Live Well, Live Blind, Live Slow

Live Well, Live Blind: Live Slowly

This year I’m sharing the life lessons I learned through blindness that have made it possible to build a life I love, while my vision fades away. These lessons are not only applicable to people experiencing sight loss as they are not the skills I need to navigate the world without sight. Instead, they’re a set of principles that make that possible, but importantly, they also create a sense of wellbeing and happiness.

Where you may or may not need to navigate the world without sight, wellbeing and happiness are universally sought after and sometimes, illusive. The new year seemed like the perfect time to start talking about this as so many of us want to make positive changes. So, if that’s you, I hope what blindness taught me, can help you too.

What blindness taught me

It may be surprising that I’d talk about slowing down when you may be brimming with motivation and raring to go as we kick off the new year, but that’s precisely why I chose this lesson first. I think being more deliberate about any changes we want to implement in our lives increases our chances of success. Slowing down allows us to do this, so let me tell you about how blindness taught me to live slowly.

How blindness taught me to live slowly

In the last few years, I’ve been learning different ways to do pretty much everything with less vision. Generally, it takes longer for me to do something, than someone who can see. Not always, but often. This is no surprise when you consider I’m operating in a world designed for people who can see. I must take my time so I can pay attention to my actions and carry out tasks as mindfully as I can. A momentary lapse of concentration can easily lead to little disasters when you can’t see.

I recently set off in completely the wrong direction down the street after (figuratively) bumping into a friend. I hadn’t taken note of what I could feel and hear around me before diving into conversation and had become disorientated whilst we were talking. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but when you can’t see it can take a while to realise you’re going the wrong way, and even longer to get reorientated! Then last week, there were tomatoes and green peppers strewn across the kitchen floor when, in my haste, I decided to skip reaching out to feel for the counter before placing my shopping bag down (I missed!).

Nowadays, for me, going too fast and failing to concentrate often results in spills, bumps and usually, a bruised ego. I don’t wish to paint a picture of visually impaired people being clumsy, because the opposite is true. We know there are consequences to moving too fast, so become very conscious of not falling into that trap. But it was something I had to learn. In order to be independent and do all the things I wanted to after losing my vision, I had to slow down, so I did. And an unexpected thing happened.

Slowing down didn’t just minimise the likelihood of accidents, it made me feel different inside. That’s why I’m sharing these lessons. Not because if you slow down, you’ll walk into fewer walls (that’s true too!), but rather so you can enjoy the surprising psychological benefits of living slow.

More on that later, but first let’s look at why we need to slow down in the first place and what the benefits could be for you, regardless of whether or not you can see.

How we live

I had to slow down because I could no longer see, but if you can see, why would I suggest the same for you?

Busy, rushed and exhausted is increasingly our default state. We jump from one thing to the next and we even try to do several things at once, just to ‘get it all done’.  Sounding familiar? Well, you’re not alone.

Being ‘busy’ is not only the norm, but also something that people are oddly proud of. We seem to relish in telling each other how busy we are. Multitasking is considered an essential skill for everyone, from job seekers to stay at home mums. But have you ever thought, contrary to popular belief, that perhaps incessant over-scheduling and rushing from one thing to the next is not actually mandatory?

It’s become so acceptable to live in this way that you might be thinking, ‘That’s just life, right? What’s the problem?’ Aside from the fact that this fast paced lifestyle is exhausting, it gives rise to other problems that can affect our wellbeing. Going too fast doesn’t allow us to exercise certain mental skills that contribute to our happiness like clarity, depth of thought and true creativity. We might not notice we’re not using these skills day to day, but over time it could leave us feeling unfulfilled and yearning for a sense of direction in our lives.

What happens when you slow down?

1. You celebrate the small wins

As I slowed down, I began to appreciate my small achievements, which reminded me I am making progress. Sometimes it’s progress in my sight loss rehabilitation, when I navigate to a new location; or in my parenting efforts, when my kids do something awesome; other times it’s professional progress like landing a new client. Slowing down allows me to reflect on these kinds of achievements, which reaffirms that I can indeed do things well. Now, I don’t mean throwing a party or handing myself a medal, rather just taking a moment to take in the results of my actions. We all need some sign that we’re moving in the right direction to achieve a sense of wellbeing, and ultimately, towards the life we want for ourselves.

If you slow down, you’ll notice your small wins and even though the only thing you’ve changed is the speed at which you live and not the actions themselves, you’ll feel more successful. You’ll realise these things were there all along, but you were moving too fast to notice

2. You choose ‘important’ over ‘urgent’.

I know that not being able to see means I can’t do it all. If I decide to do something, it must be important, either practically, (paying bills and doing laundry); or emotionally, (seeing friends or travelling). Living slow means prioritising.

We must prioritise tasks of practical importance, but living slow means not forcing ourselves to hurry through them. For example. groceries are important, yes, but dashing around a busy supermarket? Not so much. I’d much rather add items to my Amazon Fresh cart gradually throughout the week and check out when I’m ready.

Some things we do contribute to our wellbeing and bring us closer to the life we want. Slower living allows us to spot these activities which can often be sidelined in favour of something more urgent. Going for a walk with my family yesterday was important, not because we needed to go somewhere but because in the life I’m cultivating, time with my family features heavily. I could have stayed at home and rushed through a piece of work instead, as that seemed more urgent. But as my husband and I walked slowly down the boardwalk along the Hudson River, while the children chased each other a little ahead of us, I felt like nothing in the world could be more important.

When I got home, my head was clear, and I probably produced a better piece of work than if I had stayed at home.

You don’t need to experience vision loss to ask yourself if you do things because they are important, or simply because they’re urgent? Urgent doesn’t always equal important and consistently choosing urgent over important sets us on an unintentional path, which doesn’t lead to long term happiness. We may think we need to do ‘all the things’, but slowing down makes us question how these things contribute to our long term goals, reflect our values and enrich our lives? Do they at all? If you slow down, you’ll find out as you naturally pass on the things that don’t.

3. You reach new depths

The more we rush, the less time we spend on things and on top of that, we’re more distracted than ever before. A few minutes into something, our minds move to something else, we check our email or think about what’s for dinner. Our need for speed plus distractions equals a lack of focus. As a society our ability to concentrate is deteriorating and it means we’re less capable of doing our best work. We can rarely be truly creative, innovative and original and we struggle to delve into the depths of a task or concept that would lead to us achieving more and feeling more fulfilled. Cal Newport discusses ‘Deep Work’ in a professional context in his best-selling book, but we could apply his teachings elsewhere.

 Whether we are parenting, learning, working or spending time with those we care about, real focus, which becomes available to us when we slow down, means we can give the present our full attention. This can only improve outcomes. We give our children our full attention, can understand more complex ideas, produce higher quality work and feel a greater connection with the people around us, all of which has a positive impact on our sense of wellbeing.

4. You become more efficient

Accepting that things would now take me longer than other people was not easy and realising I could not physically do things at the speed I used to, was tough. But as time passed and I learned more about what living with sight loss meant to me, it became clear being unable to rush and over schedule my days, was a kind of blessing. I now spend more time and effort on the things I do (because I need to) and despite my lack of vision, that often results in a higher quality output than pre-blindness me would have achieved, because I would rush. Speed is often mistaken for efficiency, but whereas speed only guarantees quick completion, efficiency is a balance of the time spent on a task and the accuracy and quality of the outcome. Remember, slowing down doesn’t mean you should do things at a snail’s pace. How much you slow down must feel right to you. When you find a pace that lets you enjoy the benefits of living slow, while keeping up with the duties we all have, you’ll find you’re more efficient than you thought. Doing things slowly and mindfully, results in higher accuracy and quality which also means we are less likely to have to go back to correct mistakes.

Going fast may mean we produce more output, but it’s likely to be of a lower quality. If we go slower and consistently see better results from our actions, these add up to a better life.

5. You make space for gratitude

I think most of us appreciate that gratitude plays a key part in building a happy life. The issue for many is not a lack of gratitude, but when to practice it. As vision loss means taking more time to do things, I’ve found myself appreciating things that I didn’t notice when I could see. I don’t mean I actively practice gratitude at every turn, appreciating every chirp of every bird in every tree. It’s more like a gentle realisation that things are good. It’s also not every single thing, all of the time, but more things, and more often than when I was in a hurry.

When I learned how to use a cane, I was grumpy to say the least. If you’re interested in my emotional turmoil around cane training, you can read about it in the The Cane and I series. Walking with a long cane is slower than walking with sight, but when I use my cane now, I often think how lucky I am to have it. I hope it’s not too melodramatic to say that after sight loss, it’s almost a gift to be able to walk from one place to another on my own, or to take my children where they need to go. It’s slow, but on the journey, I’m often reminded of how grateful I am for that journey, which is made possible by the same cane I resisted so much.

I don’t think this kind of gratitude is unique to someone who has lost something precious like me, but it’s in us all and we can only begin to notice once we slow down. Next time, you cook a meal, take your time. You’ll realise cooking isn’t just a chore. Cooking a meal for your family is creating joy, nourishment and the opportunity to strengthen connections. I’m not suggesting you should force yourself to be grateful every time you make toast, but if you slow down, these thoughts may come to you when you don’t expect it. Slowing down gives you the time to realise the value in what you’re doing. Gratitude comes naturally from that, and I think that must make us happier.

How to slow down

This post is not about doing things in slow motion so you don’t spill your drink. Nor am I telling you to be mindful and intentional every minute of the day. It’s about a change in pace that might be subtle but the impact this has on your happiness might surprise you. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

1. Slow down your morning

Mornings can be the most chaotic time of day, so slow down before the busyness begins. Calmly enjoy your tea or coffee and don’t check your phone as soon as you wake up. To achieve this, you may need to wake up a little earlier, but it is worth it to start peacefully and set the tone for the day ahead.

2. Try not to multitask

We often feel the need to multitask when we want to do things quickly, but it simply leads to lower performance. Our brains are incapable of focusing on two things simultaneously, so we just switch our attention quickly from one thing to another, not focusing on either task. Catch yourself the next time you are tempted to multitask and remember you’ll get better results if you slow down. It’s ok to reply to that email later, rather than try to cobble something together while you’re in the fruit and veg aisle forgetting what you were looking for.   

3. Schedule rest

We are more productive and efficient when we take breaks and allow our minds and bodies to rest, but rest rarely makes it onto our to-do lists. Taking rests slows us down, allowing us space to welcome all those benefits we have talked about in this post. You could schedule daily rests, perhaps 10 minutes rest for every 90 minutes worked, or a scheduled break at the same time each afternoon for a cup of tea (and cake!). Taking it a step further, you might schedule a free weekend each month or a week off every six months.

4. Overestimate time

We consistently underestimate how long it will take us to do something and end up rushing. Simply giving ourselves a realistic timeframe to do things will let us slow down to a sensible pace. We might get things done comfortably instead of in a panic and being a few minutes early is infinitely better than arriving in a flap, just in time or worse still, late. Try setting aside more time than you think you’ll need and see what happens.

I hope you enjoyed this life lesson blindness has taught me. Maybe parts of this post resonated with you, and you can see how these small changes could have a positive impact on your own life. If you decide to give any of these ideas a go, let us know in the comments below.

I truly appreciate you stopping by, and I can’t wait to share another lesson in living well and being happy that I have learned through blindness next time.

Image shows Ming, the author of A Blinding Light. She has long black hair and is wearing a red top.

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