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Slow Down and Arrive Sooner
Ok, let me address the first and obvious objection to this idea. Yes, there are times when greater speed will get you where you are going sooner. Cars, trains, planes and boats, for instance, will travel from point A to point B in less time with greater speed. Of course, excessive speed may result in not arriving at all; but yes, time is of the essence and speed is required in some situations. Many times, however, speed driven by impatience will prevent us from getting where we are going or at least make it take longer to get there. How that can be true is what I hope to explain in this blog.
I have generally understood this for a long time, but it became clearer to me in a tangible way when I took up learning to play the piano 6 years ago. Starting at the age of 59 I had a sense of urgency. If I was ever going to get any good at it, I had better hurry up, was what I thought. Yet my teacher kept telling me to slow down. Whether practicing exercises or learning a new song, the constant reminder: “Slow down Michael”. Supplementing my learning with YouTube videos from various piano teachers I heard the same advice repeated again and again- slow down.
The idea made sense to me, but more importantly I found that when I slowed down and made sure to be precise and maintain the beat and attend to dynamics, I made quicker progress. What happens when you try to go too fast on the piano? You make more mistakes and then the mistakes are what you practice and learn. You keep repeating them. I think most piano players have had the experience of learning a song at a tempo that was too fast for them and then they had to go back and unlearn it and fix all of the mistakes that were ingrained into their fingers. This is difficult and takes time. Slowing down became such an important principal to me that I posted the slogan near my piano to remind myself: Slow down and arrive sooner. My teacher thought it was a great idea.
Learning to play the piano is one illustrative example of the idea. It just so happened that I chose the piano and so I began to see how many other things in my life were very similar. For instance, being a therapist. Learning to slow down on the piano enhanced my ability to do this as a therapist and it definitely applies in that realm. Think of the things that you do in your own life, the projects you have taken on, the things you are trying to learn, the skills you may be trying to acquire, the relationships you are trying to sort out. What happens when you do any of these things in a hurry with a sense of impatience? What happens when you slow down?
Generally, it seems that when we are more concerned with speed than precision, we miss things. We don’t notice as much. Details and nuance are lost in the blur of attending to the general “shape” of things. We organise our perceptions and thoughts by putting them in the simplest boxes or conceptual categories that are most immediately available to us. We operate with a sort of shorthand that captures generalities, but misses subtleties. Our brains have evolved to do this, as it has been an adaptive strategy for survival over eons of time when rapid reactions saved our lives. At this point in time, however, much of our lives are not about throwing spears at running zebras or evading hungry bears. Our lives are more complex and require more thinking.
When we slow down, we give ourselves the opportunity to do some things that are less likely to happen when we are focused on speed. We can consider that there is probably more than one way to see any given situation or challenge. Speed requires that we rely on default assumptions and mental models about what something means and how it works. Maybe there are other ways to look at it if we pause and use our imagination. Also, when speed is our aim, we may not actually pay attention to the results of whatever we do. We just assume that because we did the thing that we thought we were supposed to do, the results should be what we expected. We then move on to the next thing that needs to be done quickly. Slowing down gives us the opportunity to notice if our actions were effective in getting the results we hoped for. If not, we can go back and make an adjustment before the unintended results cause trouble.
A notorious example of this, one that I have heard many times from clients, is the unfortunate email that was sent and just made things worse. Someone said or did something that was annoying or offensive (maybe it came in the form of an email) and it made us angry. We want to give that person a piece of our mind. This may come from an assumption about what the person meant or intended. We assume that they meant to attack us because they just don’t like us. Maybe. Or maybe they were having a bad day. Maybe it wasn’t personal. And even if it was, have we considered a variety of ways we could respond and the likely consequences for each way? What outcome do we want? Is the satisfaction of venting our anger worth losing a job or a friendship? Sometimes it is, but what about this time? Really? If we slow down, we can better assess a situation and formulate a response that “arrives” at the place we truly want to be. In the end, ironically, this saves a heck of a lot of time.
In my next blog, titled “Power Points”, I will share more about the kinds of things we can do when we slow down. Usually we are moving so fast, in our perceptions, thinking and reactions, that we miss crucial moments of opportunity where we could choose a more effective path.
Finally, in addition to being more effective, slowing down allows us to actually enjoy our lives more. We are all familiar with the saying “Stop and smell the roses”. Or I might say, slow down and smell the roses. If we are whizzing through our days, we are like a flat stone that has been flung at top speed across the water. It skims the surface. It skips over things. We are never fully “soaked” in our experience. We never fully taste the richness of our lives, or savour moments of pleasure, satisfaction and happiness. Instead, we are dead set on getting as quickly as possible to a place we can never reach. It is always at some distance that speed can never broach.
Or, to sum it all up, as Paul Simon famously sang in his song, “Feelin’ Groovy”:
“Slow down, you move too fast
You got to make the morning last
Just kicking down the cobblestones
Looking for fun and feeling groovy
Ba da-da da-da da-da, feeling groovy”