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Why Slowing Down (Or Stopping) Is The New Speeding Up

May 13, 2015

cushions and the floor

Goodness. We’re all so busy aren’t we? We’ve got a lot going on. We’re checking this and scheduling that and updating the other. It’s a jungle out there! Just look at my Google Calendar! All the boxes and the words! Gah!

But IS IT a jungle out there? I mean, really? Or have we just sourced ourselves some tropical plants and put an orangutan on it?

We’ve definitely got a lot at our fingertips, as self-service for everything from supermarket shopping, to banking to travel bookings has become the norm. But are we busying up our moments with low-priority stuff, creating a busy buffer around ourselves, forgetting to slow down at times or even stop and enjoy the view? I think we are.

The Busy Buffer

The thing about being busy is that it becomes your default, a badge of honor, a place you operate from, a defense mechanism that protects you from all manner of annoyances and responsibilities.

‘I’m so/too busy’ is the stock response whether it’s a social invitation, a professional workshop, a new project, a school or club event. How are you? People ask. ‘Oh I’m busy, busy’ is the predictable, impersonal, hedging-our-bets reply.

The trouble with this is that it cuts you off from conversations, adventures, people and experiences that might actually be really enjoyable and valuable to you. It also makes you the same as everyone else who’s busy. A bit of a clone. A bot.

Putting the ‘busy buffer’ on, using it as your default stops you thinking creatively about how you can tackle tasks and manage your time. It also creates a constant state of overwhelm (and possibly sadness) because you’re operating from a position of ‘no!’

Consider what you might really be saying when you pull the busy card. “I’m overwhelmed” or “I don’t really want to talk about myself in any detail” or “I’m very important/successful” or “I’m a bit shy” or “I’m unsure if that’s my kind of thing” or “God. I’m so bored!” Say the thing you mean and give yourself a chance to connect with someone or something new on a candid level. Ditch the busy for the real.

Sitting, staring and rocking

Thomas E Saxe wrote an ode to the rocking chair called ‘The Gentle Art of Just Sittin’ and Rockin’. He went on to explain his love of ruminating in a rocker, going as far as to establish ‘The Sittin’ Starin’ and Rockin’ Club’ a gang for people who like to, well, sit, stare and rock.

He wrote, “A few years ago, while rocking contentedly on the veranda of a quiet Florida hotel, I had the happiest inspiration of my life. Lulled in body and soul by the slow, salubrious rocking motion and pleasantly monotonous squeak-squeak of the chair, I thought drowsily of the frenetic pace of modern life. ‘Why can’t some of my friends join me in rocking away their fretting and fussing?’ I wondered”

How nice! And yet… can you imagine spending time sitting and staring and rocking? I bet you can’t. But why? Mr Saxe explains that busy types like Napoleon, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison took time out to rock and think. They certainly seemed to get stuff done (not all of it good, admittedly, but still…)

Somehow we’ve all deemed ourselves too busy for folly like that. We are busier than famous historical figures, in fact. Slowing down and gathering our energy and thoughts is apparently for less-busy types than us. Leave it to the inventor of the light bulb, phonograph and motion picture camera, the lazy rocking devil.

We’d probably do very well to start typing ‘rocking chair’ into eBay right this minute.

Rest As You Go

While I’m a huge fan of the sit and stare, there are other ways to slow your pace. Mountain climber Phil Powers wrote about a slow themed piece advocating ‘resting as you go’, a trick taught to him by another climber (Paul Petzoldt)

“He advised me to rest in the middle of each step completely, but briefly. The rest step, which I still practice today, allows me to walk or climb with little effort. I can move very quickly yet still find a pause in every step.”

I think if we can’t take time to sit on the verandah and stare, we can try to rest in each step/task as Paul suggests. Not only will we gain in terms of reducing our frantic pace and stress levels, we’re reminded to be exactly where we are, part of the very thing we are doing. It’s so much nicer to enjoy the view we have than be constantly craning for what’s ahead, right?

The difference between a sprint and a marathon – cut yourself a break and allow yourself to take your time.

The Multi-Tasking Myth

Modern types are a motley crew of ‘multi-taskers’ *insert rock fist hand gesture that also looks like a rabbit*

Multi tasking is the description we adopt for tackling a bunch of things in the same time bracket. Think working on a presentation whilst checking Facebook whilst organizing an appointment over the phone while scratching our leg while retweeting breaking news as we sip tea and sign a notice from school. Is that you?!

I’ve got news for you, Motley Multi-Tasker. Research tells us that while we think we are multi-tasking, our brain is actually speedily switching from one task to the next (rather than simultaneously working on two or more things). We’re frantically single tasking, truth be told, and the few minutes we’re saving behaving this way are not doing us any good. Denied! *insert random Wayne’s World reference*

Researchers have found that this switching tasks not only releases the stress hormone cortisol, it gives us a rush of the addictive hormone dopamine. The more we chop and change, the more dopamine we secrete… the more we want to multi-task, crazy little addicts that we are. (I am really resisting bringing Freddy Mercury up at this point).

While we think we are getting it all done and exhibiting our best super person qualities, we are actually doing many things sub-par and not soaking up the process or the satisfaction of getting things done. Do you know what else? We’re a million miles from happiness and joy when we’re in these (alleged) multi-tasking moments.

Savour the doing, don’t just worship the done

In my head that said ‘don’t just worship the dung’. Done, done! Don’t worship the done is what I really mean.

As a crafty person who also loves to cook, I am one zillion percent into the doing. I love the journey, the trip, the making, everything about the hatching and creating of things. Of course, the final result is a lovely win, but more than the end thing I love the process.

Our busy world is so commodity and results driven, that many of us have not been schooled in the beauty of process. We’re taught to examine things like ROI and KPIs. Our education system measures kids regularly, placing importance on tests and task assessments. It’s very rare for process and participation to be rewarded or praised. We’re much more hung up on the measurable, the product or tangible metrics that are the end game.

I think this is such a shame. Not everything can be measured and overlooking the joy and gains of the doing, in favour of the done teaches us that we need to be outcome focused all the time, that the done is all that matters.

And matter, it does, of course. What I’m saying is that we shouldn’t speed up everything we do, or skip ahead, or wish it away, just to get to the end and tick it off our to-do list. This not only stops us enjoying the process, it encourages us to shy away from big endeavors or potentially tricky tasks. We’re in danger of becoming so results driven that we’re dumbing ourselves down, avoiding tough challenges, uttering phrases like ‘I have no patience’ or ‘Ain’t nobody got time for that’ and taking the easy route.

If we do this, we’re cheating ourselves of the joys of persisting at tasks that are harder, missing out on learning lessons about dedication and commitment, bypassing character building struggles and problem solving. We’re also locking ourselves into a snacky, quick-fix kind of lifestyle, when we’re more than capable to taking on projects and challenges that require the long haul.

Remember the delicious doing is what life is all about. (Not just the delicious dung. DONE! DONE!)


The Practice of Slowing Down

The Gentle Art of Just Sittin’ ‘N Rockin’
Thomas E Saxe Jr
Copyright 1954 – the Readers’ Digest Association Inc
Taken from The Art Of Living by Readers’ Digest



  • Reply Liz @ I Spy Plum Pie May 19, 2015 at 10:10 AM

    What an excellent post! I love the idea of resting in the middle of the task, and I’m definitely trying to avoid answering ‘I’m busy’, it’s harder than it should be though!And I think we should all have rocking chairs !

  • Reply Melissa May 18, 2015 at 11:43 AM

    Great words Pip. I have a rocking chair already even!!

  • Reply Debbie May 16, 2015 at 9:15 PM

    Oh I just loved this! I hadn’t thought of resting within the task . . . to take those rests every so often and maybe enjoy the process a little more rather than solely focusing on the outcome and getting it done. And my I loved the research on multi-tasking. So interesting! This was good food for thought for sure. Thank you for this!

  • Reply Lisa May 16, 2015 at 4:45 PM

    Hiya Pip!

    What a TERRIFIC post! I’ve long been a fan of ‘single-tasking’ and ruminating and carving a small moment of my day to ‘just sit’. It’s as essential to my wellbeing as eating and breathing. I think that by taking that moment to think through things I become more focussed and more productive and just better all ’round. But it took a post like yours to sum it up beautifully and next time someone criticises my single-tasking process, then I’m pointing them to THIS POST!

    Love your work x

  • Reply Sara May 15, 2015 at 6:48 PM

    I love this post! So true and so fun to read! Will be spending the rest of the morning sitting in my garden slowing down 🙂

  • Reply Julie Nicks May 15, 2015 at 4:09 PM

    Love your post and so relevant to my life now. After many years filled with ‘doing’, I felt the prodding of a finger telling me I needed time to ‘be’…so once in my busy life I listened and am loving this unhurried state of just ‘being’.
    I don’t have a rocker but I have a perfectly located garden seat where I sit and just be, watching the chickens , bees, birds and dogs doing….love it!

  • Reply Alyson May 15, 2015 at 1:59 PM

    All the YEP’s! My rocking chair is a hammock and it is my little sanity space and slow downer…partially because you can’t get in and out of a hammock quickly, so you HAVE to slow down! Win! I have been having so many lovely ideas lately, partially from having been forced to slow down and partially because your ‘Craft for the Soul’ smacked me straight up the head and reminded me of how/what/who I can be. You’re like the Blink 182 song ‘You’re (one of) the voice inside my head’…and a wonderful one to listen to at that. X

  • Reply Brooke McAlary May 14, 2015 at 1:53 PM

    I am so with you on this Pip. Slow is my jam and I love that there are more and more conversations happening about it every time I pick up a newspaper or click over to a blog. I think we’re starting to see that Rush Rush Hurry Hurry Busy Busy isn’t serving us in the way we thought it would and we’re in this sweet spot of trying to work out what will help us reconnect with the important stuff. (I think the important stuff is people, self, creativity, kindness, compassion. Not always in that order).

  • Reply Nicole Avery May 14, 2015 at 10:20 AM

    I have slowed down a lot this year and I am not to answer anyone anymore with “busy”. I am so much happier, calmer and most importantly I feel more present in my own life – great post Pip!

    • Reply Brooke McAlary May 14, 2015 at 1:49 PM

      I love this Nic! It’s such an automatic response to say, “Yeah, I’m good. Busy though,” when people ask how we are. Taking it out of our vocabulary is such a positive change.

  • Reply Emma @ Emma's Garden Grows May 14, 2015 at 9:10 AM

    I love this so much Pip!

    I recently read ‘In Praise of Slow’ and I have been consciously trying to ‘un-busy’ myself for a few months now.
    I watch my friends filling every second of their days and nights and feel sorry for them. Its a crazy way to live.

    Here’s to doing less and enjoying life more

  • Reply Robbie May 14, 2015 at 4:10 AM

    Pip! This is beautiful and absolutely on target. I was “let go” from my conventional results oriented sales position about a month ago, and have fully embraced that terminology. “Let(ing) go” has been so very therapeutic. From the moment I passed through the threshold for the very last time, I have been breathing so easily. Creativity has returned in a such a focused way that I’m feeling rewarded and stronger than ever.

    I once had a professor say, “…there’s an certain intrinsic value in getting lost…” and I now believe that letting go is the first step. You can achieve anything with the sun on your back and the wind on your face, and the breezes have been blowing. Liberation at last. I can take time to do anything I chose worthy, whether its preparing dinners from scratch or knitting socks for the winter ahead.

    And the best part? There’s no guilt or tension. Just productivity.

  • Reply Gemma May 13, 2015 at 9:02 PM

    It’s so hard isn’t it?! I always feel like I should be busy all the time, but actually it is so very nice to stop and breathe. Thanks for sharing this Pip, it’s really something I needed to read!x

  • Reply Carolyn May 13, 2015 at 7:06 PM

    oh Pip, I love this post! I especially like your point about education. Having one child/adult in first year uni and another in year 11, I’ve been noticing how hard it is at school for kids to reflect and learn – she is just being pushed from one assessment to another. How can she possibly spend time considering what is being written in her textts or articles? I love the idea of resting as you go. I think I shall make a conscious effort to take a little pause before commencing each activity I undertake. Today I could actually feel myself shaking as I was trying to juggle too many balls! So silly! I did have to admonish myself!

  • Reply Bedford Gypsies May 13, 2015 at 6:57 PM

    This exact thing was the reason we decided to jump on our bus and go. The feeling of being busy all the time when not really being busy doing the things I wanted to do felt like such a trap to me. And I hated myself every time I answered with “I’ve been so busy…” So we have run away and found ourselves still living a life that is full but it is now full of the things we love. We have taken back our control. Love the rocking chair idea – i do instantly feel relaxed in a rocking chair – thanks for reminding me. Now to see if one can fit on the bus….

  • Reply Anne May 13, 2015 at 5:00 PM

    Wise words. This is one of the reasons my children didn’t have lots of activities laid on for them in school holidays – I wanted them to find their own entertainment but also to realise that sitting in the shade of a tree for a while doing nothing is incredibly good for the soul.
    When people gave me the “busy busy” answer, I went through a phase of asking what they were busy doing but it led to rather a lot of embarassed mumbles so I stopped doing it. Maybe time to start again but in a more subtle way.

  • Reply Amanda May 13, 2015 at 2:33 PM

    Yes! Now finding myself researching the rest step.

  • Reply Lila May 13, 2015 at 10:38 AM

    The thing that stopped me from busy-ing myself was noticing just how stressed all the “busy” people around me were. You’ve hit the nail on the head about the joy being in the doing not the done.

    • Reply Meet Me At Mikes May 13, 2015 at 10:55 AM

      I am totally getting a rocking chair! x

  • Reply Robyna May 13, 2015 at 10:11 AM

    So much wonderful advice here. I think I can take my cues from my kids about savouring the doing – they are all about the process and sometimes very disinterested in the end result (unless that end result is cookies, of course).

  • Reply Rebecca Jee May 13, 2015 at 10:09 AM

    I was just thinking about this slowing down stuff last night too! (I hope that’s not a bit weird that every time you post something lately I seem to be going “YES ME TOO”) This is kind of a ping back to say I mentioned your post in Everyday Gratitude today 🙂

  • Reply Jane @ Shady Baker May 13, 2015 at 9:25 AM

    Hi Pip. Thank you for this post, just what I needed this morning. I have been wallowing in busyness and subsequently heaps of other crappy feelings in the last few weeks. Savour the doing…wise words x

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