Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Reaching My Speed Limit

Rushing through traffic yesterday in the clogged lanes brought to us by stimulus-money-inspired road construction gone amok, I was led to contemplate the unpleasant experience of hurrying.  Something I'm doing too much of lately.  Hurrying, that is, not contemplating.  (And "late-ly" is how, and why I'm doing it!)

My middle child, who--fortunately, mostly--does not share my genes, is constantly haranguing me about walking too fast.  His reflex response to all requests from me is some variant of "Wait up" or "Calm down"--even when I think I'm relatively calm.  When he was a small child, The Hurried Child:  Growing Up Too Fast Too Soon, by David Elkind Ph.D. was a decade or so old. Its ideas had percolated into our cultural consciousness to the extent that I referred to them without ever having read the book. And I used to say that this little boy of mine was "The Unhurry-able Child."  I am still trying to learn what he can teach me.

By now, we have graduated to something called the Slow Movement.  (Neither constipation, nor the adagio part of a symphony.)  Articles and websites and bookshelves abound with calls to convert to "Slow Food" and "Slow Travel;" to educate our children in "Slow Schools" and move to "Slow Cities." It has been twelve years since Richard Carlson and Joseph Bailey gave us Slowing Down to the Speed of Life: How To Create A More Peaceful, Simpler Life From the Inside Out. And longer still since Dr. Gershon Lesser coined the term "hurry-up disease," which he warned puts us at risk for hypertension and early coronaries--products of literally speeding to get through (with) life.

So why are we still rushing around?  And how do we stop?

At Slow Movement, a website dedicated to promoting the voluntary simplicity and downshifting at the heart of this cultural sea change, they make the argument that slow is all about connection, to place, to life, and to each other.  And that fear of death and dying are at the root of what physicians have come to call time urgency impatience a hallmark of the dreaded, and unhealthy Type A personality.  In our acronym-crazy argot, this malady has morphed into "TUI," or its variant "TUP"--Time Urgency Perfectionism, said to afflict women disproportionately.  Blogger Wendy, at Chronicles of Chaos, writes humorously of finding a diagnosis for a condition that had convinced her that "something was wrong with me."

Wendy dismisses the simplistic advice for improving the situation found in the Boston Globe article that put her onto the whole concept--namely 1) taking a one-minute break for a funny email, or dancing (too little to make a difference); 2) reminding yourself to slow down (not likely to help someone addicted to hurrying); and 3) retreating to a no-tech zone (but that's where she finds funny emails and escape from the pressures of her life).  Standard lists of suggestions, like this from  
MySelfDevelopment, include:
1. Set priorities. Make a conscious decision about what you consider important, and let your schedule (and your attitude) reflect your intentions. For example, if relationships and health are high on your list, turn off the TV to free up time for taking walks with friends.
2. Do one thing at a time. When you multi task, it becomes impossible to concentrate, feel deeply, or think clearly. “Doing two or more things at the same time splits our consciousness in two or more ways,” observes meditation teacher Eknath Easwaran.
3. Wake up right. “Set your alarm clock early, but don’t get up when it rings,” suggests Paul Pearsall, Ph.D., author of The Last Self-Help Book You’ll Ever Need: Repress Your Anger, Think Negatively, Be a Good Blamer, & Throttle Your Inner Child. “Lie there a few minutes and practice the savoring response: Think about who and what is worth getting up for and the privilege of being awake in such a rushed yet wonderful world.”
4. Take off your watch. “People hurry up when they see a clock, which is why stores don’t have clocks–they want us to linger,” says Honore, who experiences less anxiety since he unstrapped his own watch. Because there are clocks everywhere–in cars and on cellphones and computers–he’s still punctual, but no longer feels like a slave to time. Test this yourself by going “watch-free” on evenings and weekends.
5. Listen to relaxing music. “Your body synchronizes to the rhythms around you,” says psychologist Sharon Heller, Ph.D., author of Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight. Look for music that’s paced to a relaxed heartbeat, about 60 beats per minute.
6. Resist road rage, “See every traffic jam as a meditation assignment,” Pearsall advises. There are few better opportunities to practice positive thinking and forgiveness or perform your deep-breathing exercises.
7. Find your center. Techniques such as meditation and yoga allow you to access patience. “Practices that bring you into stillness and quiet turn off the stress response,” says Peg Bairn, N.P., director of training at the Mind-Body Medical Institute, and an associate in medicine at Harvard Medical School. “They help you recharge your batteries and come back into alignment with who you really are.”
For myself, I will think seriously about these strategies and experiment with their use.  In the meantime, two behavioral changes beckon.  First of all, I will set and adhere to firm deadlines by which time I must leave the house for scheduled meetings, work hours, appointments, and other events.  I most often find myself hurrying when I haven't left enough time to get where I need to be.  Secondly, I will keep, as Gretchen Rubin advocates in her Happiness Project blog, gas in my car--and ask those who share it to help out with this.  Jumping into a vehicle which has been left, by me or by others, on fumes in the driveway has contributed much anxiety to my days in recent months.  This is partly a result of post-Katrina gas prices, which have made filling up a thing of the past.  But it also comes from failing to plan ahead, and a kind of magical thinking that seeks to ignore the fact that I'm going to eventually--and before the week is out, probably--have to spend a certain amount to fuel my necessary travels anyway.  Rubin calls this "underbuying."

And now, I'm going to move slowly through this day, sandwiched between two fully scheduled ones.  Tomorrow morning, I need to be miles from here at 7:30, to meet up with my traveling companions for a full-day out-of-state consulting visit.  I need to leave the house no later than 7, in a car with sufficient gas in its tank.  Tomorrow's blog post must be written today--but not in a rush.  I will try to store up some tranquility, and to listen to my in-home spirit guide, who would have me walk slower, wait up, and calm down.  It probably wouldn't hurt, too, to wear my "Serenity" bracelet, and to squeeze in a little dancing. 

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