Taking the Time to Go Slow and Enjoy the Journey

Single-tasking for mindfulness in motion.

Posted Feb 06, 2019

In 1657 Blaise Pascal, eminent mathematician and natural philosopher wrote in Lettres Provinciales, "Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte." In English this translates as "This letter is a bit longer because I didn't have time to make it shorter." At first glance, this statement seems counter intuitive since more efficiency and brevity which would have fewer words and take less time to read, actually takes more time to produce. I used this quote before to illustrate the idea of efficiency in a prior post and bring it up again to anchor some more ways in which we can change our efficiency and mind set if we take the time.

And it's the issue of taking time that's the focus of this post. A while back I became aware of the fact that my life was cluttered with a lot of things that I was doing just because I was used to doing them and doing them in a way just because I had been doing it that way before. Like doing the most I could in as many things as possible all the time. I eventually discovered that after my car crash, I could no longer behave like that and needed to make some changes. I also later realized I probably would've been better off changing things regardless. The bottom line was slow down. (I wrote a little bit about this a while back here.)

I knew I needed to make some changes but implementing change is difficult. So I made it harder for myself to behave the way I used to. Since I used to rush everywhere, I forced myself when driving to stay out of the "passing lane", to bike to places I used to drive, to walk to places I used to bike, and to write things by hand as a first draft before editing on my computer. Implementing this process has allowed me to be more mindful and reflective in and lots of other things and to truly realize how much "multi-tasking" I was actually doing. 

So I try now to implement the mindfulness of "single-tasking" as often as I can manage it. My new tweaks include adding an editing step so my writing now goes from by hand, to voice dictation, to computer editing, listen to vinyl records more often (there's a real pacing effect due to physical nature of the experience), and eating with chopsticks as often as possible (and teaching myself to use my not-so-good left hand to slow down even more).

Slowing down eating was a very interesting experience. During my last visit to Japan it suddenly occurred to me (although it should have been obvious long ago) that one of the reasons I feel more calm in the Land of the Rising Sun is that I definitely eat slower. And I eat slower largely because I can't use chopsticks very quickly! Basically I use environmental constraints to help my behavior change. 

It turns out there is some interesting research that has assessed some of these ideas. Lauren Kennedy and her colleagues at the Viriginia Polytechnical Institute explored the effects of a mindfulness-based stress management and nutrition education intervention the "Slow Down Program", on the perceived stress, self-efficacy and eating behaviors of mothers with kids 5 years old or younger. The focus over 1.5-hour sessions conducted in four consecutive weeks was on exploring the process and activity of food of eating. Even this short intervention improved many indicators of stress and eating behaviors, including healthier food choices, mindful awareness of consumption, and greater attention to bodily cues of hunger and satiety.

In my own life I've found that even though I wasn't aware of it, even my daily martial arts training had become a bit procedural and outcome based instead of experiential. After discovering this a while back, I now focus much more on the experience of the activity itself. This has dramatically improved the quality of my activities. As Mona Shattell wrote of related experiences and efforts in her Journal of Psychosocial Nursing editorial, "Work-life balance: Slow down, move, think," "It made me make some changes to create more space in my life and prioritize physical activity and time to think."

It really is one of life's ironies how things can happen when you aren't paying attention. My life philosophy is definitely "It's a journey, not a destination," yet I keep discovering that a lot of the things I do have become endpoints instead of experiences. It takes time to slow that down and change perspective, but my efforts so far and my ongoing intentions are to continue to implement these in my life. 

(c) E. Paul Zehr (2019)