To put it nicely, our culture values speed; to put it more bluntly, it seems to be addicted to it. Much of our technological innovation is focused on how to let us talk, move, compute, communicate, design, innovate, decide, share, build, and execute everything faster. Products ranging from mobile phones to hotels to airlines advertise their wares by touting their ability to help us move more quickly and cram much more into our already busy days. Many books have been written instructing managers in the fine art of keeping pace with an ever increasing rate of speed in the world of business. We’re told that we have to go fast to keep up with the global marketplace, but I think it’s actually the other way around: humans drive markets, and the global marketplace is just responding to our insatiable craving for high velocity.
I say that we’re addicted (and I include myself in this) not just because we always want more, but because of the reason it’s never enough. When we move too fast, we lose our connection with ourselves. Just as an alcoholic finds momentary escape in a series of drinks, so we can avoid what’s painful or uncomfortable by making ourselves so busy that we’re forced to move quickly, skimming past what’s happening to us rather than truly experiencing it.
I myself am not immune to the siren call of speed. Last Sunday I had a high velocity hangover. I was tired, irritable, lonely, and disconnected. As is my habit, I found myself trying to make myself feel better by getting even busier. I was exhausted, but I was already planning how I could go for a run, write some letters, go to the grocery store, nap, call my father, and go to a BBQ before finishing up a volunteer commitment and getting rested for the start of my workweek. In my free moments early in the day, I was planning my schedule down to the minute for the rest of the day.
At first, this seemed like a good strategy. There’s so much I want to do in the world, so many people to connect with, places to see, skills to learn, books to read, events to attend, good causes to support, and experiences to enjoy, that my go-to when I’m feeling unsatisfied with my current state is to try to do more. But the more I planned my day, and the more quickly I tried to get through my list, the more unsatisfied I felt. Suddenly I found myself criticizing everything I was doing. Quite quickly I was confused and miserable. That usually means I’m ignoring some important aspect of myself and my experience, so for the first time that day I slowed down and just listened. I asked myself: what was I experiencing at that moment, and what part of my experience might I be trying to avoid? What part of me wanted to be heard, and what was it trying to say? What was I trying so hard to move past?
Suddenly I realized just how tired I was. I didn’t want to feel exhausted because I knew that then I would have to rest and wouldn’t get to do half the things on my list. I’d have to slow down and open up to whatever I was feeling. But once I acknowledged and experienced my current state, the critical voice in my head quieted down and I immediately felt less irritated and confused. What I needed to do became clear. I didn’t need to exercise, write letters, make phone calls, or even go shopping until I had had a chance to rest. So I slowed down and rested. And suddenly I didn’t feel lonely anymore, or disconnected. In fact, I felt a deep sense of fulfillment that the busy-ness always promises but never actually delivers. And best of all, at this slower pace, I was much more aware of what was going on with me and what I needed. Letting that guide me for the rest of the day, I continued to make choices informed by my current state that led to meaningful action, lasting satisfaction, and a profound sense of peace and ease.
This connection to myself is exactly what I avoid when I try to move fast. When I’m connected to myself, I may feel things I don’t like (fear, jealousy, sadness, dissatisfaction, anger, etc.). In this case, I would have felt tired, which would have interfered with my plans and my vision of myself as a productive, fun-loving, energetic person. When something comes up for me that I’d rather not admit or deal with, I want to move past it. As quickly as possible. So I start to move so fast in my life that I can’t experience anything too deeply or for too long and have to limit my focus to just keeping up. The trouble is, I then miss out on all the messages that my body, heart, and mind are sending me to tell me what is meaningful to me at that moment and what I need to do. Only by receiving those messages, by going slowly enough to pay attention to my experience, can I act on what’s important to me. And only if I act on what’s important to me can I feel peaceful, purposeful, and fulfilled on a deep level.
Going slowly is like swimming upstream. It takes a willingness to tolerate anxiety and a recognition that there’s nothing wrong with whatever we’re experiencing. It takes courage to be with ourselves in difficult moments, and commitment to know the truth about ourselves. It takes strength to resist the sweet call of all the products, models, and messages that invite us to jump off the wagon and look for our salvation in speed once again. But if we cultivate these qualities, even a little bit, we gain a connection to our true selves. We then no longer have to look to the outside world, capricious and unpredictable as it is, for the satisfaction of our deepest cravings. We come to realize that everything we ever wanted has always been within us.