“The hurrier I go, the behinder I get”: 2020 is teaching us to slow down

“The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.”

—Lewis Carrol [the White Rabbit], Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

In early 2020, the unthinkable happened. We stopped going to work, school, restaurants, bars, and shops. We stopped visiting anyone. Basically, we didn’t leave the house unless it was absolutely necessary. To try to protect ourselves and the lives of others, we stopped doing things. Effectively, the whole world pressed pause in an attempt to limit the number deaths from a microscopic virus. And life slowed down. Some people relished the change of pace, and others felt like they were trapped inside with miniature psych-ward escapees they previously called their children.

Suddenly, speed was no longer the focus. In fact, our enduring emphasis on ‘how fast we could do things’ was superseded by ‘how little we could do’ and ‘how much we could slow down’. Because 2020 presented much bigger concerns than efficiency.

And so, with little else to do expect binge on streaming services and pizza deliveries, many of us started looking at our lives more closely. We pondered whether the things that we previously believed should be at the top of our priority list ever really belonged there. Things like completing tasks as fast as possible, and sacrificing our relationships to reach a deadline. We started to become more aware. Not of the days of the week—because these now seemed completely irrelevant—but of the things we’d simply accepted as normal and necessary parts of life. We also became more aware of ourselves. And our priorities started to change. For some, this meant valuing family time more. And for others, it meant daily appointments with a bottle of wine and a bag of chips.

Remember 2019?

In less than six months a lot has changed. We’re certainly not in 2019 anymore, Toto. The world has changed, and we have had to change to keep up. We’ve had to adapt many behaviours that, all of a sudden, no longer ‘fit’ with our new reality—or became illegal. And the things we used to worry about now seem insignificant.

Don’t know what I’m talking about? Then come with me, to a land far far away, in a time long forgot: last year.

2019 was a time that demanded maximum efficiency from all of us. When bosses would say things like: We must meet this deadline! The client wants this back to them ASAP! When parents said things like: Don’t leave it too long to find a partner! Shouldn’t you be thinking about starting a family at your age? When well-meaning friends said things like: You’ve got to get into the real estate market as soon as possible! And when we said things to ourselves like: I have to achieve something incredible by the time I’m thirty or my life will be meaningless. The list of examples was endless and the subtext was always the same: if you are slow, you might get left behind in this great human race. So everyone rushed around in a mad blur trying to get things done as fast as possible.

Cut to 2020, and all these statements sound inappropriate and out of place. As if someone fell asleep in January and woke up in May with no idea that the world was in the grip of a pandemic and global shutdown.

Turn and face the strange ch-ch-changes

If you’ve seen any news recently, no doubt you got the memo that we are living in a time of unprecedented upheaval, uncertainty and ch-ch-changes. I think David Bowie would agree: things are pretty strange right now.

But what this also means is that, as restrictions start to ease, we have a unique opportunity. We can turn and face the strange ch-ch-changes, and choose what we want to take with us back into the world, and what we want to leave behind forever. It’s as if someone pushed the giant reset button on life as we knew it, and now everything is on the table and up for debate. Collectively we have this opportunity, but also individually.

We can also take brand new things with us back into the world—things we learned during lockdown. For instance, I’m hoping that the pandemic and global shutdown teach us—collectively and individually—that it’s OK to slow down. That, in fact, sometimes it’s essential for our health, other people’s health, and the health of the planet. To be blunt, I’m hoping that the result of this temporary slow down is that human beings stop being speed addicts.

And, no, I’m not talking about methamphetamine.

Addicted to speed

As many of you may have experienced, an addiction to speed (doing everything as fast as possible) is unhealthy. It brings stress, physical and mental health issues, puts a strain on our relationships, and relegates everything else in our life to second place.

To make matters worse, the ideology we commonly use to justify a speed addiction is deeply flawed. The notion that ‘we should value the speed of execution above all else because it the best way to get somewhere’ just doesn’t hold up in practice. Instead, we often end up in such a hurry to reach a destination that we miss key details along the way and—ironically—take longer to find our way there. As in, “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get”.

For example, have you ever been running late for a friend’s wedding and been so determined to make up time on the way that you ended up missing the sign for the highway turnoff and found yourself lost down some old forestry road wondering when you were going to get mugged and tied up in a creepy shack?

No? OK, maybe just me then…

By worshipping our ability to be fast, and prioritising speed above all else, we devalue (and even disregard) our awareness. Often in life, our default behaviour is to race towards a deadline or launch ourselves headlong into a new opportunity because it appears to ‘tick a box’. Rarely do we actually stop to think and feel—deeply—about whether something right for us. Instead, we act like the White Rabbit from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, anxious and jacked up on speed:

“I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date! No time to say ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’. I’m late! I’m late! I’m late!”  

Why are we in such a hurry?

So why are we all in such a hurry? What’s all the panic about? There are plenty of superficial reasons. But they all lead back to one thing: death. We are propelled by a fear that we won’t have enough time to do what we want to do and be who we want to be before it’s all over. We know that our time on this planet is finite—which is hard enough for us to process—but we also have no idea how long this time will last. The certainty that one day we will die—even as soon as tomorrow—creates a deep-seated subconscious anxiety about time.

This is why, for many people, it always feels like there is never enough time or that time is ‘running out’. Our finite life makes us worry that we will ‘waste too much time’, ‘not achieve our dreams’ and, as a result, ‘squander our life-time’. So, to try to appease this fear, most people’s lives become ‘go-go-go’, ‘do-do-do’ and fridge magnets emblazoned with ‘carpe diem’.

Our innate and inescapable fear of death motivates us to ‘do things with our life’, and do them quickly! Which, on the surface, may seem like a positive motivating force. That is, until you look at what kinds of things this fear motivates us to do.

My fear of time running out

In my life, the fear of time running out has only lead me further and further away from my true self and the present moment. It has engulfed me in ego-anxiety, been a co-creator in various wild goose chases that (upon reflection) have had minimal relevance to my life, and has, on multiple occasions, left me feeling completely lost.

It took me getting lost (a lot) to understand that all my rushing around trying to do things as quickly as possible was actually counterproductive. The problem was, my entire focus was on speed. When, in reality, it didn’t matter how fast I did things if they weren’t right for me.

Since then I have actively fostered a connection with my ‘self’ and started to navigate a life-path based on awareness and intuition. My fear of time running out taught me a valuable lesson: that completing tasks quickly or meeting self-imposed goal-deadlines was meaningless if they had nothing to do with who I really was.

The jogger lost in the forest

Imagine, for a moment, that you are a jogger running along a forest track on your way home. You come to a part of the track, look around, and no longer recognise your surroundings. After a little while you start to feel lost, anxious. You decide to jog on a bit further and eventually come to a clearing where the path splits into three separate tracks that go off in different directions. You think you’ve seen these tracks before, but you can’t remember which one leads you home and which ones take you further into the forest….

Life presents many moments that can make you feel like you are a jogger lost in the forest. They are often very painful, but they are also opportunities for growth. So instead of asking, “Why am I lost?”—because we all get lost—the more important question to ask yourself is, “What kind of jogger am I?” In other words, when you feel lost in the forest, how do you respond?

What kind of jogger are you?

If you’re the kind of jogger who wants to make a quick decision to alleviate your anxiety, you’ll hastily choose one of the three paths, having no idea where it takes you. You’ll feel good for a moment, telling yourself that at least you’re going somewhere: you are moving; you are making progress; you are not idle. And this always feels better than being lost. The problem, though, is that there’s a two-thirds chance you’ll choose a track that’s taking you further away from where you are meant to be going: home.

On the other hand, if you’re the kind of jogger who is able to take a bit more time in the clearing—jogging on the spot, looking around, and feeling into your gut—you have the power to be guided by something other than your anxiety. Of course, you’ll probably feel very uncomfortable for a while. But if you sit with the uncomfortableness and let it pass, you’re far more likely to get a clear message of which path to take.

Perhaps, if you calm down enough, and look at the three tracks again, you might even notice a strip of red tape tied to a post, almost completely hidden by the undergrowth. Then you might suddenly remember that you’ve seen this marker before—that it was left behind after a recent housing development. And, more importantly, that this strip of red tape also marks the track that leads you back home.

Slow down to get there faster

Being fast at doing things can be a useful skill, sure. But speed is only relevant if you are headed in the right direction. Rushing down a path that leads you away from yourself, or sprinting across a grassy knoll that ends at a sudden cliff edge, isn’t going to save you time. It will only take you longer to work out where you are meant to be going.

This is why I’m hoping that we recognise—collectively and individually—what 2020 is trying to teach us: that slowing down can be a good thing. That slowing down is valuable because, in the long run, it can help us get where we want to go—faster.

Slowing down can be very hard

Slowing down might sound easy—as simple as dialling down the speed of your life. But if you’ve had a lifetime of valuing speed and demanding maximum efficiency from yourself, you’re going to come up against some mental resistance when you try to slow down. This is one reason why some people have felt like quarantine has been a ‘cocoon’, and others have felt like it’s been a ‘prison’ (as my therapist put it). Some have greater mental resistance to slowing down than others.

If you face mental resistance when trying to slow down, you will need to examine the way you think about time. You can start by noticing and reconsidering the things that your brain tells you are a ‘waste of time’. Then ask yourself if you can justify ‘spending time’ on things that don’t have an immediate or obvious outcome. If you can’t, things like learning to be present, still, and connecting with yourself will seem like self-indulgent waffle. But these are essential aspects of slowing down and working out where you are meant to be going, because they are the very things that allow you to tap into your awareness and intuition.

How to be more aware

Being a more aware person begins by regularly tuning in to your intuition—through meditation, yoga, prayer, a walk in the bush, or whatever else works for you. Your intuition is the guiding light in your body. It is very different to the thoughts in your head and the emotions in your heart, because these are usually manifestations of your ego. They might yell the loudest, but these are the voices you need to tune out in order to hear your deeper truth.

Allowing yourself the time and space to connect with your intuition is the key to being more aware. So you have to prioritise this time. Put a daily reminder in you calendar if you have to—and think of it as being just as important as anything else in your day. Then be patient with the process. Slowing down and prioritising your awareness isn’t going to magically shift everything in your life overnight. Building awareness takes practice. But don’t worry, life is sure to provide you with many opportunities, right!

Next time you are faced with a difficult decision in life, try to ‘consult’ your intuition. One way of doing this is to notice the breath that gently expands and contracts your lower belly. Then, direct your full awareness here and see if you can tune in to the radio station that broadcasts your truth in a quiet whisper (note: it may not be actual words). This process won’t necessarily be pleasant—expect to have to sit in uncomfortable states of anxiety and fear until it becomes clearer what path you should take.

Being comfortable with uncertainty

I’ll be the first to admit, being comfortable with uncertainty is not an easy thing to do. In fact, it’s why most people behave like the anxious jogger lost in the forest; when faced with uncertainty, they just rush off in one direction or another. They’re unable to sit with the feeling of not knowing. They’d rather be moving—even if that means following a path that takes them deeper into the forest. 

What they don’t realise is that, paradoxically, if they took the time to cultivate their awareness and listened to their intuition (meaning, it may take them longer to make decisions and take action), they would get where they were meant to be going much faster than if they just rushed off down the first path they saw when they felt anxious. 

To many, this will sound counter-intuitive: “Slowing down and being more aware is going to help me get somewhere faster? What the?” Yes it will. Because it avoids unnecessary detours. Some of which can last decades. “And it’s going to be painful and uncomfortable?” Yes it is. “Why would I want to do that?” Because it will be worth it in the end. Speeding around with little-to-no awareness of who you are or where you are going isn’t going to help you. By slowing down, calming down, sitting with uncertainty, and learning to connect with your self, eventually you will be able to see the path ahead much more clearly. 

Don’t overthink choosing the ‘right’ path

The story of the jogger lost in the forest was just a metaphorical prompt for you to consider how you react when you feel lost. So don’t take it too literally or overthink it. For example, if you started to worry about whether you will be able to intuitively choose the ‘right’ path in the future, or berated yourself for choosing the ‘wrong’ path in the past, I would simply channel Elsa from Frozen: let it go. 

Don’t make ‘choosing the right path in life’ something else you think you should worry about. The point is not to analyse your ability to make the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ decision but, rather, to consider your decision-making process. Are you driven by anxiety and ego? Or are you able to sit with uncertainty and anxiety until it becomes clearer what path is meant for you in that moment? 

All paths are just paths

Spoiler alert: once you’ve been down a variety of paths in life and seen that even the painfully ‘wrong’ paths seem to end up serving some deeper purpose, you’ll probably stop thinking in terms of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ paths anyway. Because at some point you will become aware of a deeper truth: that there are only paths.

Some paths might be long, others might be short. Some paths may lead you into the forest and some may lead you directly home. But all paths are just paths. So, even if you reach a point in your life and realise that you have gone ‘off-path’ or chosen a path that doesn’t serve your true self, that is OK. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Just slow down, stop, and the take the time to connect with yourself. Then it will be much easier to find your way back. 

Perhaps the most important thing you can do, when trying to navigate life’s many paths, is to be kind to yourself. Remember: the paths you took in the past were the paths you were meant to take; and the paths you will choose in the future will be the paths you are meant to take. And if you find yourself lost in the forest, just be aware of any anxiety you may feel about doing things quickly, as well as any demands from your ego that you make the ‘right’ decision. Then focus on your awareness and intuition. And do it slowly.

Returning to a different world

As we slowly return to work, school, restaurants, bars and shops—to ‘life as we knew it’—things are still going to be strange. On the surface it may appear to be the same old world we left behind in early 2020 but, essentially, we are returning to a different world. The economy will be different; work will be different; where we can travel will be different; and how close we stand to people will be different. I mean, we are returning to a world with no handshakes or hugs. What kind of world is that?

But don’t let all these ch-ch-changes unnerve you. In fact, take them as a friendly reminder that you, too, are allowed to make changes to your life. Now is the perfect time to choose what you want to bring with you back into the world and what you want to leave behind forever. This is your opportunity to change your priorities—to think about what is really important to you. And expect to be tested—because the world will at some point, inevitably, demand that you make sacrifices (again) to prioritise how quickly you can do things.

2020 is teaching us to slow down, and why this is important. So take this rare opportunity to begin to value other things—like your awareness and intuition. Or wine and a bag of chips.

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