Being Present: Slow Down and Smell the Coffee

Are you always in a hurry, impatient in queues and flying off the handle at the slightest thing? Are you driven by a need to succeed and feel stressed out most of the time? Find out how to slow down and enjoy life.

Psychologists have called this type of behaviour‘ type A behaviour’. The stress it causes has been associated with heart disease, high blood pressure and ulcers. The good news is that these characteristics are not fixed in stone as part of your personality, you can unlearn them. It just takes time and practice.

Step 1: Identify your type A behaviours
First you need to think about those type A behaviours that apply to you. Does any of this sound familiar?

Do you… Do everything at high speed (eating, talking, walking…)? Get impatient waiting in queues or traffic jams? Become easily irritated over minor things? Find it hard to listen to other people, and finish their sentences for them? Drive fast, always overtaking and weaving in out of the lanes? Create unnecessary deadlines and fill your calendar with appointments? Play games only to win (sometimes, even against children)? Grind your teeth, clench your jaws? Are you… Constantly multi-tasking – trying to do lots of things at the same time (and thinking of what you’re going to do next when you’re working on something else)? Always late for appointments? Very competitive – you always have to win or succeed? Over critical of everyone – and yourself? A workaholic? Short-tempered?

Over the next week, make a note every time you find yourself doing or experiencing one of these things.

Step 2: Stop and think – are your ways of behaving getting you anywhere?
Time is of the essence to type As – the quicker they can do things the better. But doing things faster doesn’t always work – you may make mistakes that could have been avoided if you’d spent more time and consideration. Plus, some ways of doing things may not be effective as you think. Look at your list of the behaviours and consider a time when you acted in this way – and what the outcome actually was. Are you actually achieving what you want to achieve? For example, if you’re an impatient fast driver, time yourself driving a familiar route in your usual manner. Then make the same journey again, but this time, drive without constantly overtaking and try to stay calm. How much time did you actually save by driving the ‘fast’ (and stressful) way? The chances are, not very much.

Step 3: Think of ways to do the complete opposite
Take your list of type A behaviours and for each one think of a way of doing the complete opposite to counteract it. These don’t have to be complicated: keep it simple. Here are some examples:

  • ‘I bolt my food’, might be counteracted by: ‘I will take at least 30 minutes over my meal.’
  • ‘I’m always driving at the top of the speed limit in the fast lane’, might be counteracted by: ‘I will drive mainly in the slow lane.’
  • ‘I constantly schedule in meetings back to back’, might be counteracted by: ‘I will cancel some of my meetings and schedule new ones in, with enough time in between to get myself together.’
  • ‘I always multi task’, might be counteracted with: ‘I will make myself concentrate on just one task at a time.’

Step 4: Devise a weekly program
Once you have a complete list, you now need to draw up a weekly program in order to put these opposites into practice. You won’t be able to change everything all at once, so approach it gradually. Choose seven different behaviours.

For example:

  • I’m always rushing everywhere.
  • I always play to win.
  • I clench my fists and jiggle my legs.
  • I find it difficult to listen to others.
  • I’m a workaholic.
  • I can’t stand lines.
  • I’m constantly watching the clock.

Each day over the following week concentrate on dealing with just one of these behaviours. In your diary, write down what you’re going to do – and then make sure you do it.
Example of a weekly plan for changing type A behaviour

This week I will:

  • Monday – make myself walk at a slower pace all day.
  • Tuesday – play a non-competitive game with someone.
  • Wednesday – try to be more aware of my body so that I stop clenching my fists and nervous knee jiggling, and practice relaxing the muscles in my face and body.
  • Thursday – ask a friend about themselves and what is going on in their life (without trying to steer the conversation back to myself).
  • Friday – make sure I take my full lunch hour, leave work at the correct time and not take any work home with me.
  • Saturday – deliberately seek out a long queue and join it patiently (taking a magazine along to browse through while I wait).
  • Sunday – take off my watch and turn clocks to the wall so that time doesn’t dominate the day.

Once you’ve completed the first week, draw up a list for the second week, with more of the type A behaviours you want to change. After this, draw up a list for the next month. Keep it simple and you’ll stand more chance of sticking to it. You’ll find that over time, your type-A habits will gradually change.

Next steps

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