“Slow down!” I remember my mom saying to me constantly when I was a kid. I moved too fast and was constantly whacking my knees and shins on end tables or catching a hip or shoulder on the door frame. I cracked my head on a lot of open cupboard doors because I was in too big a hurry to close them.
In general I am a pretty fly-by-the-seat-of–my-pants kind of person, and sometimes that works really well. I jump at opportunities others would ponder for months; when I put my mind to something I make it happen…and often in record time.
But this kind of get-up-and-go has its drawbacks. I’m not always terribly deliberate in my actions. I leap, then look, and if I didn’t land on sure footing I usually hurry and move onto the next thing, sometimes before I’ve bothered to learn my lesson (luckily it generally sinks it at some point. Unluckily, “some point” is often years later.)
I’m inclined to avoid the slow route to…well, to anything. Yet often I just create more work and hassle for myself because I have to double back later or spend more time to correct something I didn’t do properly the first time.
Here’s a case in point: when I go to the grocery store I’ll often forget something on my list and remember only when I return to the car or worse, am driving out of the parking lot. Then I have that forehead-slapping moment when I realize the item has been forgotten. And I wrestle with that side of my personality that wants to keep momentum and forward motion going.
- Going back for the forgotten item would take me–at most–15 minutes.
- It would save me a return trip and all the time and hassle that would entail.
- It would mean my pantry or refrigerator would hold some essential item that might make getting dinner on the table that much more easy.
- And yet returning to the store once I’ve already walked out that automatic door feels like moving backward. I’m already in the car! I’m already headed home! I can’t go BACK now!
So too often, I just say “Eh, screw it” and leave–and then have another forehead-slapping moment later when I realize how much extra work I’ve caused for myself by refusing to go back.
This month I’m working on creating a new slowing-down ritual, using this five-step plan:
- Try to treat whatever I’m doing as a pleasant experience, rather that one more thing to check off the to-do list. In the case of grocery shopping, if I’m with my kids I can use the time to chat with them and teach them how to choose produce rather than murmuring “Mm-hmmm” distractedly while rushing through the store. I can take time to read labels and inspect new cuts of meat or unfamiliar grains rather than just chucking the same-old, familiar stuff in the cart. Try samples. Notice the smells. Imagine dishes I’d create with this spice or that pasta. Use all my senses.
- Slow down. If I find myself huffing and anxious because the motorized cart in front of me isn’t moving quickly enough or because I managed to choose the checkout with the cashier-in-training, it’s a good indicator that I need to slowwww down. And slowing down physically, I’ve noticed, often encourages my brain to slow down too.
- Evaluate Frequently. In the grocery store that means that before I leave each department, check back over the list one more time to make sure I got everything I needed…and do the same thing before I enter the checkout line. When I take a moment to evaluate my progress I am a lot more aware of what I’m doing and what I need to do next.
- Be Willing To Put Myself In Reverse. If I get to my car, to the edge of the parking lot, or even halfway home and realize I still forgot something, I have to ask myself, “Do I really have anything better to be doing right this moment? Is getting home fifteen minutes earlier absolutely crucial?” If not–turn around, go back.
- Breathe And Do A Reality Check. If I feel overcome by that panicked, flustered feeling of having “messed up” and “wasted time,” take deep breaths. Remind myself that this time is not wasted. That my kids are fine. That nothing is going to fall apart at home in the fifteen extra minutes it’ll take me to go back to the store. That the time spent now will save me time and effort later this week.
Grocery shopping is far from the only example of things I rush in my life. I often rush through my work and then have to go back with a fine-tooth comb later, looking for mistakes. I can’t be bothered with instruction manuals, which too often leads to a screw ending up in the wrong hole or a deformed-looking Lego creation. And sometimes I even rush through pleasant conversations with my kids because I want to move on to the next thing.
I know some of my quickness is just personality, and I can’t change who I am. But I can work to be more aware of this tendency so that I can recognize when it’s working against me and create new rituals to help me live more slowly, mindfully and deliberately. Not only will it help me enjoy those moments more (instead of just wanting to get them over with) but it will save me from living that moment when I realize I really needed that extra butter I refused to go back into the store for. The fewer those “doh!” moments I have, the happier a mom I am.
What about you? Do you ever find yourself in such a rush to get something over with that you can’t bear to back up and do it over? Would trying to do those tasks more deliberately and mindfully help you enjoy them more?