If you have to prioritize one goal this new year, it should be to slow down.
At first, this seems counterintuitive and counterproductive to achieving many typical new year’s goals — whether it be losing weight, getting fitter, reading more, growing a business, publishing a book or saving more money.
In today’s world, our worth is increasingly tied to what and how much we produce. We are measured by our contributions to society (even though only specific contributions are recognized). Entire books and blogs are devoted to being more efficient, doing more in less time and overcoming obstacles to productivity. I myself have read many of these, hoping to glean how to ‘compete’ on a similar level as those we laud. I can’t deny that I too am one of those people continuously striving for self-improvement.
We are considered a good employee if we are efficient, able to juggle projects and responsibilities and demonstrate that we are worth the investment of our salaries. In academia, we are measured by how much we publish. Our education and the type of job we have are linked to societal perceptions of how intelligent or valuable we must be. Our worth is tied so much to what we produce and create — our outputs — that it inevitably becomes the means by which we evaluate ourselves. So much so that what and how efficiently we produce becomes what we tie our own self- worth to, and ultimately our satisfaction and happiness.
This is not a new idea. Many historical and contemporary thinkers have identified and discussed the problems related to tying our sense of selves to what we produce. As we start the year 2019, I wonder why we collectively maintain and perpetuate certain ideas of worth in spite of the fact that many of us probably know better — whether explicitly or inherently. An unfortunate consequence of this hyper extensive focus on outputs is that we often overlook the process.
Slowing down allows for three critical processes to take place.
Self-reflection is simultaneously a process and an action that is sadly often overlooked but is vital to any endeavour. Whether the task at hand is work-related, a health habit being forged or a relationship-related matter, it behooves us to make and take the time to think critically about what is going on, how we are approaching the situation and what next steps could be. Instead, too many of us are content having blinders on, choosing avoidance over awareness.
Going deeper than surface-level motivations gets us to the why-why we are doing what we do, whether a task contributes to our broader goals and whether it is aligned with our values.
The paradox of mindfulness, (i.e. being in the moment, being present and aware of the task at hand) is that the less we strive at it, the greater the benefits reaped from the practice. That is, being mindful is not about accomplishing anything, not even about accomplishing a state of mindfulness. The beauty of this practice is that it gets at the heart of the issue we are all facing — the pressure to constantly accomplish. It is precisely in not striving for anything that the benefits of a mindfulness practice are brought about, and so the very process of mindfulness resists the pervasive external pressure to do more and be more.
A lightbulb went off for me when my meditation teacher told me that it was possible to rush mindfully — to be in a state where we are conscious that we are rushing, while aware of every action, feeling and thought. However, it isn’t possible to rush mindfully if we don’t first learn how to be mindful — and that requires slowing down.
Being intentional about what we want for ourselves, our loved ones and our lives cannot happen without taking the time to slow down. If we are continuously rushing from one meeting to another, from deadline to the next, we can easily lose sight of our goals and aims. Too many of us focus our intentionality on one or perhaps two things — most often our career or education. Intentionality can and I would argue should be applied to all parts of our lives — relationship with our partners, loved ones, children, friendships and ourselves, our approach to money, our health, our mindsets, our hobbies, our time and schedules, our sexuality, our spirituality/faith, our values and so on.
Taking the time to slow down and engage with the processes of life can help to bring some balance back into our overscheduled, deadline-laden lives. Everything we are surrounded by is screaming at us to produce more, consume more and strive for more and it is only by actively choosing to slow down that we can begin to reconnect with what is important to us and be intentional about our days, weeks and lives.