Hurry isn’t of the devil. Hurry is the devil. – Dallas Willard

Once you decide you’re going to go for it, to become who you were created to be instead of just churning away at the next accomplishment, you’re enrolling in a class of sorts. Getting durable change from that coursework is going to demand building some new habits and breaking some old ones. Among the most foundational of the habits you’ll probably need to learn is the practice of slowing down. I know this because I see it every day.

I know a successful executive who has enough money never to need to work again, but is in a hurry to get a new job after getting laid off because she fears the loss of status and purpose a big job brings. She’s tempted to miss the gift of a half-time reset in her life.

I know a high-powered young leader who hurries because he loves being seen by his bosses as the “get-it-done” guy. In his haste, he’s tempted to alienate his colleagues. If he’s not careful, he may not have anyone on his side in his rise to the top job.

I know a senior executive who hurries because he has a hard time saying “no,” resulting in a too-long list of goals. He’s tempted to load more on his plate and to burn out his best people as they vainly try to meet his unrealistic expectations.

These are all decent people. I enjoy their company. But I’m guessing many around them feel starved for their 100% attention. It’s hard to be present when you’re trying to avoid careening off the road, figuratively or in real life.

I was once asked why I hurry so much. Once I slowed down enough to care, I played the Five Why’s game to get at the root causes of my hurry. In the end, it took me six why’s to get to the bottom of it. See if any of these reasons are like yours.

  • Why do I hurry? I hurry because I don’t want to be late.
  • Why? I don’t want to be late because I don’t want to disappoint the person I’m going to meet, often a client or an important colleague.
  • Why? I don’t want to disappoint that person because I want them to like and respect me.
  • Why? I want them to like and respect me so that they’ll hire me or refer someone to me.
  • Why? I want them to hire or refer me because I want to feel important. Plus, I like to eat.
  • Why? I want to feel important because deep down I sometimes wonder if I matter.

It doesn’t take too many steps down the root cause staircase to see that I hurry because I’m anxious that I’ll be alone and without enough financial and social resources to face the world. That’s crazy since I’ve always had enough of both. But who says hurry is rational?

I’ll bet you have your own reasons for hurry. What does your root cause analysis look like? Why not slow down for a minute and ask your own Five Whys? Right now. Really, I can wait.

Speed kills. Deep down, we all know this. We know it on the highway. We know it at work as we dash from meeting to meeting. We are constantly subjected to messages about how virtuous it is to go faster, how speed is a sign of competence. But we all know that unchecked speed leads to all sorts of disaster. The human being and our workaday home – the human organization – simply cannot avoid crashes if it’s pedal to the metal all of the time.

The dangerous thing about haste is that when we’re in the hurry cycle we have no time to notice why we’re there. We get lulled into the false sense of importance that comes from swerving through traffic, of shaving two minutes off the time projected by Waze for our arrival. “Now that was a productive commute,” we say to ourselves no matter how many traumatized people we leave in our wake.

The ugly thing about hurry is that we can easily build our schedules and lives on the lie that we’re the center of the universe. We can believe that we don’t have time for a friendly glance or to notice someone who needs help. We can fail to notice when a colleague has something important to say. We cut people off in traffic and in conversation. We listen poorly as the internal voice says, “Come on. Hurry up. Finish what you want to say so that I can make my point.”

Hurry leads me to be my worst self and feel smug about it.

Hurry may be one of the biggest barriers you’ll ever face to becoming who you were created to be, the excuse of all excuses. Anyone serious about becoming their best selves will start with dealing with their own personal sense of haste.

How do you beat hurry? Here’s a soul experiment: live deliberately for one week. Choose one or two of these ideas and give it a try.

  • Drive as close to the speed limit as you can safely do in your city. Please use the slow lane. Those hurried people in the fast lane won’t appreciate your experiment in the least. Use the extra two minutes spent in your car to be grateful for the people and circumstances that bring you life.
  • Book time into your schedule for transitions. I know of a leader who has changed her default calendar invite to 50 minutes so that there is time between her back to back meetings. To breathe. To say hi. To pee. All of which are important things.
  • Eliminate the pattern of back-to-back meetings. This is hard because Outlook has made your calendar visible to too many people and our unwritten rules say that unscheduled time is wasted time. And that busy people are important people. You’ll be a rebel for doing this. But revolutionaries change the world.
  • Each day, find three strangers with whom you make eye contact and exchange a greeting. This can be a fellow commuter, a homeless person, or your teenage kid (just kidding). Slow down enough to see the person, to notice what’s going on with them.
  • Eliminate the “one more thing” pattern. When you’re about to wrap something up at your desk or in a meeting, instead of trying to jam one more thing in a time slot you know isn’t big enough, just take a breath and let it go.
  • Take a walk sometime during your day. I love bike rides and runs too. But a walk is an act of rebellion. Among all of the human-speed activities, it’s the most human.
  • Take a nap during your work day. This may be the most subversive thing you can do even though there is ample research to support its usefulness.  Edison and Einstein were habitual workplace nappers. Yes, they were also geniuses, but still…
  • Speaking of sleep, schedule your overnight rest for the next week. When you try the slowing practices on this list, you’ll probably notice in your extra time that you’re tired. The best available research says that normal adults need 7-9 hours of sleep, preferably at a consistent time each day. I know you think you’re extraordinary and can cut that corner. I hate to tell you that you probably aren’t and you likely can’t.

I promise this will not be easy. It may require you to rewrite some of the narratives about how important you are or how vulnerable you are. It will require you to say no to some activities or patterns so that you can say yes to a life free of hurry. But you might find it strangely wonderful. You might discover the person you were created to be coming out to play in the world. You’ll definitely want to slow down and enjoy that when it happens.

Who knows? Maybe you’ll want to extend the experiment from a week to a month? Could it become a way of life?