How Slowing Down Led Me To A Fitter, More Productive Life
Recently I was in the kitchen making breakfast, feeding the dogs, prepping school lunches, and all the other things I do each morning. I was aware that my kids and my husband, Chris, were in the kitchen with me—but only vaguely because my mind was racing with thoughts. Chris was asking me a question, but I could barely hear him. He asked me the same question a couple of times. Still no answer. He finally took me by the shoulders and asked me if I was OK.
I realized in that moment that even though I was doing everything "right" by checking boxes like nobody’s business, I was nowhere near present and connected with my family. It was only 7:14 a.m. on a Tuesday, and I was so preoccupied that I couldn’t simply be with the people who mean the most to me.
Does this sound familiar to anyone? So many of us fly into go-go-go mode the moment we wake up, grab our phones, check the calendar, and immediately react to the world. With checklist in hand, the day begins as a race, heart rate already elevated and mind already spinning. Whether we’re conscious of it or not, our bodies are producing cortisol and our stress levels are beginning to rise even before we get out of bed.
How did we get there, and how do we get out?
In our achievement-based world, how productive we are during our waking hours is, for many of us, a major indicator of our self-worth. So much of our definition of success hinges on how we manage all the external forces in our lives. Navigating our calendars, setting goals at work, planning social outings, getting a tough workout in, keeping up our homes—our accumulated accomplishments often feel like a direct reflection of who we are as people.
This is where I think we need balance. While all our efforts and achievements are indeed important, I would argue that an equally important use of our time is doing nothing at all. When we press pause and become still, we build what I call our "being present muscle." All those to-do’s I have every morning are not going anywhere. I wake up every day and run a dynamic company. I have a family I love, and they need me. Neither of those things are going anywhere, and there is no getting out of a busy life. But there is a way to move through it in a mindful, rewarding way.
When we take time to remind ourselves and replace go-go-go with slow-slow-slow, we move through life in a mindful way. We take time to be centered, honor what we need as individuals, and look inside for answers. When we do this, we’re better equipped to make sound decisions, foster rich relationships, and to power our crazy days with ease versus struggle. Our actions and behaviors are generated from a place of purpose rather than panic. Suddenly, we understand that traffic is not the cause of stress—it's how we deal with traffic. A massive to-do list doesn't stress us out; it's how we manage it.
How do we slow down?
I’m fully aware that embracing the slow approach is easier said than done—especially if you thrive on racking up achievements.
Here are some simple things I’m focusing on these days to practice slowing down. When I wake up, I refrain from looking at my phone—which used to be the first thing I did—and instead I lie in bed, look out the window, and focus on the sounds around me and how I feel.
Then, instead of launching straight into a fast-paced workout, I take time to do a short, mindful workout or meditation so I can continue to focus on my body, how I feel, and my breath. It's a simple practice, but it works wonders when it comes to slowing down. I become more present—and when I’m more present, I’m aware when my mind is racing, when my heart starts to elevate, and when I need to take a deep breath and relax into my tasks of to-dos. I still need to be efficient. I still need to make breakfast for my family and get everyone out the door—but I can do it with purpose and joy.
The surprising benefits of slowing down.
Just about every area in my life has been enriched since practicing the art of slow-slow-slow. I notice that I’m a better listener. I’m more patient with myself and others. More than ever before, I enjoy learning new things and being around people who are different from me. I’m more clearheaded and decisive. I’m less serious, and I laugh more in tough situations. I make choices, big and small, that are aligned with my core values. My body feels better. When I exercise, I find more joy in the movement. Meditation gets easier and has become something I crave. I'm not as affected by jet lag, and I rarely get sick. When I do, I bounce back more quickly.
Slowing down and exercise.
This is true in exercise as well. I believe how we exercise is an analogy for how we live; so much of what we learn physically while working out is mirrored in our life.
Because I have embraced—and thrived on—the slow-slow-slow approach in life, I have come to crave exercise that is slower and more mindful. Even if the sensation and outward expression of energy isn't as obvious as it is with a go-go-go workout, the results are exponentially better. When I move slowly and with my breath, I have more time to align my body, strengthen my muscles, and soak up the holistic benefits of each moment. This workout is one of my favorite examples of how a workout can be mindful but still give you a deep-muscle burn and boost your energy.
The practice that keeps on giving.
None of us can control the ever-increasing demands and tempo that we’ve inserted into each day. But we can control how we deal with all these external forces. How we navigate all the twists and turns each day is up to each of us. We have the power to stay calm, centered, and productive—it just takes practice. And I don't mean once in a while practice; I mean a dedicated daily practice.
It's essential to living a full, rich life in the face of chaos—and that’s so much better than simply ticking boxes on your to-do list.