Recently, my mother-in-law needed help to decipher a phone number left on her answering machine. The message was from a representative at a landscape contractor scheduled to do some work outside her home. I sat with her and listened to the message at least ten times, trying to understand the phone number left by the caller, so that my mother-in-law could call her back. We kept running into trouble, however, since the message sounded as though it had been left by a professional auctioneer. The words and numbers came fast and furious, and we took turns laughing and groaning in frustration. After several attempts to focus intently on those seven digits, and a few tries to the wrong number, we finally got it right. For some unknown reason, the landscape company representative felt the need to leave an incredibly hurried message that was almost impossible to understand. Despite all the advantages we hear about slowing down and focusing fully on the moment, we often feel we need to move through tasks quickly in order to get more accomplished. When contemplating slowing down and taking on a more mindful approach, consider how this can reduce your stress, impact your technology use, and deepen your relationships.
It seems counter-intuitive, but consciously slowing down when leaving for work or school seems to help our family get to a destination faster and less frazzled. I am certainly not suggesting that if you are running late to an appointment that you should sit down and enjoy another cup of coffee. I do know that, for me, taking a few minutes to move more deliberately and focus intently on my surroundings helps with remembering to grab the house keys or turn off the oven before I leave the house. If I sit in my car for a few moments and take notice of my environment, I may spot the grill left outside our garage overnight and avoid backing into it. More often than not, slowing down for a moment or two and focusing on the present avoids the minor hassles that cost us more time and stress in the long run.
A major obstacle to slowing down is the constant pressure to get more done in a shorter amount of time. This notion seems to be everywhere, as we face more expectations in school, at work, and in our own households. We want to pack in as much as possible, so we talk on the phone while putting away laundry, while feeding the dog, while starting dinner, while writing our to-do list for the next day. Unfortunately, our multitasking approach often prevents us from truly focusing on any one activity. I may miss the best details during my phone conversation if I am searching for the matching sock in the laundry basket. I cannot remember if put the dog’s food in her dish if I was getting chicken out for a family meal at the same time. Although the dog may prefer my multitasking so she can enjoy an extra meal now and then, I ultimately cost myself more time in backtracking and second-guessing when I try to focus on so many things at the same time.
The magnetic pull of electronics constantly threatens our efforts toward a slower and more mindful approach to life. I sometimes find myself asking my kids more than once to set their phones aside and fully engage in direct conversation. I have to admit, though, that sometimes I am the one who needs the reminder; luckily my teenager is more than ready to point out when I fail to meet my own set of expectations. For instance, one morning as my son got ready for school and talked about one of his classes, I continued to look at my phone trying to finish one quick message. Soon I heard my own words coming from his mouth, as he implored me to pay attention to only him rather than stay on my phone while he was talking. I could either ask him to wait a moment while I finished the message, or put the phone down and concentrate on him. Even though I fully recognized the impossibility of attending to my son and my phone simultaneously, I gave in to the temptation to try. Taking my own advice in ways like this may be among the most humble and impactful learning experiences of all.
Intentional efforts to slow ourselves down can also significantly improve our communication with others. Many times we hear negative emotions expressed by another person and immediately react by verbalizing our own feelings. If we slow down, pay attention to the other person’s point of view, and respond to their sentiments instead, we encourage greater understanding and growth in our relationships. There is immense power in silence and incredible maturity in taking the time to process what someone else is saying and trying to understand why they are saying it. The words we choose after taking a few breaths can be monumentally different, and often far less hurtful, than those initially prompted by our emotions alone.
As we consciously slow down, immerse ourselves in the moment, and avoid some of the pitfalls of rushing from one conversation or activity to the next, we develop a sense of patience that can serve us well. Sometimes our timetable is not the world’s timetable, and more practice moving at a less hurried pace allows us to notice that beautiful sunset while sitting in traffic, or catch up with that person waiting with us in line at the grocery store. In an effort to put these ideas into action, the other day, I drove well within the speed limit on my way to an appointment. I accumulated a rather long line of followers driving behind me who clearly were less than enthusiastic about my concept of slowing down. They may not have thanked me at first, but when we all spotted the police car around a curve, I imagine at least some of them expressed a tiny bit of gratitude. Find a few more moments throughout your day to slow down and be patient, and notice the ways in which the universe rewards you.
Laura B. joined Empathia in 2000 as an EAP Counselor. Laura has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Northwestern University and a master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, with a concentration in marriage and family therapy. Prior to joining Empathia, she worked as a case manager with chronically mentally ill adults readjusting to life in the community. Laura enjoys reading, attending kids’ activities and spending time with family.