How to Slow Down

Five tips for scaling back in a frenetic world.

Posted Apr 15, 2019

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A reader recently wrote to me asking for tips about coping with the frenetic pace of society and feeling overwhelming by options and decisions. She said she was at a time in her life when she felt like slowing down a bit and asked for advice. I wrote back with a few ideas, that I thought I'd flesh out here.

1. Explore hobbies that have a meditative element.

President George W. Bush famously started painting in his retirement. Try exploring hobbies like gardening, pottery, hiking, or joining a book club.  What other slow-paced hobbies can you think of?  What appeals to you?  If you have a partner, what might appeal to your partner that you could do together?

Sometimes thinking back to what you enjoyed as a child can help you rediscover non-achievement related interests and hobbies.

2. Find people who share your outlook.

If you surround yourself with people who are stressed out, competitive, technology-obsessed, workaholics then you're probably going to either be pulled in that direction or you're going to feel different and alone. Part of the benefit of finding slower-paced hobbies (as discussed above) is that they'll likely connect you to other people who also enjoy meditative leisure experiences. Look out for people who value these types of experiences for more than their Instagram potential!

3. Let go of your "shoulds."

It's easy to feel overwhelmed about all the choices you could be making and things you could be doing. Try noticing when you have an "I should...." thought. Recognize when you're putting unnecessary pressure on yourself.  If you have too many "shoulds" you'll likely get perfectionistic, overwhelmed and avoid doing anything. If you have 20 things you're criticizing yourself for not doing, chances are you'll do none of them. Pare it down and focus on one thing at a time. For instance, if your cluttered house is causing you the most stress, you might choose that as your single current priority. It makes sense to prioritize something that will reduce your stress in an ongoing way. For instance, writing a fortnightly meal plan so you're not always scrambling to make dinner. Once you've picked your single top priority, when another "should" comes into your brain, you can gently remind yourself that's not your current priority.

Confront what you fear will happen if you don't fulfill all your "shoulds."  Just articulate the fear, e.g., "I fear that if I don't do all my shoulds, my friends and siblings will judge me negatively." Even without evaluating your fear further, saying it aloud to yourself can reduce how threatening it feels.

4. Build strategies to reduce choice overload.

The more structure you have in your life, the less you'll need to make the same choices over and over again. For instance, you'll have fewer decisions to make if you have a fortnightly meal plan or if you go on the same short vacations each year, e.g., a weekend away in each of Spring and Fall and a longer trip in Summer. 

The trade-off of having more structure is that it can feel restrictive, so find whatever balance works for you. For instance, you might take a Spring trip to a National Park the second week of May each year, but vary which park it is.  Decide on a particular weekend and create it as an annually recurring event on your e-calendar. Pick another weekend for planning that trip, and make that an annually recurring event too.

Notice when you spend a long time deliberating but then end up going with the same choice you always make anyway. If this happens in a particular area of your life, try creating a routine and skipping the deliberation.

5. Recognize that you don't need to jump on every opportunity.

America truly is the land of opportunity from the perspective that there is always some benefit one could be taking advantage of. Most of us are constantly bombarded with "limited time offers" flooding our email, whether they're sales, coupons, events, or workplace sports teams we could join. It's easy to feel guilty about not taking advantage of every opportunity.  However, by attempting to do that you can find yourself feeling frazzled and losing sight of the big picture of your life.

Practice deliberately letting opportunities go. For instance, my bank offers a program in which numerous museums are free the first weekend of the month. If I don't take advantage of this in any given month, I feel guilty and disorganized. In these types of situations, try making the deliberate decision "I'm not going to do that this month (or the next six months)."  Take an option off your plate rather than leaving it as an open question in your mind, which creates a sense of stress.

Wrapping Up

In the spirit of scaling back, I encourage you to pick the one idea from this list of five that's most appealing to you. The tips are somewhat related so whatever you pick, there will be some crossover with the other suggestions. Go with your gut of whatever point from this article speaks to you right now.