The gift of downshifting

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about speed, slowness and what it really takes to get where you’re going in life. And it’s been heightened by a deliberate shift to driving slower on the highway, actually setting my cruise control to the speed limit (rather than the 5 miles over that I used to go, which still¬† had people whizzing by me). A few months back someone told me of her amazing savings from going 55 mph,¬† and with gas prices still hovering close to $4 per gallon it seemed worth a try.

Well, not only am I getting about 3-5 miles more per gallon simply by driving 5 mph slower — enough of a good reason for me! — I find I am still getting everywhere in about the same amount of time and in a much more relaxed manner. I used to be one of those people who was just set on making the best time I could, especially on my 150 mile weekly round trip to my NJ workplace. I loved passing those ‘slow pokes’ and shifting lanes to be somewhere ahead of them but behind the ‘maniacs’ going 80 and up. Now I enjoy watching everyone else vie for speed and dart in and out as I hang comfortably in the right lane. I feel I have greater control of my car and am actually more alert, my shoulders are less tense and I arrive without feeling I’ve just been on a racetrack!

I’m also finding it to be a great analogy for how I do life in other ways. So many of us tend to run around at breakneck speed, thinking it will help us get where we’re going faster (which is assumed to mean better), and that the more we get done in a day, or an hour, will automatically translate to more success, more money, more happiness. But I think it’s really the other way around — by driving the speed limit, or finding my own natural speed limits around how much time I spend online, or on the phone, or pursuing any unconscious behavior, I gain so much.

I’m more composed. I’m more aware and present to what is right in front of me. I am more relaxed when I do get on the phone because I’m making sure I don’t answer in a Pavlovian way. And, when I control the amount of time I spend checking e-mail or doing ‘research’ online, I gain an enormous amount of mental and physical energy for the things I do want to focus on. Like writing more blog posts ;-).

Go ahead, give it a try. Drive a little slower; check e-mail half as frequently as you usually do; let calls go to voicemail if you’re deep in a book or creative project, or pick up and tell the person you’re thrilled that they called and you’ll call back in half an hour. Purposefully shift gears from 5th speed to 4th or 3rd, and let me know how you’re enjoying the ride.