Two Strategies to Stop Missing Out on Life
Speeding through life causes us to miss out on it.
Posted Oct 21, 2019
I was driving in the mountains of sunny Southern California surrounded by the lush greenery that came as a result of the recent series of storms that soaked the mountainsides. One downside of the mountainous routes is they allow only one lane of traffic in either direction. So if someone in front of you is driving slower than you prefer, you either have to adjust your speed or wait until a turnout section appears and then hope the driver will move to the side and let you pass ahead.
From my rearview mirror, I saw a man driving a convertible. He was quickly coming up from behind and his aggressive advance made it clear that he wanted me to speed up or get out of his way. The timing of his approach allowed me to pick the second option. I veered into the turnout. He zoomed by driving way past the speed limit.
The man in the convertible’s hope to drive as fast as he wanted was dashed once he tailgated the next car in front of him. Unlike me, that driver refused to speed up or get out of his way. So with his top down, he let his road rage erupt like a volcano. For the next 10 minutes, I witnessed him honk and scream at the car in front of him.
I thought of how angry he was, which meant he was unable to enjoy the beautiful scenery around him. Have you witnessed something similar? Or have you felt the same road rage as the driver in the convertible?
My questions aren’t intended to cast judgment on the man’s behavior. Rather, my point is to illustrate how stressful situations can keep us from missing out on the beauty around us and finding happiness in the here and now.
Speeding through life causes us to miss out on it. And the opposite is true as well: When we learn to slow down, we give ourselves the time to see life and all its wonders. We are able to stop, pause, look around, and observe what is right in front of our eyes to appreciate. Living well and finding happiness in the present moment come when we learn to slow down and see, hear, and feel our surroundings and connect with others.
But despite any desire, you may have to slow down, for you, doing so many be a case of “easier said than done.” How do we create the time and space to stop missing out on life and appreciating the beauty around us?
The first step is to acknowledge the need to slow down. Without admitting our life is moving too fast to appreciate it, we won’t be motivated to change.
Once we realize we’re missing out on life, we are ready to begin practicing slowing down. Initially, this will feel uncomfortable. Like learning any new skill, the first steps will not come naturally. But with practice, we will master slowing down to the point where speeding through life will eventually feel unnatural.
The practice begins with identifying areas where we speed through life. Rather than tackle the big ones—for instance, intense careers or relationships—let’s start small.
Mealtimes are a common area of rushing. For example, we may be celebrating at a friend’s house over a home-cooked meal. Or we may be dining at an exclusive and expensive restaurant. Under both situations, we may have eaten so thoughtlessly that we don’t even remember what the meal tasted like.
To begin slowing down and appreciating life, I recommend the practice of mindful eating. This means taking the time to appreciate what we’re putting into our bodies. Many of us have three meals a day, and often we spend this multi-tasking.
We may eat breakfast while driving, we may have lunch while staring into our smartphones, or we may eat dinner with the TV on. If your meals are accompanied by another activity, start with one meal a day without any other distractions.
Every time you take a bite, put your fork down and wait till your mouth is clear. Then pick up your fork, take another bite, and then wait until your mouth is clear before your next bite. By practicing mindful eating, we teach ourselves to slow down and enjoy the food before us. We savor the flavors and appreciate them rather than mindlessly shoveling food into our mouths.
When it comes to driving, we can also implement the practice slowing down, and not just because bad traffic gives us no other choice. Typically, when we’re running late, any obstacle we encounter become way more stressful than they otherwise would be.
During my twenties, I found myself rushing, running late and, as a result, being less polite on the road than I wanted to be. But rather than criticize myself for being impatient, I found a simple solution: Give myself more time to reach my destination. By adding more time to arrive, I quickly solved the problem of being an angry or aggressive driver. Instead of focusing on the fear of arriving late to an appointment and becoming increasingly anxious as I neared my destination, I was able to enjoy the drive.
Giving yourself ample time allows you to remain calm when you reach an obstacle, such as an unexpected traffic jam or a rude driver. You’re not pushed to respond in an angry or aggressive way. In my case, many passengers have noticed my calm attitude even when faced with pretty rude drivers. Whereas they would have reacted in kind, they see that I barely noticed the impolite behavior.
Developing an Attitude of Happiness
These two examples I provided, mindful eating and driving, are simple to apply to our lives right away. While they won’t undo the influence of a lifetime of pushing ourselves and living life on the fast track immediately, over time, they will bring more awareness in our lives and train our minds to appreciate slowing down versus speeding up.
When we slow down, we see life and all its wonders. Rather remaining stuck in our head, which is often a very stressful place to be, we realize there’s always something beautiful to appreciate around us right here and right now.