Teaching Ourselves to Slow Down

By Lisa Templeton, Ph.D.


     With the pace of our culture and the continued growth of technology and social media, our minds are constantly bombarded with thousands of stimuli every day.  Our brains seem to be racing along - affected more and more by our speedy, future-oriented, fast-paced culture.  Some researchers predict that some people have up to 4,000-10,000 thoughts a day – other scholars postulate over 40,000 thoughts in some humans.  There is a shift in energy moving very fast and this energy continues to focus toward the next thing, while we miss moment after moment of the now - what we are currently experiencing.

     This speeding up of energy and stimuli to such a fast pace has terrible consequences.  Many find they are experiencing racing thoughts, tension, difficulty truly connecting with themselves and others, and less awareness of what they are feeling and what is needed to care for their bodies and their minds.  Many people I’ve spoken to professionally and personally believe they have minimal, if any, control of their mind – that they are at the whim of what goes on up there.  This is simply not true – our minds are a great tool that can uplift us or conversely de-press us.

     We all have a responsibility - to ourselves, our community and our loved ones - to work on finding ways to slow down, to live more and flow more with everything and everyone around us.  We can understand our pain more clearly, lower our stress, connect more effectively with others, improve our focus as well as reduce our brain chatter.  Just making a single attempt to consciously slow yourself down is the beginning of success.

     Many will say – “That sounds really boring,” “I can’t sit still,”  I don’t have time,” or “My mind moves too fast”  Can you sit with the experience of yourself for a just a few minutes?  So what? So your mind is running too fast, let it go fast.  If you sit there for a bit and find that you only notice thoughts about getting up, notice the thoughts, just don’t react to them for a time.  Your mind may begin to slow a bit…and then perhaps speed up again.  Whatever it does, let it.  Don’t try to control your experience to be “better” or label it as “success” or not – just let it be what it is. 

     Mindfulness is truly a lesson in acceptance of ourselves.  Examine any excuses you might have that might stop you from practicing – we have all said them, but there is no one out there that can’t work through difficulties and obstacles to motivation – as long as they have intention and perseverance. 

     Ok, so if we want to try to slow our minds down, how do we go about doing it?  The best place to start is right here in the moment.  Eckart Tolle stated, “Once you realize that you are not in the moment, you are back there again.”  The moment is available to you anytime, anywhere.  The practice is really about being patient with yourself and you continue to train your brain to move there more often. 

     Practice a mindfulness meditation for a few minutes every day to start.  Sit up straight with good posture and breath.  Notice the moment – close your eyes - use your senses – what do you hear, smell, taste?  Choose an object of focus, perhaps your breath, some outside stimulus or a mantra (a word you repeat over and over) in your mind.  Continue to practice focusing on one thing only – bring yourself gently back to the moment.  Do your best not to react to any of your thoughts.  You might have to bring yourself back to the moment 5 times or 100 times.  The amount of times you remind yourself does not matter, it’s the fact that you are doing it – that matters and is what changes your brain.

     After sitting, as you move through your life doing this or that, try to use reminders to bring yourself back into the moment.  For example, remind yourself with sticky notes or certain external cues such as seeing red brake lights.  Practice with the use of associative learning – basically pairing two stimuli together repeatedly so they become more conditioned and thus becomes more natural.  Every time you see brake lights, think about being present or every time you look at the mountains, enjoy them with gratitude in the moment.  Put a beautiful stone or picture on your desk to remind you.  If we can learn to remind ourselves and practice bringing ourselves back to the moment with patience and love, we can begin to change our lives and also begin to completely restructure our brain. 

     There is very little doubt with continued research findings that using mindfulness and staying in the present moment activates our brain in ways we never imagined – useful for ADD, depression, anxiety, adjustment disorders, trauma, chronic pain, OCD, and many other mental health conditions, not to mention stress management and general good health.

     Once you are here in the moment, try to treasure it for as long as your mind will allow.  With distractions abound, we must remember that there is no such thing as perfection when it comes to the moment.  It’s there one moment and gone the next – we can catch a wave of presence for a time, but ultimately our mind will be pulled away.  That is ok!  Guess what?  You can always come back whenever you remind yourself again.  The more you remind yourself, the more the training and brain restructuring occurs.

     Remember, the effect and change of mindfulness on the brain does not happen overnight.  We need to stay diligent, even if it can be a very boring and/or uncomfortable task.  Often, people  maneuver  their lives between moments – from one potato chip to the next, often while not even enjoying the one they are eating right here, right now, but instead focused on the next one.  I have observed that in myself at times.  I try to laugh at myself when I do notice that and bring myself back to the moment of the chip at hand. 

     Work to live moment to moment and slow down.  You do have control of your mind – take your power and practice.  Basically, our moment to moment experience here on earth will not be given to us – we must take it.  In taking it, we are living it.  In living it, we are free.