The Importance of Slowing Down

I’ve been thinking about running a lot lately – daydreaming about it, wishing I could throw my hair up, tie my shoelaces and hit the pavement. I miss the adrenaline that kicks in after running 5K (3.1 miles) and realizing your body can keep going; more than can, it wants to. The feeling you get when you recognize that your joints and lungs are so in-sync you never want to stop; it’s indescribable. Lately, I’ve been daydreaming about all of that, and the runner’s high that sweeps over you when you finally do slow down and stop, signalling a job well done.

I can’t run, right now. I haven’t been able to run for more than 10 minutes since July 2013, and late last year I was told to stop trying. My hip isn’t going to get better with high-impact exercises. I can walk, swim, use the elliptical or a standalone bike… but I can’t run, right now.

My life changed in July 2013, because someone else was in a hurry. I drove through a green light, while another driver drove past a stop sign and hit me in the intersection. My car did a 180 and ended up in another lane of traffic facing the opposite direction I’d been travelling. For the first 5 months that followed, I could barely sit upright for more than a few hours, let alone run or workout.

Over the past 20 months, I’ve done physio, had cold laser therapy, tried dry needling, and had freezing injected into my back and glutes. I do exercises in the morning and exercises before bed, and it’s all gotten me to a point where I can now workout 3-4 days/week, using low-impact exercises and some weights. But I’m still in pain, I still limp, I still can’t run and my MRI results say it’s time to talk to a surgeon.

Some days, my life feels like it’s on pause. Things might look good to an outsider, but when you’re not allowed to do something you really want to – like run – it’s so hard not to feel stuck. I can’t help but compare it to how restricted I felt when I was paying down my debt. I wanted to go out more, travel with friends and just not have to worry about money… but I couldn’t. I had to wait.

I’ve learned a lot about myself, including who I am and what I want my life to look like, as a result of the car accident. The greatest lesson I’ve learned so far, though, is the importance of slowing down.

There are so many things we need to tackle in a day. We have to work, cook meals, tidy up, run errands, pay bills and plan ahead. We also want to spend time with others and do something for ourselves. I have a bad habit of thinking I can multi-task all of that, so you’ll often find me boiling water to make coffee, while making the bed, texting a friend and picking out a new book to read. Single-tasking – where you focus on doing one thing at a time – is something I really want to work on this year, and it starts with slowing down.

In life, we can practice this and see benefits by:

  • eating slower, so we enjoy the flavours of our food (and often eat less)
  • disconnecting or working less, so we take time for ourselves or give full attention to people we’re with
  • thinking before we speak, so we communicate more clearly and don’t say things we might regret
  • single-tasking, so we make fewer silly mistakes and feel more fulfilled when a task is done
  • giving ourselves more time, so we’re not rushing to get places and can arrive less stressed

And the list goes on and on.

These small actions involve being aware of our surroundings and the people in them, finding joy in the simple things and practicing gratitude. In short, they require us to slow down and live in the present.

When it comes to our finances, slowing down could stop us from making almost every bad decision imaginable. If we paused before buying an item on sale, we could ask ourselves if we truly needed it or if it would just satisfy a want. If we took a few minutes to calculate how much the interest on a debt would be, we could decide if it was worth being held back for years to pay for it. And if we waited to buy something, delayed gratification would teach us to be grateful for it, when it finally came into our possession.

By not slowing down, before making a financial decision, you can quickly find yourself in the position I was once in: mindlessly consuming and racking up debt, until I was totally maxed out. I traded all my available credit for time – 24 months, to be exact, which is how long it took me to pay off every last cent. All the impulse purchases I’d made accumulated to two years of not being able to live the life I wanted, while I had to pay off my debt. Whatever I put on my credit cards, back then, wasn’t worth it… and if I’d slowed down, before swiping for it all, I could’ve made better decisions.

People keep asking how I’ve been able to avoid shopping for the past 8.5 months, and the truth is: all I’ve done is slow down my rate of consumption. It is delayed gratification to the max; just one great big long pause, or an everlasting set of deep breaths. When I feel the urge to shop, I slow down and try to figure out where it’s coming from. Is it a habit? An impulse? A need or a want? I’ve had more than a few moments of weakness, where I’ve added things to an online shopping cart and almost hit “Submit Order”. When it gets to that point, I pause, take a deep breath, think about how I got there then close the tab in my browser.

Having to give up two years of my life to pay off a lifestyle I couldn’t afford to begin with is proof of what can happen when you don’t slow down before making financial decisions. In that same light, the yearlong shopping ban is proof of how quickly you can turn your financial situation around, simply by slowing down your rate of consumption and being aware of your goals.

I’m now inching close to the two-year anniversary of my accident, which was a result of someone else not slowing down and paying attention. I couldn’t have prevented what happened, but I have to believe all my efforts to get better will be worth it. Some days, my life feels like it’s on pause, but hopefully this is just one set of deep breaths, so I’m ready for whatever is next.

In the same way I wouldn’t rack up more debt while I was trying to pay it down, I’m not going to try to run while I’m injured. I need to go through the motions, have the surgery and work through recovery. Whether I like it or not, I have to wait. Until then, I’ll continue to workout at the gym and be grateful I can at least do that. And if it all works out, I’ll smile with every stride I take, when I can finally hit the pavement again.

Is there something you’ve been anxious to do but can’t yet? Have you learned anything from having to wait?

  • Ten years ago I would have emphatically disagreed with you. 5 years ago up until very recently I would have agreed fully. Now…..well…..I think of life from a bit of a different perspective. Let me see if I can explain.

    I do not want to slow down. I do not want to live slowly…..there’s too much in life to try and experience. I want to live throttle wide open. When I go to work, I go 100%, unadulterated balls out, pedal to the floor because there’s just too much to learn, my career stimulates me too much. I want to run marathons around the world. I want to achieve new levels of strength. I cannot spend enough time with my children, oh, and then there’s that wonderful woman I share a life with. There’s so many conversations to have, so many laughs to share, so many memories to make. when I die, I want to die with the needle on ‘E.’

    How can I possibly slow down?

    But, what I realize I must do is (borrowing your phrase, because I love it so much) live purposely. Live for the moment – not wastefully, and hurriedly – but purposefully. To enjoy each moment, to enjoy the specialness of each moment. To pause for a moment during a discussion at work and think, “This is EFFING AWESOME.” To stop at the top of a hill during a run and enjoy the sunrise. To look at my children, and shake my head at the young man and woman they are becoming. To tell Vonnie each and every day how much I love her, and how much I love life with her.

    That person who hit you….they may certainly have been in a hurry. They may have been anxious and agitated because they needed to get to the next thing as quickly as possible. If only instead they were simply enjoying the wonderousness of the invention they were driving, the wind in their hair with the window down.

    No, don’t slow down…live each moment to the fullest, experiencing everything, fully self aware of the awesomeness of every morsel of time we have.

    • What Catherine said. :)

      Although slowing down doesn’t always just mean in speed. I think I live each moment to the fullest, tell those I love just how much I do, travel to the places I want to go, etc. But I rush through too many things, thinking I can multi-task my way to a great day. As it turns out, doing fewer things/just focusing on one at a time makes my days even better.

  • Hi Cait!

    Based on many years of business (and living) experience, multi-tasking is a tad overrated. Things get much better and quicker accomplished through single sequential tasking (and most importantly) with suitable priority.

    You ask if there is something that I’ve been anxious to do but can’t yet. That would have to be enjoying more things in retirement with my wife – getting out, travelling, visiting the kids more, etc etc. The fact of the matter is simply that we both can’t together. My wife’s 95 y/o mom, who has lived with us for many years after her husband died, has for the last few years suffered from dementia, is quite frail and is not very mobile in walking. So we’re pretty tied down close to home looking after her. So to cope we’ve learned to take each day as it comes, the good and the “not so good”, and enjoy more sedentary pleasures – for now. We do know, however, that in time this lifestyle will change (and hopefully improve) but for now we simply “don’t sweat the small stuff”. And so it goes, my friend (for you and for us) …

    • Thanks for sharing that part of your life today, Rob. I knew your MIL lived with you, but didn’t realize she had dementia. I can only imagine the days would cycle between good and bad often, as I’ve seen a couple good friends experience that with their own family members. So long as you’ve found joy in what you *can* do, that’s all that matters right now. You’ll be able to travel one day… and then maybe we can swap stories! Hope you have a good week.

  • I remember the feeling well when I had both my shoulders “frozen” and couldn’t play beach volleyball. It was the most awful feeling being “left out” and not knowing if I would ever recover or what to do about it. So I get it. I’m focusing more on slowing down too. Just yesterday I played beach volleyball because I’d spent all day sunday indoors doing my taxes, and I had this feeling I “had” to get home and do something productive or write a post. But I also never give myself days off and that’s so important. So I “rebelled” and didn’t write a post for today. It’s still a strange feeling. I think slowing down is so beneficial for all of us though. Great post!

    • I used to feel so guilty if I didn’t write 2-3 posts/week, but I’ve (very) slowly learned that it’s better to write when you’re inspired than just for the sake of publishing something. Our writing is better then, and people respond more to it. So, I hope you enjoyed the day off, and didn’t worry about it too much today! :)

  • Cait, I’m so sorry to hear about the accident and how it has impacted your life. I have a huge amount of admiration for you and how you’re trying to make the most of your situation. I don’t know if I’d be able to be that positive. If and when you have surgery, I hope it goes smoothly and you’re able to make a full recovery!

  • Cait,

    Goodness, I am incredibly sorry to hear about what happened. Despite the negative and hardship, you are still looking forward to the positive and your recovery. That’s very admirable. Reading your #pfworkout updates are even more inspiring because I know the backstory. I will be sending huge motivation every time I hit the favorite button for those!

    Delayed gratification, or waiting has always been a prevalent thing for me (I always think of the marshmallow experiment)! It makes me feel confident and sound about my decisions and/or actions. As you said, you learn a lot about yourself when it comes to waiting and truly thinking about each and every thing. I’ve learned that in my 20’s to savor time, exercise gratitude and recognize that comparison is not healthy (sometimes the last is hard to always exercise I admit)!

    Thank you for sharing your story, Cait! I hope the first run you are able to take will be the most glorious run ever. Until then, I hope each low impact work out makes you feel just as wonderful too!

    • Ha! I always forget about the marshmallow experiment. Thanks for the reminder! I’m sure the kids didn’t learn much about themselves, during that, but as adults we certainly learn a lot while we wait, as you said. Thanks for all the kind words and support. :)

  • I know how hard it is to not be able to hit the gym for a week or two when I have an injury, so I can’t imagine what it’s like for months.

    Sometimes progress is so slow it feels like things aren’t getting better, but even slow progress is still progress.

    As someone that perpetually acts without thinking and fails to slow down, I appreciate this reminder to take it easy. I usually learn the hard way before I take a minute to pause, and these mistakes are going to keep hurting until I get it right.

  • Sounds really great words and ideas here Caiti! I’m sorry to hear your progress to healing has been slow, but hopefully with the surgery things will get closer to your normal soon. Keep up your positive attitude!

  • I can totally relate to your struggle and frustration with a long term injury. When I was 16 I tore all four ligaments in my knee, fractured my tibia, and suffered nerve damage that resulted in a drop foot for at least 9 months. There are two huge scars on either side of my knee as a result of the 4 1/2 hour surgery I had following the accident, and I was in a wheelchair starting my junior year of high school. Now 10+ years later I still feel the effects of that injury but have learned to be gentle with myself and instead of focusing on what I can’t do well (like running or skiing) I focus on the things I can do well (swimming, hiking) and give myself a break every once in a while. Everyone has their own limitations, and just because I can’t run a half marathon doesn’t mean I can’t do other things that are totally awesome. It’s frustrating when your body doesn’t respond to what your mind wants to do, but as you said, it’s a good lesson in slowing down and reflecting on what makes you happiest in your life.

    • Oh my goodness, that sounds like one heck of an injury. May I ask how you did that? I appreciate you sharing where you were then and how far you’ve come, including what you can/cannot do today. I’ve tried to accept that I may not be able to run again, but I’m not ready to yet. I need to see how I heal post-surgery. But if I can’t, I’ll definitely stick to hiking. Thanks again for sharing your story. :)

  • Reading about your accident makes me realize how lucky I was when I drove through an intersection and someone ran a red light hitting me on the passenger site spinning me 180 degree – I was able to walk away – love reading your blog.

  • Being in debt, amd working to pay it off, has definitely taught me just this- slow down. Yes i want to move right now yea I’d love to book a trip to get away from this horrific winter we’ve been experiencing but we can’t-yet. I know in 2.5 years when the debt is gone and we have morw disposable income both travel and a better home for pir family will be possible…it’s coming just not yet….you better believe I’ll appreciate it that much more too.

  • It is hard when your brain wants to do what your body can’t. I hope that they find a treatment to help you fully recover.

    I am working on slowing down and being more balanced. I always want to have every second of every day planned. I am trying to set aside one weekend a month where I do not. I actually took this past weekend off. I had no plans. I didn’t get out of my pjs. I watched the shows I wanted to watch. I read. I played with my dogs. I had extra long baths . . . . . it was great. Of course taking 2 full days does leave one behind life, so to balance that, I booked a 3rd day off work and spent today doing the errands etc. that I needed to do. I think I am now in good shape for this week. At least I will return to work refreshed!

    • Oh, that sounds like a wonderful weekend, Kristen! I hope you soaked up every last minute of it. I, too, didn’t make my plans this weekend. I had breakfast with a friend one morning, and dinner with another friend the next day… but besides that, I just relaxed. It was awesome. :)

  • Hey Cait,

    I’m a huge fan of the blog, and this post is right up there with some of your best. I’ve just started paying down my debt, and I know that how I got here in the first place was because I’m an impatient person. I took YOLO to the extreme. I still plan to live the life I want in one of the best cities in the world, but I am also learning that “patience is a virtue.” I think a big lesson that I can also take from my debt load experience is to stop and think. I too am also a huge fan of the want vs. need test.

    Best of luck with your recovery, and may you continue to be “patient” in the meantime :)

    • What a nice thing to say, CDK. It’s great to hear that you’re learning something about yourself during your debt repayment journey. If we’re reflective, during times like that, it’s incredible how much we can learn/reconsider/change about ourselves. Best of luck to YOU! :)

  • So sorry to hear about your accident. I feel your pain. I’ve had both sinus and jaw surgery in recent years. There’s nothing wrong with taking your time and enjoying the moment. We should all do it more.

  • Eating slowly is always part of dieting tips and tricks, but really I think it’s a great life tip. I realize that if I eat quickly or eat while I’m doing something else, at the end of the meal I don’t even remember eating, or what it tasted like. Food is such a simple and basic pleasure, and mealtimes are such a good time for conversation or reflection. I’m all about eating slowly, and “single tasking,” at least at mealtimes. It’s a great, built-in pause in my day.

    • I love that, Chela! I tried single-tasking all day today, but failed every time I ate. I don’t know why we can’t just pay attention to what we’re putting into our mouths for 5-10 minutes, but everything else seems to happen at the same time. I often finish meals before realizing it. Something to work on. :)

  • Cait, sending you all my good vibes to heal.
    My life has definitely felt like it was on pause at many stages – during T’s bouts of unemployment, in particular. I can’t say I’ve learned anything except that there are things beyond your control and there is only so much you can do. Just gotta make do.

    • You’re right about that, friend. Thanks for the good vibes. I can feel them from here. :) *hug*

  • I’m am very sorry to hear about your accident and that your injury has prevented you from doing something you love. This post is great, though. It is very important to slow down and live in the moment. I struggle with this, as I also am always trying to multitask… I hope that you heal quickly and are able to return to the running that you are missing so much. You are doing an amazing job of staying positive, so keep it up.

    • Thanks for the kind words and support! And that multi-tasking… it is a tough habit to kick. I’ve been practicing single-tasking for the past two days and it is not easy! But I’ve already been a lot more productive. Give it a try for a day. :)

  • Slowing down is a tough lesson for me. It doesn’t come naturally and I have to actually work at relaxing and taking time out (which sounds sort of counter productive, but it works for me).

    I’m so sorry to hear that your hip is still bothering you so much. I think it’s commendable you’re not frustrated or angry about it–your outlook is deeply optimistic, which I really admire.

    • Oh, I get frustrated, haha… but I’m not angry anymore. I never really was. But I definitely get frustrated. I am just also good at finding positives and using humour to make a situation better. If I can still laugh at my own jokes (because I’m weird like that), then I’m doing ok. ;)

  • Wow, Cait — thanks for sharing about this experience. I’m so sorry to hear about this accident and the long road to recovery you’ve been on. I appreciate that you’re letting it teach you and shape you on so many levels and that you’re not letting the pain win. I have to admit that as much as I crave slowness and try to simplify my life at every turn, my biggest weakness in this is single-tasking. And it’s funny, because I’m actually really terrible at multitasking. Someday I’ll learn. :) Thanks for reminding me to slow down today!

    • Haha, honestly, I think most people are *probably* bad at multi-tasking! There’s just so much going on all the time that our thoughts are constantly bouncing around, and we think we can have our hands in a little bit of everything. Hope you were able to slow them down today. :)

  • Ack!!! I didn’t know you were in that accident, I’m so sorry friend! What a mess :( And so good you are a rock star online and can work from home! (Although I guess the whole “sitting down” all day long part is hard, eh?). I hate to run, but I would totally do it for you if I can some how xfer over the benefits :)

    • Totally missed your comment, friend! Yea, sitting down is kinda lame. I’m not going to lie, there are days where I spend a good chunk of my time in bed, haha. But that’s all good. You find ways to cope. :)

      Yes, if only you could run for me, hehe. Actually, the day I posted this, two of my friends texted that they went for runs! One went for the first time ever! That made me happy.

  • I found your site by accident, browsing some blogs around the net. I started reading your post and could not stop. This post resonated with me. Especially today. This week was a hard week for me. I dealt with a lot of crap. Stress. Death. I drank a lot this week. It is an escape path I take when I cannot face realities of life.
    Sometimes we learn life lessons from experiences that are the hardest. I am so so sorry about your accident.

    • And I’m so sorry to hear you’ve had a tough week. Death isn’t easy to cope with. I quit drinking a couple years ago but understand that part too. I hope you have people you can talk to, on your tough days. Remember it’s always good to reach out, even if you don’t talk about what’s actually bugging you. Talking and laughter are the best medicine (truly). And keep writing – always! *Hug*

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