Super Slow

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

A natural response to an urgent call to action – be it in our minds or real -- is to bring the energy of that frenzy into our body and go turbo fast. And if you are already high-twitch, well, we can go from zero to 60 before we know what hit us, leaving the scene littered with instantly regretted e-mails, faulty conclusions, unfortunate commitments, sky-rocketing anxiety, botched outcomes and possibly an injury. It’s a problem. That’s why the wellbeing solution Dr. Little contributed to last week’s Rocks & Water Wellbeing Solution Exchange immediately spoke to me.
Dr. Little is the Northern Light Medical Group Palliative Care Service Line Medical Director. As a palliative care doctor, she would often find herself walking into the center of chaos when entering the home of a patient with delirium because delirium invariably creates chaos in the environment. The natural tendency when faced with such upheaval is to start throwing more medications and more strategies into the mix to contain the turmoil, but what Dr. Little found is that moving fast and generating a full suite of solutions only fueled the pandemonium. That’s when she became very interested in doing the counter-intuitive thing: slowing way down.
“My natural tendency when work or life gets too busy is to enter machine mode, to work faster and multitask. But our brains can only focus on one thing at a time and every time we pivot, we have to refocus on the task. By slowing down, we aren’t being lazy. We are discerning what is most important or pressing and attending to that one thing, and then the next.”
Dr. Little doesn’t claim to be able to do this all the time.  Many times, she catches herself racing to get everything done. The second she has that awareness of racing, though, is the first step in slowing down. Of course, there are emergencies, and sometimes multiple emergencies happening simultaneously in medicine, and there may be many concurrent projects, but in each of those speedy moments, she tries to focus on the one most urgent thing. And she also pays attention to the forecast of chaos.
“If things are just overall very busy for a long period of time, I try to take my self-care very seriously.  Otherwise, I skip it entirely and become less efficient, less productive, less mindful, and usually cranky, too! I may be moving like a machine thinking I am being productive, but with discernment and intention I usually act more appropriately in times of chaos.”
Dr. Little’s Steps for Slowing Down
  1. Notice machine mode about to set in.
  2. Notice the emotions of others who are often getting increasingly stressed, too.
  3. Make sure I have the facts straight.  Make sure I have the whole story.
  4. Consider what is most urgent.
  5. Focus on that one thing.
  6. Ask for help where possible.  Empower others involved to slow down and complete tasks or bring additional information.
  7. Repeat.
As counter intuitive as it sounds, it is actually possible to find rest in the midst of chaos. Frank Ostaseski, Buddhist teacher and founder of the Zen Hospice Project and Metta Institute, describes how in his book, Five Invitations: What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully.
Find a Place of Rest in the Middle of Things

We often think of rest as something that will come when everything else is complete, like when we go on a holiday or when our work is done.

We imagine that we can only find rest by changing the conditions of our life.

But it is possible to discover rest right in the middle of chaos. 

Rest is experienced when we bring our full attention, without distraction, to this moment, to this activity. 

This place of rest is always available. We need only turn toward it.
This place of rest Ostaseki describes when something has our full attention is the flow state. In that state of flow, there is no stress. I never thought of it like that but I when I think back to my flow states, it is absolutely true. When fully engaged and in flow, there is no fear, no harm. Do you agree? It’s only when we come out that the mind starts to spin.
Check out the updated Inventory of Wellbeing Solutions to see whether one speaks to you. And a big thank you to all who contributed! I’m already a better person thanks to a few of you!
Off we go into a new, brave day. Take care out there.