As I rushed to untangle my iPhone headset yet again, one minute before my conference call, a voice in the back of my head said, “slow down.” Sure enough, the key to untangling the web of entropy that lives in my headset was indeed to slow down and take a closer look at what I was doing rather than just tug and rush.
On the racetrack, there is a saying along the same lines, “Slow down to go fast.” While it sounds completely paradoxical, the message is that you have to focus on your driving and be smooth in your inputs to really be fast. Anything that upsets a race car will affect it’s speed, so the idea is to use fewer, smoother inputs to keep the vehicle at it’s fastest speed. Rather than jerk the steering wheel and jam on the brakes, a method of slower, smoother inputs are rewarded with speed. I’ve used this quite a few times when I’m behind and need to catch up. Instead of focusing on going faster, I focus on being smooth, on hitting my exact braking points, on hitting the apex and using all of the track. Normally, I’m rewarded with better speed.
After my war with the headset, I realized that this is a much more universal idea. Few things in life are done better without focus. While speed may not always be the target, better quality usually is, and without focus, we are challenged to do our best work.
The key to using this idea is to remember it in the midst of your frantic near panic attack. That’s when it works best. Focus is better than frenetic, always, and focus requires a certain clear mindset. Our brains are incredible machines that respond instantly to our desires. And that near panic mode that we can get into realizing that there’s a deadline that we have missed, or are about to miss, is when we have to have the presence of mind to bring ourselves into a focused mindset.
It’s like trying to control your anger. You have to give it a little time, and breath a lot. Affirmations help me quite a bit. I have to tell myself to “calm down, you need to focus.” That seems to get me there, even though there’s a voice also in my head saying, “No! you’re going to be late, you must rush at light speed!!!” The other voice encouraging focus is like a wise uncle whispering in your ear.
How often do you focus 100%?
In our current age, being able to focus is a challenge. We are pulled in so many different directions simultaneously that being able to keep focus on one thing is a skill that has to be practiced. It’s what drew me to racing cars, to begin with. It’s not the speed I’m after, it’s the clear-headedness that I need. To drive a car on a track at the car’s limit requires 100% focus. I have to be paying attention to the car, the track, the changing conditions, and the other drivers. Any lack of focus causes a lapse in response time. At 80 mph any lack of response results in missing things. Missing turns, brake points, etc. It results in the car going off track. To put it in perspective, 80 mph is 117 ft per second. A split second delay results in 10-15 feet. Most tracks are only 2-3 three car lengths wide. There’s not a huge margin for error here. So complete focus is required.
The first time I drove on track, when I was done after 20 minutes, I had a sense of complete stillness. It’s a type of meditation for me. I had cleared my mind for 20 minutes. I focused on only one thing, keeping the car on the track, and that resulted in a little mental holiday. I realized that I couldn’t remember the last time I had focused so intensely for 20 minutes. Our modern lives don’t really lend themselves to 100% focus.
That’s what’s going on when we slow down to go faster or to achieve our goals. We focus more on what’s at hand, and that’s the lesson here. When you feel yourself getting out of control, frenetic, frazzled, slow down and focus on one thing. I know that this is impossible for some people.
One of my best friends was recently diagnosed with severe OCD. He cannot keep his mind from obsessing, and he has to take medication to help. If you can’t seem to pull your mind into focus, you may want to go talk to someone about it. I can’t imagine not being able to control my own brain. There are very few things I have control over in my life, so my own thoughts need to be one of them.
Accept the unavoidable
This isn’t without difficulty, though. Back to my headset. I was frantic because I was going to be late. At some point, reality must set in and you have to realize that you messed up, misjudged, etc. and the reality is that you will miss your deadline or goal. Slowing down to get it done does two things: one, it diffuses the panic. Two, it helps you get the thing done without anger.
Sure, in this case, I ended up being only a minute late, and I made some commitments to myself to do better, to not get so wrapped up in my work that I forget to pull my headset out before a call. But anger and being frantic wouldn’t have helped the situation. They rarely do. But instead of pulling the headset to the point it broke, which I’ve done before, I was able to untangle it and get on the phone. Fortunately, my obsession with being on time usually makes me one of the first ones on every call, so the call was still getting started when I joined. I hadn’t missed anything. Lesson learned, again.
Practice, practice, practice
Like all things worth it in life, it takes practice. Every time I have a panic situation, I have to keep mindful and force myself to focus and slow down. I doubt it will ever become a habit because I’m fighting a natural reaction. But it helps keep you calm and enables you to achieve your immediate goal. So the next time you find yourself in a situation that requires focus, just say to yourself, “Slow down to go fast.” I say it over and over until I start to calm down.
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