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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Slowing Down Because We Don't Have Much Time

"We have to slow down,
because we do not have much time."
Zen saying
Time is such a precious resource. We do almost everything we can to save time and to do things more efficiently. "The quicker, the better" has become standard work-a-day philosophy in a world where every minute spared is of the essence. Yet what about inhabiting the moments in front of us more fully? Certainly, doing so is important, and it seems as though this task should be a simple matter of deciding to do so - but our thoughts and anxieties continually distract us.

Rushing through the day with a perception that time is lacking causes stress to enter our lives, and so does the inevitable "stress response." Not being able to shut off this adaptive and effective defense, stress wreaks havoc on our bodies and in our lives. It increases the onset of diabetes and high blood pressure. It sets us up for gastrointestinal disorders and adversely affects the way fat is distributed in our bodies. Stress diminishes brain cells and measurably accelerates the aging of our chromosomes.

Hell, we unintentionally "over-age" ourselves with undue stress.

To stop, linger, and "smell the roses" may seem like squandering time in this age of driving the fast lane, speed texting, and multitasking. Yet, we listen to our Facebook friends bemoan the lack of time they have to spend at a less frantic, stressful pace. Most of them complain of having little opportunity to live, ruminate, and digest the good aspects of their lives. And, ironically, many are so conditioned to jamming a quart of living into a pint bottle that they overextend restful and enjoyable experiences upon which they embark and turn their "pleasurable days" into urgent, worrisome times.

Damn it, we can't even slow down and relax when we are trying to comfort ourselves!

We should be active and engaged. But, by rushing to squeeze in everything, so often we squeeze out the joy. If, in our mad rush, we miss appointments or deadlines, we torment ourselves. It is this impatience that is the source of the stress.

(Sean Doyle , "To Slow Down," Positive Psychology News Daily, April 23 2013)

If we survive the rush with most of our crucial body parts and minds intact, later life is the phase when hurrying may finally subside. As we age, our relationship with time becomes increasingly intimate. When we become seniors, most of us become more keenly aware of time passing and become more sensitive to slowing down and living the moments that count the most. We consciously become aware of transience and understand the urgency of finding meaning in each day.

Wendy Lustbader, M.S.W., an affiliate associate professor at the University of Washington School of Social Work, relates a quote from a client:

"At the age of seventy-one, a woman contrasted the frenetic pace of her younger years with the serenity of her current life: "I was so scattered. I was focusing on my children, on my work as a teacher, taking care of everything. I was running around all the time, barely keeping up. I was responsible for so many things. Now I can meditate. I am grounded. I can undertake something and stick with it. There's really no comparison."

Slower Kisses and More Delight

An interesting study has found that people rush through experiences not necessarily because they lack self-control but because they simply don’t realize that slowing down consumption leads to more pleasure.

The researchers (Jeff Galak, Justin Kruger and George Loewenstein, Journal of Consumer Research, 2012) proved this hypothesis using several different stimuli, including Hershey’s Kisses and video games. For the Hershey’s Kisses, test subjects were told they’d be eating a half-dozen candies, and they either got to pick the interval between morsels (from 10 seconds to 200 seconds) or had one assigned to them (200 seconds). Given a choice, people opted for 93-second intervals, on average, a pace more than twice as fast as the other group.

The people who ate the Kisses more quickly not only reported enjoying them less, over all, but the pleasure they got from individual candies dropped steeply from No. 1 to No. 6. For the group forced to be more leisurely, enjoyment dropped only slightly from beginning to end. In a related experiment, people who ate Kisses more quickly ate fewer of them, another sign of reduced enjoyment.

The participants understood that scarfing down a chocolate bar in 30 seconds would be less enjoyable than nibbling on it over the course of a day. But they failed to realize that on a much more fine-grained level, too — taking five minutes between bites instead of one — slowing down the rate of consumption means more pleasure.

(Christopher Shea, "Psychology Study: For Enjoyment, Slow Down,"  
The Wall Street Journal, May 10 2012)

Slowing down re-energizes us and allows us to nurture ourselves so that we can enjoy what we are doing in the moment we are doing it. It also allows us to connect slowly with people in meaningful ways.

Slowing down can open us to awe and wonder while letting us "play" again and discover the beauty that exists all around us. By being more deliberate, we can better evaluate what things connect most directly with our values. By so doing, slowing down gives us the consciousness and mettle to say “no” to things that might be harmful to us.

Many people who have overcome tragedies, terrible accidents, and natural disasters speak of the life-saving ability to know when not to act and thus become actively passive. These survivors know that sometimes we must avoid the urge to do something simply because doing "feels" productive. They speak of the value in the midst of chaos to maintain calm, endure the ride, and take time to see what possibilities present themselves.

Batter Up! And, Slow the Game Down

"There’s an old saying in baseball that speed never goes into a slump.  Not true.  In fact, the saying is completely backwards…it’s SLOW that never goes into a slump!  Invariably, regardless of the level of competition, from the Big Leagues to Little League, the most important factor for producing baseball players who can perform under pressure is the ability to slow the game down."

(Geoff Miller, "Slowing the Game Down," San Diego Sports Psychology, January 7 2010)

Great read and Miller's entire article:

Psychologist Geoff Miller relates, in baseball, "slowing the game down" is not a new concept. In fact, many professionals feel it is the most important mental game concept for maximizing talent.

What does it mean to "slow down the game"? Exceptional players speak of entering "the Zone," a level of optimal experience that allows them to give their best. They talk about the perception of everything moving at a slower pace; a time when their opponents appear to be in“slow motion.” At this point, in "the Zone," players feel as if they have all the time in the world to make their best moves.

And likewise, a common theme when performance goes wrong is the speeding up of time.  Pitchers  rush their mechanics when they get into jams. Hitters can’t catch up to fastballs that they routinely time with ease when they are in a groove. Position players look lost in the field as they get late jumps on balls off the bat. Runners advance as fielders hold the ball and turn from base to base, unsure of where to throw on bunt plays.

Miller says, for the most part, the game of baseball speeds up when:

1.     A player is playing at a higher level for the first time (MLB debut, AA from A-Ball, high school to college, etc).
2.     A player enters a game that is in progress (pinch hitter, relief pitcher, double switch) and has not gotten into the flow of the game.
3.     Pressure is high.
4.     A player is in a slump or his performance has not met his expectations.

In simple terms, the game speeds up because players' perception of time is altered by how they concentrate and by how much information they make automatic. If they can understand how to control the way they focus their attention and automate the important physical skills and mental cues they will need to hit, run, catch, and throw, they can slow the game down and improve their performance under pressure.

To optimize performance, Miller speaks of the necessity of remembering that time isn’t speeding up and slowing down, it’s the players' perception of time that is changing. That perception is under their control.  And, it’s their key to performing well under pressure.

My Take

Whether we are young, middle-aged, or old, we must learn to deal with the fast pace of life. And, I believe "living fast" and "maxing out" is not always as beneficial as "slowing down" and "being cautiously selective." Others may want us to jam our lives full of time-consuming activities, yet we can, even at risk to income and advancement, choose what we perceive to be our comfortable level of quality consumption over quantity of waste.

To me, this does not mean we should stagnate or completely withdraw from society. We can and we must learn to cope with stress that we encounter as we choose our professions and develop our skills. But, we should have sufficient control of the amount of stress we put upon ourselves, and, at the same time, we should develop new methods to "slow down our game of life" as we encounter mountains of stressors.

And, for goodness sakes, quit complaining about how few minutes you have to yourself when you are taking so much time out of your day to sit at your computer and vent about stress on Facebook. People don't like the noise. Complaining doesn't help, anyway. So do yourself a favor and buy a bag of Hershey's kisses. Then consume them slowly, taking only one delicious nibble every five minutes or so ALL DAY LONG -- you will enjoy yourself albeit you may gain a pound or two. Learn from this Zen master and take the good things in life a little more slowly.
Anyway, despite the task, was it really necessary to be in such a rush? Probably not. Remember the tune? "Don't let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy." Dr. Susan Biali, medical doctor and media wellness expert has three tips for you. Here they are:

1) You think you'll get there faster but you're tempting disaster.

2) If you focus too much on your destination you'll be blind to where you are.

3) Slow down, you don't want to miss the good stuff.

(Dr. Susan Biali, "Slow Down! Going Faster is Tempting Disaster," 
Psychology Today, March 1 2012)

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