I was late for a meeting with a potential client. Tripping along the pavement in my work shoes that had a heel slightly higher than I was comfortable with, I caught the edge of a paving stone leading to the initiation of what might have been the perfect triple axel, except in my panic to avoid landing flat on my face I reached out to grab something to break my fall.
Unfortunately there wasn’t a convenient tree branch nearby. Instead there was a poor man innocently walking towards me totally unaware of the calamity I was about to inflict on his sense of social propriety.
As my right hand grabbed hold of his trouser belt, the look on his face said it all as we both descended somewhat ungraciously onto ground in a tangled heap.
Fortunately he kept his trousers. Mine were ripped on the knees and I was bleeding quite heavily.
“Nothing broken” I quipped and after apologising profusely for causing a near-miss wardrobe malfunction worthy of Janet Jackson I gathered up my dignity as best I could and hobbled off as fast as I could to my appointment.
We’ve all been told, “Walk don’t run!” We know the consequences of the possible slip, trip or fall leading to injury, injured pride or a trip to the doctor.
Living on Planet Ridiculous where we are all ridiculously busy and frantically rushing through our day has led to curious notion that the only way to survive is to run ever faster and cut back further on sleep and any other idea of self-care.
It’s like choosing to run a marathon backwards, wearing a 50kg backpack and no shoes.
While sounding nonsensical as a solution, how many of us have fallen into this way of trying to deal with our massively overcrowded schedules?
Because what if you always had enough time and energy to easily get through all your tasks with enough mental capacity left over at the end of the day to do al those other things you promised yourself – like catching up with a friend or getting to the gym for once.
What difference would it make to your sense of fulfillment, purpose and motivation?
And what it would mean in terms of your health and wellbeing for now and for the future?
The brain research is clear. Pushing ourselves too hard for too long is counterproductive because of the impact on our stress levels, cognition and performance.
Think of your brain like Mariah Carey. It’s extremely fussy. Beyond the expectation of unlimited access to Perrier® water and healthy bowls of Goop it behaves like the ultimate diva, only deigning to perform at it’s best when everything is “just right”. It is as some neuroscientists have noted – a true Goldilocks.
Which means that optimal thinking, effective learning and great decision-making has to start with taking good care of your cognitive fitness and then using your brain in the way it was designed.
Which means, slowing down to achieve more.
The Power of Slow by Carl Honore reminds us going too fast is counterproductive, lowering efficiency, productivity and performance.
The price we pay for failing to take enough down time, instill regular brain breaks or scheduling time to think is mental fatigue and missed opportunity. Aggravating this by regularly getting less sleep than you need, missing out on physical activity other than crawling to the car to get to and from work and knowing how to best deal with difficult colleagues or clients is the perfect way to the next cognitive disaster.
We think way faster than we speak, leaving lots of time for our brain to trip us up with our assumptions, judgments and biases. While these operate for the most part at a subconscious level, you can avoid some of the worst potential foot in mouth or bad outcomes by undertaking some of the following methods to slow down your brain.
Practice Self Care
It may feel uncomfortable, selfish even, but showing self compassion for when we stuff up and granting ourselves permission for self care is about acknowledging we are human not machine.
It might not be PC to talk about work-life balance, but if your life is too skewed towards work to the detriment of all other facets of your life, it’s time to install some healthy limits such as start and stop times, work free weekends. Yes, I can see you rolling your eyes asking how can you catch up by Monday. The answer is you don’t. You finish when you can, in work time.
Prioritise what really matters.
The truth about much of the stuff on our to-do lists, is it’s not what’s going to jet propel you to success. It’s mostly filler and back wash because we haven’t spent the time filtering out the few important items that are most worthy of our attention.
Take time out to think
Taking time out to think, quietly, reflectively and deeply enables you to get better at critical thinking to determine what needs to be done next and arrive at the best decision.
Mind your mind
Regularly practicing some sort of meditation, breathing or relaxation exercise has been shown to help us feel calm, lowers stress and hones attention. Slowing down your thoughts clears that horrible brain fog, reduces procrastination and smartens up your thinking.
Less can be more, especially when it comes to optimising your cognition and mental performance.
What will you be doing to stop always being in a rush?