April 7, 2013

The Art of Slowing Down (Without Feeling Guilty). ~ Tonka Dobreva

Photo: Pamela Consear

Our natural impulse to prove that we are worthy of our purpose often comes with a side of guilt.

How quickly we think, act and deliver has become today’s measurement for progress and success—in business and in life. We want to seize opportunities and save time. We strive to ride momentum, and admire people and things that are up to date. Our fear of becoming irrelevant has escalated, and so has our fatigue-based decision-making.

This urge to live one step ahead is particularly prevalent if we happen to do what we feel passionate about. Gradually, our work merges with our identity, sucking us into a whirlpool of “creative addiction.”

When we love what we do and feel that our work brings particular value, pausing even for a second becomes synonymous with falling into commonality.

And commonality is extinguishing for the doers and creators constantly holding that vision of outstanding, extraordinary—or better.

Our natural impulse to prove that we are worthy of our purpose often comes with a side of guilt—even when we just think about vacation or admitting that we need a break. We feel guilty for not allocating adequate time for our relationships or for nurturing our physical and psychological well-being. Never mind the sleepless nights.

In his article Panting Is Not a Strategy, life coach Jerry Colonna says:

“Talking to a client this morning, he reminded me that running faster often feels like working harder. ‘If I’m not panting,’ he said, ‘I don’t think I’m working.’

It’s a lousy strategy: It feeds the anxiety of never enough; it gets in the way of thinking clearly; and it convinces you to mistake motion for meaning … We too infrequently pause and consciously, and with all of our adult awareness, define for ourselves success.”

The truth is, we grow to tolerate this burnout work ethic until it starts to weigh us down; and in some instances, until it claims a life.

According to Joseph Hallinan, author of Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average:

“Medical residents are routinely scheduled to work shifts that last 24 hours or more, even though these sleep-deprived doctors are at high risk of making medical mistakes that can hurt or kill patients … Charles Czeisler of the Harvard Medical School and his colleagues studied more than 2,700 first-year medical residents. They found that when residents reported working five marathon shifts in a single month, their risk of making a fatigue-related mistake that harmed a patient soared by 700 percent. The risk of making a mistake that resulted in patients’ deaths rose by ‘only’ 300 percent.”  

Knowing when and how to slow down is not necessary. It’s healthy, and in the long run almost always inevitable.

So how do we slow down without feeling ashamed, inadequate and disposable?

>> Break the Circuit

In Why We Make Mistakes, Hallinan cited Cornell professor Tom Gilovich, who revealed one of the most important findings in the field of behavioral psychology:

“The tiniest little change in circumstance can have big impacts on people’s behavior.”

Imagine then, the impact that conscious, selective and voluntary changes can have on our individual everyday circumstances—getting away from the desk/computer/office for 30 minutes and taking a walk; spending the morning having breakfast with our spouse or partner instead of our iPhone or iPad; asking a competitor instead a partner for input.

These are all small, doable circuit breaks that can help us slow down, break compulsive thinking/doing and actually save time in the long run. We may also find that over time we have become more tolerant and less overwhelmed by the bigger, not so pleasant changes in outside circumstances—the ones that are hardly ever possible to manipulate.

>> Detach Through Mindfulness  

Jonathan Fields, entrepreneur and author of Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance, found that practicing mindfulness for 25 minutes every morning is one of the most effective ways to balance his “mad passion” and keep himself from spiraling down the creative rabbit hole.

In this video, Fields explains that mindfulness is a form of meditation during which he sits and focuses on his breath.

“It literally rewires your brain,” he says. “Not only does it train your attention, it trains something called ‘meta-attention’ … your ability to notice where your attention is.” 

According to Fields, mindful meditation allows us to choose deliberately rather than react to our circumstances, allowing us to get a lot more done.

>> Live in “Maker Mode”

Another way to tackle the pressures of overdoing is what Brad Feld, venture capitalist and author of Startup Life, calls the “maker mode.” In the interview below he explains that he allows large chunks of unscheduled time within his work day, and in those chunks of time, he consciously stays away from email, phone calls, meetings and other interruptions so he can focus on, in his case, writing.

Feld found that this method helped him introduce structure and process within the creative chaos, enabling him to be more productive without feeling overwhelmed. It also made it easy for him to find time to focus on other important things in his life, like his relationship with his wife.

Slowing down is a process—often, a lifelong one. As we change purposes, passions and occupations, we change pace and adjust that process to match our needs. The process requires breaking down our deeply ingrained habit of competing—mostly with ourselves.

But in those moments of conscious pauses, forward leaps—in vision and in motion—are probable, successes get redefined and small victories, appreciated again.


Tonka Dobreva is the lead writer and content curator for Cojourneo—a virtual social platform supporting conscious leaders, entrepreneurs and personal growth seekers. Digging out inspirational, quirky findings (preferably with a dash of science) makes her super happy. OK, maybe not as happy as putting ectopic heartbeat into words.




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Assistant Ed: Stephanie V./Ed: Kate Bartolotta

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