“For fast-acting relief, try slowing down.”
That’s what the small cutout said in my brother’s college apartment bathroom. At the time, I thought it was a cute word play on a popular tv advertisement for headache medicine. It turned out to be much more than that for me.
These six words are among the most profound advice I have ever received. I have experienced their sageness over and over in the years since I saw the sticker on the bathroom mirror. Inevitably, across every situation, whenever I was trying to cram a lot of stuff into every minute because I was feeling rushed or stressed, things took longer to fall into place. As each little chore showed its stubborn, unwieldy nature, refusing to tick itself off my To-Do list, my frustration would grow. Eventually, those six words would loom into my consciousness. Slow down, they reminded me, a paradoxical suggestion for a fast-paced, high-stress situation.
It worked, every single time. Taking a deep breath, I’d let go of the different balls I was trying to juggle simultaneously. I’d pick one and focus on getting it done. My mind initially struggled, not believing that letting go of the other pressing tasks was going to get them done. But, in the face of disastrous results anyway, it relented. And, without fail, I got it all done.
Slowing down is, overall, good advice. Smell the coffee, it’s good for the heart. Move purposefully. The new thing these days, mindfulness, is all about slowing down. You can’t pay full attention to something if you’re zipping your head this way and that. FOMO is overrated, you miss out anyway because you’re distracted by everything.
Slowing down means many things. First, the physical act of slowing down, which includes deeper breaths, not shallow ones. This, in itself, makes things better for the body. (More oxygen, I think, and somewhere I read also that it counters the adrenaline in the body to let the body uncurl from its fight stance.) Taking a deep breath also takes longer, so it forces a slowing of things. With the body and mind more relaxed, more ideas are able to enter the consciousness. Instead of the narrowed vision, which a fighting mode induces, now creative juices flow and dots get connected. Ideas bloom, and a difficult problem doesn’t seem so threatening and intractable anymore. Last but not the least, it creates the space to engage on things beyond the immediate issue. It could be as simple as asking a friend about their welfare, even as you were seemingly absorbed by a crisis. They might feel touched. Or you can crack a joke, which cracks smiles on everyone’s face.
I know one thing. Slowing down creates space for joy. And isn’t that what we’re doing all this for anyway?