt out before, several times, but this time was different. It hit me more physically, as I struggled to get up in the morning, felt exhausted constantly, lost simple words and couldn’t complete sentences. Everything felt such an effort. I struggled to climb more than a couple of stairs before the lactic acid kicked in and I needed to rest. I didn’t understand what had happened to me and hoped if I just kept going, I’d wake up one day and feel better. That didn’t happen.

Eventually, concerned about my health, I booked an appointment with my GP who was amazingly supportive, and advised me to reduce what I was doing, but not to stop everything. To be honest, I’m not sure there was any other choice. My body had already slowed me down, but it was my mind that took convincing and that probably wouldn’t had listened if it weren’t for my GP.

I’ve reflected a lot on why it took an external ‘expert’ opinion for me to finally listen to my body, and why I’d got to that place to start with. I’ve now made a lot of changes in my life and live more slowly and happily than ever before, but there are still those annoying critical internal voices nagging at me that I ‘should have managed to do more’ today.

I should also point out that I made a full recovery and can do a choice of paces now (and that’s the point here – we don’t need to live life at breakneck speed as if that’s ‘normal’, we can go slow or we can go fast or somewhere in between, and it should be our choice in each day and each moment. It’s the deconditioning of societal expectations that is key).

Since my own experiences, I’ve coached many clients to understand their patterns; why they’re so busy and why they can’t slow down, and why they have to!

So here are my reflections put down in writing in the hope that it will inspire others to get support before they burnout, and to find ways of tuning in to what we’re doing here on this beautiful planet, because I don’t think it’s so we can buy lots of stuff and make shareholders even richer. Why are we killing ourselves?

Why we need to slow down

So why is it important to be able to slow down?

I think that we are missing so much of our lives rushing around trying to get things done or believing we should be achieving and completing mad lists of tasks when we can’t even explain why we need to. We are caught up in our busy minds with ideas of imagined future relaxation once ‘everything is done’.  As a result, we are not present to experience our life as it is in this moment. We lose emotional connection to our family, friends and to ourselves, we are not tuned in to our bodies (dysregulated emotionally and physiologically), our stress levels rise, our anxiety increases, we feel lower in mood and our unworthiness grows with our inability to meet our high expectations of ourselves.  I was completely caught up in this cycle, and it’s taken a fair bit of re-conditioning to be able to step out of it.

Why are we here? Were you born in order to be fast and productive, and get a long list of things done? Or is there some greater purpose such as living and being present to love, connection, friendship, meaning, integrating our experiences? You will have your own answer to this question. Take a moment to reflect on it.

Carl Honoré, author of ‘In Praise of Slow: Challenging the Cult of Speed’ talks about how the quality of our life changes as we slow down. He started his journey to slowness when he found himself keen on the idea of reading 60 second bedtime stories to his kids. He then stopped to question what he was missing in his race to get things ticked off the list. His experimentation led him to realise that quality is more important than quantity. As he slowed down and took time to be present with his family, friends and actions, the quality of connection grew and he felt happier and more fulfilled.

Why is it so hard to slow down?

Simple, slowing down sounds great. Let’s just slow down then. Hmm, hang on a minute. Why isn’t this easy?

In our Western, ‘advanced’ society, we are trained from a young age to go as fast as we can. It is seen as a sign of superiority. I can clearly remember a primary school teacher challenging my class to compete against each other to get our maths work done as quickly as possible. We’d have to go up to her to get our work checked at points throughout the exercise. She announced who was quickest as if she was commentating on a horse race. I was in the lead for a while – oh goodness, the pressure – before someone else overtook me. I felt relieved and deflated at the same time. I’d failed to be the best, despite hating the pressure of it. I decided I would need to push myself and make sure I was first in the next exercise despite the anxiety this made me feel.

We are taught that we need to be productive to be of worth to society. We fear not living up to this ideal. If we don’t pass exams, we don’t get a job, if we don’t get a job, we can’t earn money, if we have no money, we can’t live and we will be seen as a failure. This is a deeply ingrained narrative causes anxiety which then drives us to keep going.

The truth is that some of the most successful people came bottom in maths challenges, failed their exams, failed in their early business endeavours, failed in their relationships before learning how to do things differently.

Success in life also means a whole lot more than earning a certain amount of money, but we plod onwards with the blueprint we were given, and this narrative is wired into us quite literally (in our brains) from a young age. Our bodies disagree (they’d like more balance) so we shut down the connection with our feelings and physiology so we can’t feel the stress. We distract ourselves in a whole manner of ways and don’t notice that our minds and bodies are at war. It’s often ill health that is the wake-up call, and the only way the body can get through to the mind’s determination to be productive and therefore worthy.

It’s not a simple thing to just slow down. We are fighting years of external conditioning that we then internalise, and feel is personal to us alone. It’s called internalised capitalism. We feel good when we get tasks done because we believe we’ve been a good productive citizen, and what worth are we to the greater good if we haven’t ‘achieved’ the completion of a list of tasks?

What helps us to slow down?

Assuming it’s not ill health, as in my case, I’d say self-awareness and practice. You’ve got to recognise the need to slow down, and understand why that’s important for you, otherwise the motivation for change will not be there.

Self-awareness allows us to recognise our patterns of behaviour, thoughts and emotions, understand them and choose differently. Choose to think, feel and act in different ways. That’s the bit that takes practice!! Creating a different mindset, free from the previous conditioning, is possible. We can learn to challenge habitual thinking patterns; we can learn to manage strong emotions and we can learn to shift behaviours that are not serving us.

Here are some motivational thoughts and reflections:

  • Adopt a slogan from a road safety campaign: ‘Speed Kills’. Remember this when you’re running around not even sure why you’re doing the things you’re trying to get done. Tune in to your stress levels and take a deep breath
  • You are good enough from birth. You were born worthy, and there’s nothing you need to do, have or be in order to fulfil this worth.
  • De-link how much you feel good or bad about yourself in connection to your productivity. You are no more amazing for having worked through a list of chores than you are sitting in a field, fully present with the nature around you.
  • Carl Honoré argues that slowness is a superpower in a world addicted to speed. I love this reframing of slowness from something to be avoided to instead become a powerful way of living. Ever fancied being a superhero? Adding a superpower to your toolkit? Learn to take it slowly and be present as the world swirls around you. (His Ted Talk is worth a watch too if you’re interested Carl Honoré: In praise of slowness | TED Talk).
  • Remember that working harder isn’t more efficient. There is plenty of research out there about this. Short bursts of productivity followed by a break is often a better way to complete the necessary tasks on your list.
  • Practice tuning into your body. If you’re pushing yourself to do a million things, it’s usually your mind talking to you. Take a few deep breaths, place your feet on the floor and notice what’s happening in your body. How tired are you? What’s your ability to focus like right now? Are you hungry or thirsty? Does your body need to stretch or move? Tune in to what you need in that moment. You may be surprised at what shifts for you when you start tuning in more deeply!

What other suggestions do you have? I’d love to hear them.

Ruth

 

Hi, I’m Ruth. I support anxious, stressed or overwhelmed people to recover from burnout and create a life they don’t feel exhausted by. If you’d like to hear more from me sign up to my newsletter here:  https://awareconsciousliving.com/shift-from-stressed-to-calm/

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