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Deceleration: The Art of Slowing Down

March 03, 2016 | 69,613 views

By Dr. Mercola

No one would argue the fact that the pace of life has rarely been more frenzied than it is today. It’s not just that we’re busy. Time seems to be constantly of the essence. As Carl Honoré, author of the book “In Praise of Slowness,” quipped, “These days, even instant gratification takes too long.”

That’s clever, but not too many are smiling because, unfortunately, it’s true. You can’t spend more than a few minutes on social media without encountering a meme lamenting the fact, such as Mahatma Gandhi’s quote, “There is more to life than increasing its speed.”.

Why is it that whenever there’s a so-called “idle” moment, we often feel a need to “redeem the time?” How many of us, while making our coffee in the morning, look for something useful to do to in the meantime?

Honoré asserts, “As we hurry through life, cramming more into every hour, we are stretching ourselves to the breaking point.” Besides causing stress, he even suggests that our compulsion to do more in less time may have become an addiction, an idolatry of sorts.

Redeeming the Time

Writer Richard Paul Evans observed, “What a culture we live in. We are swimming in an ocean of information, and drowning in ignorance.”

Technological advances mean we can travel from New York to Nigeria in hours as opposed to months. Information on any given topic any time of the day or night is now at our fingertips — literally.

That means life should be easier and less complicated, right? No? It’s a perplexing conundrum a TIME article explored:

“We complain about the lack of time, yet we constantly seek stimulations that detract us from our main goals.

When we live in an age where a diverse palette of stimulations lures us ‘media-drenched, data-rich, channel-surfing, computer-gaming age’ — it becomes a chore to focus on anything longer than 30 seconds.

There’s something unsettling about the constant craving for the new without any regard for the things we already have.”

For most, multiple things go on simultaneously: taking care of people, making sure the bills get paid and finding a place to park while at the same time keeping your cell phone charged, remembering your son’s game, a doctor appointment and buying new tires for the car.

We’d describe all these as important, but it’s like the plates on spinning poles — we have to watch them like a hawk to make sure none of them start wobbling, or, worse, crash to the floor.

What do you miss when you spend most of your waking hours trying to fit more in? Inevitably, it’s relationships, which suffer when in our hurry to “get things done,” we sacrifice what’s truly important. It’s been termed “the tyranny of the urgent.”

It’s important to recognize the chasm that can divide you from your family, friendships and community when getting more done becomes the goal — even when it’s for worthy endeavors such as humanitarianism or volunteering.

Remember that while much of your activities may be driven by “things” and even ideals, people are always more important.

What Does ‘Living Fast’ Look Like?

A recent survey in Britain, entitled “Life in the Fast Lane,”1 compiled the revelations of 550 adults aged at least 25 regarding their down time — and lack thereof. (It’s probably not much different in the U.S.) Here are some of the findings:

One in five respondents said they took work home to finish over the weekend Half said that about half the time, they felt stressed on weekends More than half of respondents admitted to sailing through traffic lights on red
58 percent opt to drive even short distances rather than walking 62 percent reported a reduced interest in sex 61 percent estimated spending somewhere between 15 and 30 minutes eating their evening meals
Nearly 80 percent admitted excessive alcohol consumption

Six out of every 10 of those surveyed reported that while their weekends were spent on shopping, household chores or catching up with loved ones, they really wished they were doing nothing. Many said they suffered from sleep deprivation.

One of the most telling disclosures, however, was that nearly six out of 10 admitted feelings of “missing out” on something — they just didn’t know what.

Kids on the Fast Track Our Fast Track

As an adult, as much as you may be weary of the pace, you may often end up pushing your kids to go faster, as well. Scientists agree that for kids, play time is learning time, but observing it often makes adults nervous.

Not only do they figure that more education and diligence can only be good, they also have a niggling feeling that if their children aren’t signed up for art, violin or tennis lessons by age 3, they’ll not only miss out on opportunities, they may ultimately be unsuccessful.

A New York Times article2 quoted William Doherty, Ph.D., a family studies professor and director of the marriage and family therapy program at the University of Minnesota:

“There are certainly good reasons to offer our children some of these experiences, but there are more negative ones as well, if we rely on them to make us feel like good parents, or if we think that arming them with a myriad of skills can guarantee their later success in life.

Doherty said parents’ insistence that their children be motivated toward every conceivable opportunity is a “displaced fear about the collapse of the future.”

“That does not mean that some stimulating activities outside school are not important, but equally critical is a warm and well-connected family life … Sometimes for the sake of child and family balance, you have to say no to intensive activity.

And we have to move away from the idea that if we do not start children early, they will not reach their full potential.”

Smelling the Roses aka Daydreaming May Make Kids Smarter

Arguably, kids who are given time to do what they feel like doing at least part of the time are less stressed than those whose days are scheduled into 15-minute increments.

Before the wonders of television and video games, most kids spent their free time playing outside, reading, messing around with friends or just daydreaming.

Although research shows daydreaming is crucial for optimal brain development, some adults mistake it for either attention deficit disorder or laziness. A Psychology Today article3 tackles this mindset:

“There's actually a substantial amount of research connecting daydreaming in children with creativity, healthy social adjustment, and good school performance ...

There’s also research that says that children who don't get enough down time to daydream or who fill in their down time with too much television produce works that are ‘tedious and unimaginative.’”

The article asserts that children left to their own imaginative forays come away with enriched social skills, such as empathy for others and an ability to play longer on their own because they’ve been given time to explore their own playful alternate realities.

“It may seem odd or a paradox, but children (and adults) can actually focus on their daydreams, and some of these daydreams may be more inventive and ultimately more useful than the task at hand. So let's not be quick to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Daydreams are a highly creative form of mental engagement and a necessary way for children lacking real-world experience to process complex information and emotions.”

The Art of Deceleration: Adopting the ‘Philosophy of Slow’

Oscar Wilde said, “All things in moderation — except moderation.” That seems to sum up the age we live in. But the New Testament puts that statement in perspective: “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial.”

You may recognize yourself in children reluctant to go to bed because they don’t want to miss anything. If you’re lucky enough to get wiser as you get older, however, you learn what’s good for you, and one of them is the right amount of sleep. The wise actually do the things they know are good for them.

You may also learn the term “savor.” It’s an art that takes time, and taking time means going slower. Ironically, a concept called the Slow Movement is gaining momentum, its aim being to address “time poverty.” According to the website,4 the Slow Movement:

“ … Supports a growing cultural shift towards slowing down. On this site we discuss how we have lost connection to most aspects of our life and to the natural world and rhythms around us, and how we can reconnect — how we can live a connected life.

The Slow Movement is a worldwide movement to recapture this state of connectedness. The movement is gaining momentum, as more and more people recognize their discomfort at the fast pace and disconnected nature of their lives.”

Personal and organizational advisers at Create the Good Life5 define their efforts as advising to “clarify, empower and inspire:”

“The main tenet of the Slow Movement is that by taking the appropriate amount of time to experience the various activities of our lives, we are able to get in touch with what is deeply satisfying and fulfilling.

It is important to note that the Slow Movement is not about doing things slowly. It is about finding the right speed with which to do something in a way that values quality over quantity, long term benefits over short term gains, and well-being of the many over the few.

In the long run, many Slow Movement proponents would argue that slow can ultimately be faster, and certainly better, as we make decisions and act in ways that are more thoughtful and considerate than purely efficiency driven processes.”

Perhaps the best way to remedy a pace of life that’s gotten out of hand would be, as life coach Blaire Palmer6 put it, to stop "‘doing’ all the time and start ‘being’ some of the time.”

Honoré concluded that when you recognize that stress, schedules and juggling priorities are making you feel overwhelmed, you can slow the momentum of your life by focusing on your true priorities. At the end of the day, it’s about living in the moment instead of constantly anticipating the next thing, having “your head in the game,” and ultimately, it’s about balance.

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