One Way to Achieve Mindfulness? Slow Down.


Psychology Today describes mindfulness in the following way:

Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you're mindful, you carefully observe your thoughts and feelings without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to your current experience, rather than dwelling on the past or anticipating the future.

One of the ways to attain mindfulness is to ‘slow down’ and practice patience.  Alan Castel, Ph.D., an associate professor of cognitive psychology at UCLA, tells us, “The average American checks his or her smartphone once every six-and-a-half minutes, or roughly 150 times each day.  This can influence how well we focus and the degree to which we can have meaningful social interactions, especially if we are constantly interrupting ourselves with technology.”

In response to rapid advancements in our society, we’ve been geared to value speed and efficiency, but all too often, these come at a price, i.e., inattention to detail, lack of focus, poor social interactions, or physical injury.  Slowing down allows you to be more mindful, more appreciative of the present and more aware of other people’s perspectives.

One example of how slowing down benefits you is in the way you communicate.  When expressing your thoughts, if, instead of talking at record speed to make certain you’ve thoroughly covered what it is you want to convey, taking it a bit slower and pausing at appropriate times for impact can be extremely effective in allowing your listener(s) to follow your train of thought, thus, more readily comprehending and appreciating your message.  As Dr. Castel explains, “With pauses and the right tempo, a clear message emerges, often sometimes with fewer words.  Being a slow speaker can also make you a good listener, something that might improve with age.” 

Another benefit of slowing down has to do with your physical health.  We’ve all had the experience of running in to a wall, door or other object because we were distracted by looking at our phone or thinking about something else and not paying attention to our movement.  A danger zone for elderly people, in particular, is the bathroom, where slipping and falling can result in hospitalizations and mortality.

  A recent book by Dr. Steven Casner, Careful: A User’s Guide to Our Injury Prone Minds, illuminates all the pitfalls we encounter when we don’t pay attention.  Dr. Castel states, “Taking one’s time walking down steps, avoiding a tripping hazard, or being aware of slippery surfaces can be critical at any age.” 

Dr. Castel sites a study, popularly known as the Marshmallow Test, in which young children were seated in front of a table with a marshmallow on it.  The researcher would be leaving the room for a few minutes.  The children were told if they did not eat the marshmallow while the researcher left, then they would be given a second marshmallow.  However, if the child decided to eat the marshmallow right away, before the researcher came back, then they would not get a second marshmallow.

Some children ate it right away, while others patiently waited, despite it being difficult to resist the treat in front of them.  The researchers followed up on these children years later and found the following: The children who were willing to wait to receive the second marshmallow ended up having higher SAT scores, lower levels of substance abuse, lower likelihood of obesity, better responses to stress, better social skills as reported by their parents, and generally better scores in a range of other life measures. 

There are other behaviors we can adopt that also benefit from slowing down, and can make us healthier.  Eating more slowly, for example, can lead to less food consumption. According to Lance Watson, co-founder of Lifesport Coaching in Vancouver, British Columbia, slow jogging, builds aerobic fitness, endurance and fat-burning capacity while lessening risk of falling and other physical injuries.

Carl Honoré's book The Slow Fix, discusses how to deal with problem solving in an intelligent and thorough manner, but the author notes that this book is also a philosophy of life, “If we slow down, if we learn to do everything as well (rather than as fast) as possible, we can not only solve problems, work smarter and live better.  We can also create a better world.”

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