Steps to Success: Kicking the speed habit
Have you ever gotten stuck behind one of those classic ole-time Bermudians on the roads. Identifiable as they are driving a car as old as me, that looks in better shape, and they are pootling along at a couple of miles below the speed limit — the actual speed limit.
It happened just the other day and as I crawled along behind, I could feel the anxiety and impatience bubbling up inside me. I found my grip on the steering wheel tighten and heard myself audibly muttering “come on … we haven't got all day” (and worse).
As the antsy, fretful feeling gnawed at my stomach, my eyes darting to see if I could overtake, I suddenly had to take check of myself: what was I doing? Why was I so uncomfortable with slowing down my pace?
I am no speed demon. I've (touch wood) never had a speeding ticket, nor warranted one. But this experience made me acutely aware that I have gotten quite used to pushing at the edges. Timing always feels tight, coming from one appointment or commitment and dashing to another with little scheduled cushion between.
I am not alone in having days scheduled to the hilt, extra chores and a ‘to do' list that seems never-ending. And in the light of balance even having to schedule in ‘having fun', ‘date night' and ‘relaxation time'. Sound familiar? That's just busy life these days, isn't it? Aren't I just being uber-efficient cramming as much as possible into our limited waking window?
The answer is, no.
Outlining the damaging affects of our hectic lifestyles is Dr Edward Hallowell, psychiatrist and founder of The Hallowell Center for Cognitive and Emotional Health, in his book, CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap!(Ballantine Books, 2007). In it he explains that the lure of overcommitting and trying to do too much is the buzz we get from feeling like we're in demand, and when we speed through tasks, getting things done and checked off. Modern technology contributes, giving us the illusion we can control our whole universe all at once, so we try to.
That buzz is a physiological response to all the speed and freneticism. It is adrenalin, pumping through our bodies. It feels good and so we crave more of it. We can literally get hooked, like adrenalin junkies, and become addicted to this fast paced kind of living.
But as Dr Hallowell explains, this ‘crazy' busyness is not sustainable. Packing too much in can leave us exhausted and run down and what we're trying to achieve often suffers with our rush. The quality of work diminishes with speed as usually the faster we do something, the less well we do it.
Our time and attention get sapped by the constant bombardment of stimuli in our overloaded worlds and can result in us being chronically inattentive and disorganised. He likens these symptoms to those experienced by adult ADD sufferers. All resulting in the possible eventuality of burnout.
Being forced to take a breather behind that slow driver really opened my eyes. Once I'd accepted I wasn't going anywhere fast, it didn't take long to break out of my hurry. I felt my muscles relax (shoulders dropping about two inches) and I noticed how long it had been since I had taken a good, deep breath.
Strangely it felt like my vision became clearer. At this pace I had the opportunity to look and actually see my surroundings ... even enjoy the ride: my head no longer stuck in the next place I was going, or the churn of rushing. What a pleasant way to experience Bermuda. Something I didn't realise I was missing out on as the alternative of ‘crazy busy' has just become so easy to slip into, my habitual way of being.
Why am I rushing? Life on this beautiful planet is short. Do I want to be spending that time cranky, irritable, anxious, distressed, not where I actually am when I'm there, and randomly talking to other people's cars?!
A couple of top tips for breaking free from ‘crazy busy':
What are your most valuable activities and connections with people that are important for you to deliberately preserve and cultivate?
I quoted this ‘success tip' a few weeks ago, but here it is again: “What is important to you? Far beyond material possessions, work out the fundamentals of what is good or important to you in this lifetime, and if you can spend the majority of your day ticking those boxes, then it is time well spent.” – C. Tipper.
Create boundaries, recognise your limits and learn to say ‘no thank you'.
Once our priorities are in place, we can slough off the extraneous stuff clogging up our calendar. This might feel awkward at first, especially if we are used to being the ‘go to' person, seen as ‘super human' and trying to be ‘everything to everyone'. But just as we know to do with food and alcohol, for example, we need to moderate our busyness to a healthy level too.
• Pay Attention
‘Whatever you do, do it well' goes the old saying, and do one thing at a time. So rather than driving in morning traffic, surreptitiously checking work e-mails, wolfing down some mobile version of breakfast whilst correcting homework in the backseat that got missed the night before ... if we're driving — drive. More than time management it is attention management that we have to work on improving. When we train all of our focus and attention on the job at hand, we get it done properly in the first place, in good time, and we don't leave ourselves feeling fractured and frazzled and torn in different directions. This is the accurate picture of efficiency.
• “You have more control than you think”
So says Dr Hallowell. He says overachieving populations fall into the trap of thinking we don't have control and that our bosses, our families, our friends are demanding things of us and we have no choice. He says that we give away our control by making ourselves available to others 24/7, rather than focusing our attention on just doing what is most important.
Kicking the habit of being ‘over-busy' frees us from this addictive and exhausting, endless cycle of doing too many things and few of them well. The message is: decide what's important to you and focus your attention and energy on it like a laser — one priority at a time. Whatever your ‘roses' are, take time to smell them ... and enjoy being a ‘Sunday Driver' whatever day of the week.
Julia Pitt is a trained Success Coach and certified NLP practitioner with Benedict Associates Ltd. Telephone (441) 295-2070 or visitwww.juliapittcoaching.com for further information.