Stop. Just stop.

Published February 1, 2017   Posted in How to Think

Stop. Stop whatever it is that you’re doing (aside from reading this blog post). Take this time to think about what’s happening in your life, the habits you hold, the routines you have, the motions that you go through. Now, ask yourself a question.

How many of those things are working out wonderfully for you? Don’t kid yourself – be honest.

Are you always late for work? Why? Maybe your routine doesn’t allow enough time in the morning. Or, maybe the Starbucks drive-through sets you back 10 or 15 minutes. What habit kills the chances of you making it to work on time?

Do you always seem to be stressed out? About what?

Are you making the progress that you expect at the gym? If not, why not?

Go

We Americans live in one of the richest and advanced countries in the world. Opportunities abound. Our nation offers scholarships for college, inexpensive housing and reliable electrical grids and running water almost everywhere, all the while being insanely connected to one another through Internet and our handheld cellular devices. Yet, people remain unhappy. That’s a total buzzkill.

Something is seriously wrong. That “something” is speed.

Fucking stop. Life is not a race. We all arrive at the next red light at about the same time whether we weave in and out of traffic or not. Seriously. Have you ever pulled up next to a kid who blew passed you, then cut right in front of your car only to switch lanes again to get just one more car ahead?

Now, you’re sitting right next to the kid. You have a slight smirk on your face because you know driving like a jackass got this kid nowhere. You’re right next to him! A lot of good that did him.

Here’s a secret: Life works the same way. The faster we go, the more we miss. We make decisions based on beautiful assumptions of what life “should be” and then proceed to plow forward as fast as we can towards the next decision, and the next. Along the way, very few of us take the time to stop and consider whether the choices we make are right for our lives.

Stop

This dude looks a little unhappy.

Do you stop long enough to consider how your decisions effect your life? Or, do you plow full speed ahead in search of the next one? If you are like most Americans, you’re pushing headlong forward. Always moving. Forward. More. Forward. More!

And we end up making the same mistakes over and over again. It’s because when we do something, we teach our brains to repeat this same behavior in the future. Why? Less energy, perhaps. The pathway we previously created gets re-used. Path of least resistance, like a river.

This happens when we do things right, but also when we do things wrong. We tend to ignore where the path leads us. Instead, we simply follow the easiest route to a desired result. It’s because when things don’t go horribly wrong, we mentally assume things went right. No reason to change, right?

In all facets of our lives, these mental pathways fuck with our sensibilities – and many of us don’t realize it. Always losing things. Dating the wrong types of people. Overreacting. Perpetual tardiness. Tempers.

Bad habits stick with us as easily as good habits. And until we stop to consider more thoughtfully how our decisions affect our lives, we sentence ourselves to endless cycles of failure and mediocrity.

Stop it.

Stop, Drop and Roll

Remember learning the “Stop, Drop and Roll” routine back in school? I do. We were taught to stop whatever we were doing, drop to the floor and roll like hell any time that we spontaneously caught on fire. Or were caught in a fire, perhaps.

The very first step is to stop, not run. Running fans the flames. The fire gets bigger. Things get worse.

When something’s wrong, stop. When nothing appears to be wrong, slow down. Taking a more gradual path through life gives us time to reflect. To be present. To realize that just because things may not have gone horribly wrong, there still might be a better way.

There’s not enough time in the day to stop? Bullshit. Yes, there is.

It’s different for each of us, but find the time. It’s there. Consider taking an extra 10 or 15 minutes before bed (or in bed!) to reflect quietly on your day. Think about the choices you made, the interactions you had, your reaction to the day’s events. This doesn’t need to take long, but over the days, the time you take to reflect adds up into something extremely powerful.

It makes you more deliberate and thoughtful.

What makes you late to work? Why do you keep choosing the wrong person to date? Why do you feel lonely or afraid? What are the things that you do that might contribute to the satisfaction you feel out of life?

Maybe the answer has been right in front of you this whole time, but you never gave yourself the opportunity to realize it.

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Comments

58 responses to “Stop. Just stop.”

  1. Steve’s gotten reflective in retirement! That’s a good thing. Love the “racing to the stoplight” analogy. Great reminder to slow down, be intentional, and find something to enjoy every day. You made me think this morning, Steve. Then, I slowed down long enough to leave a comment! Now, I’ve got to race off…..slowly. Thanks for the brain food.

  2. It took me a very long time to realize how my past choices were affecting my life situation. Once I figured that out, I started focusing on making the very best decision for my life and future status.

    One thing that usually give an me anxiety is trying to meet ridiculous timelines imposed by my employer. I have actually lost sleep over this. And then a funny thing happened a few weeks ago. I stopped. I stopped caring whether or not I hit their artificial deadlines. I always do my best. I am a true work horse. But the days of me working all day long on a Saturday and ignoring my 7-year old daughter are over. I did this a few weeks ago and I’m disgusted with myself. No more. I look at my life as a whole. That is a day I will NEVER get back with her. She will grow up and I will never be able to relive that day I missed spending time with her and making memories when she was 7. Imagine what I would give to have that day back 10 or 20 years from now.

    I have finally fucking learned to STOP. Thanks for the timely post!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks for the comment, Mrs. MMM – yup, company-sponsored deadlines. I know exactly how you feel. Faster! Always faster! Get it done, now! Because, as we all know, things that get done FAST are also done BEST, right? 😉

      Good on you for taking the time to stop and to go at your own pace, not the pace of someone else. Congrats!

    • Arrgo says:

      I can relate to the deadlines at work. The executives and clients will wait until the last minute the get all their shit together then dump the job on you and expect you can just get it done without fully understanding what it takes to complete it properly. But you arent in the position to give them any shit for waiting so long. Thats why FIRE is so important. You want to have options and you can only live with a job like that for so long.

    • Andrew says:

      The deadlines at work hit so close to home. I too have lost sleep over this. A particular project I am working on right now has been bad on many fronts – including threatening tone from my bosses.

      I’m quitting the job in May to travel, but I still get stressed out despite knowing this. At the end of the day I want to succeed, and being involved in a toxic environment like this can trick me into thinking I’m the one with the problem. At the end of the day, I need to remind myself that I’m not.

      Like you, Mrs. MMM, I am a hard worker and give my absolute best. If that isn’t good enough, well, then it will feel that much better to tell them goodbye here in a few months.

  3. Zed says:

    Thank you, this is all so true. In fact it’s easily my biggest complaint at work. Slow down, see what’s actually happening, move forward intelligently.

    I recently listened to a TED Radio Hour episode called, “Simply Happy.” The part that stuck with me was a segment with a monk, Brother David Steindl-Rast, about being grateful. He used the trigger “Stop. Look. Go.” to provide grounding moments. Worth a listen.

  4. Great post, Steve! This is something I struggle with at times. I move through things at a fast pace and don’t often slow down to enjoy the ride or think about the process. I love your discussion on thinking about what is making you unhappy, stressed out, or anxious. Then focus on fixing those things that are causing it.

    I started working in meditation to my morning routine a few months ago. It forces you to slow down and be present in the moment. It’s really had a positive impact on my morning. Give it a try!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Go F Yourself. Meditation can absolutely do wonders. It forces you to slow down and start thinking about what you’re doing. Very beneficial for the vast majority of us, for sure. 🙂

  5. The way things in life should occur is plan do check act to quote the Deming cycle from lean. In more common sense terms look before you leap. Your right, we as a society don’t look we skip right to do. We pay for it as well in rework, or worse acceptance of the bad situation we created. I try, keyword try as it’s hard to fight this human nature, to think about the long run impact of my actions and adjust my plans accordingly. Whether it be a job change, spending, or something else. I think as a society the issue is even more pronounced the further out the impact. We seem to be a society that only considers tomorrow’s impact.

    • Steve says:

      It is tough to swim against what we might consider to be human nature…to just keep going. I think a lot of it is our society, too. We’ve been ingrained with the feeling that we must always go, 100% of the time. We must be producing…otherwise, we are consuming. I do believe there is a place between those two spots where we can learn a great deal about HOW WE WORK, as people. And when we get back to producing, we become more efficient and effective as a result. 🙂

  6. Thanks for the reminder. I think this is one of the first benefits that people obtain from meditating. We act like we have no free time in our day and that we need to go go go. When we stop and spend 10 minutes doing nothing, we realize that the world doesn’t end or pass us by and that we are not harmed by taking our time.

    • Steve says:

      I definitely agree, Matt – it’s powerful stuff! And yeah, about that free time…most of us have it, but we CHOOSE to use that time in other ways. That’s a choice that we make. I love how you stated it: “When we stop and spend 10 minutes doing nothing, we realize that the world doesn’t end or pass us by”. Truth!

  7. Great reminder this morning of the importance of taking some time to stop and think about things. I try to do that, and my own writing helps focus some of it, but in the end I still feel like I’m stuck on this hamster wheel a little longer though. Getting closer and closer to truly saying STOP though!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks, Freedom 40! Good point about writing, and I never thought about it that way. In many ways, writing does help me to slow down a bit and consider the things that I’m doing. It also helps that I blog about OUR story, too – which forces me to actually think about what the hell is going on in my life. 😉

  8. Apathy Ends says:

    Snap decisions don’t just happen in the grocery store aisle – people make them in serious, life changing situations.

    Quick to get married, take a job they think they want because the check is a little bigger instead of holding out for the one they actually want (been there).

    I am all for some spur of the moment fun but if you consistently regret the decision – you should reflect and adjust – great thoughts Steve

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Apathy, and I totally agree. I remember a friend of the family dropped out of college in order to get married. Because they just *couldn’t wait* to tie the knot. But why? What’s the rush?

      Perhaps if we used our heads as much as we use our feelings, our society would be a much different place!

  9. Ty says:

    The stoplight is a good example because we’ve all been on BOTH sides of it. Another example is that life is like math, in that we tend to make mistakes and get it wrong when we rush the problem. Also, there are multiple ways to solve each problem, so find what works for you, take your time and get it right.
    Ty recently posted…10 Signs You’re On Thin Financial Ice

    • Steve says:

      Yes! Math is another good analogy to consider. The faster we move, the more mistakes we’ll make and not even notice. Find what works for you and keep doing it. 🙂

  10. SR says:

    Awesome post and perfect timing. It’s so true and I needed to be reminded of it!

  11. Morpheus told Neo, “There’s a difference knowing the path and walking the path.” Most people “know” they need to slow down, but won’t, as it can be tough to practice. I believe you convey that message very well.

    Sure, you can go through life hating everyone and everything and busting your ass to get to the next stop light, but then you look over and it’s the same old, mini-van you passed earlier. It is rusted and busted up but the driver is just smiling and you know their stress level is not nearly as high as yours.

    I believe more people need to hear “fucking stop.” Chill out and enjoy life and when you are gone make sure that hyphen between two dates on a tombstone actually means something.

    As always Steve, excellent writing!

    • Steve says:

      Amen to that, Independent Hoosier. Chill the hell out. We live in one of the most prosperous countries in the world. Opportunities for success are everywhere. You just gotta be *aware* enough to take them.

  12. I like the term ‘slow thinking’. Einstein and Benjamin Franklin were slow thinkers. They also only did about 2-3 hours of busy work a day. They also happened to be among the 1% of the population who are considered ‘self-actualized’, per Maslow. The rest of the time was spent pondering, discussing, moving and ‘daydreaming’…. Einstein’s term. These days, if you are caught pondering at work, you are a slacker. I always thought that was poor judgement on the part of management, depending on the type of work, of course. You can’t ponder when you are landing a commercial airplane or rescuing someone from a burning building, but you should ponder when you are a program manager.

    I use this phrase often: “Don’t confuse activity with accomplishment.”

    • Steve says:

      Slow thinking is an excellent term for this, actually. And you’re very right that work is a part of the problem. If you aren’t actively “doing” something, then you also aren’t being productive. Of course that’s nonsense on its face, but unfortunately, that mentality has permeated society.

      “Don’t confuse activity with accomplishment.” – love it!

  13. This goes back to the idea of intentional living. It is absolutely DIFFICULT to do, especially considering how full we tend to keep our lives. The interconnectedness of everything is mind-boggling and it’s so easy to become stressed out. I try to be more mindful by scheduling in daily meditation. It clears the extra noise from my head so I can focus on what I need to do in the present.

    • Steve says:

      You’re very right, it is difficult. It’s difficult because everything around us is precisely the opposite. It seems like the things that we “love” so much (technology!) also seem to make us way the hell too stressed out. Meditation is an excellent way to clear the noise, and those who do it well are markedly better prepared to confront life’s challenges.

  14. Arrgo says:

    I’ve found that just lying down for a bit to rest both mentally and physically is really helpful. It allows me to regroup my thoughts and think more clearly. You have to realize that you are human and can only push yourself so far. Running around like crazy all the time isnt neccessarily more productive. I try to come up with a plan and accomplish some things every day, week, month, year. As I’ve gotten older (and maybe wiser) I realize there is some truth to “slow and steady wins the race”

    • Steve says:

      Excellent advice – yup, just lying down a bit can definitely do wonders. The naps I take now during the day help a lot. Naps are good for the brain and keep us thinking as clearly as possible.

      Good stuff!

  15. Brian says:

    Made me think about whether it’s better to walk or run in the rain. You might be surprised at the answer. I find it’s about saying no more over and filtering what improtant to me and the family to the top of our priority list.

    • Steve says:

      That’s an excellent analogy that I had never considered, Brian…walk vs. run in the rain. I suppose you get more wet when you run even though you’re spending a longer time in the rain when you walk? Interesting!

  16. Joe says:

    Good advice. We are driven to keep pushing by everyone around us, but they might not have our best interest in mind. I really think it’s better to slow down a bit and figure out how to live a happier life. Life is a journey, not a race.
    On the other hand, I think it’s good to keep pushing when you’re young and energetic. 🙂

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Joe – there is a lot of wisdom in that. When you’re younger and in your accumulation phase, pushing to maximize your earnings can definitely be beneficial – but even then, going too fast can set us back in our goals, or at the very least increase our stress levels. But yeah, if there were ever a time to keep pushing, it’s when we’re young!

  17. Wait, what? Do you mean to say we’re responsible for our own lives? That we’re in complete control of what’s going on?

    Haha! All joking aside, this is very good advice. MORE and FASTER doesn’t always mean better!

    • Steve says:

      I know, it’s weird! People have a lot more control over their lives than they care to admit. We just gotta slow down long enough to see the forest for the trees! 😉

  18. This reminds me of an old Thich Naht Hanh saying “find peace in every step”. You might like my recent post Steve on Blogging as Meditation. http://millennialmoney.com/money-blogging-as-meditation/

  19. Great post, Steve! Thanks for reminding us of taking the time to stop and check our facts or whatever we have before making a decision.

    I usually apply this to when I want to buy something and whether or not it really is worth the money. The same thing can apply to work when we are rushing a project out the door as most of the time, we will miss inefficiencies or defects or maybe reinvented the wheel in some parts of our functionality just because we forgot to stop and take a look at what we already have.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks SP! There is just so much that we miss by going through life quickly. I used to be very guilty of that in a previous life…a life that happened to coincide with wasteful spending, too. Imagine that!

  20. Mrs. COD says:

    Yes, a thousand times, yes to this! Living mindfully, slowing down, focusing on what’s really important; we all need to do those things. Thank you.

  21. Great post. You don’t have to rush to do anything. You don’t have to do everything you want to do by the time you are 30, or 40 or 50 for that matter. You just need to be working towards it, if those things are truly important to you.

    You said it: life is not a race, the first to the finish isn’t the winner here. Life is a journey and those rushing through it miss the wonderful sights along the way. Sometimes the long and slow way is the best path. As long as you are not stuck where you don’t want to be, don’t be afraid to take your time.

  22. Great article. I read In Praise of Slow by carl Honore a few years ago which argued the same thing and made a huge impression on me.
    Jane

  23. Mr. SSC says:

    That is exactly the thing we realized when we started getting further into our FIRE plans. We didn’t necessarily want to not work, instead just create a lifestyle change to slow down from the hustle and bustle and crazy busy life we’d built for ourself.

    It’s working so far – with Mrs. SSC’s new job, our schedule has opened up and slowed down a lot. I was also able to switch my work schedule around to 6:10am – 3:40pm and I now have a lot more time to spend with the kids after work. I also found that setting my alarm back by just 5 minutes I could get to work consistently 10 minutes sooner. Crazy Houston traffic…

    • Steve says:

      Thanks for the comment! I imagine Houston traffic is bad, especially when you hit it at the wrong time. Tucson, believe it or not, is very similar even though we are only about a million people in the entire metro area…in the winter. 🙂

  24. Jamie says:

    Thanks for the great post Steve! Very timely. I’ve recently become aware of how much my thoughts race ahead to the next meal/appointment/etc. when I should be focusing on the moment I’m in. It makes it impossible to enjoy the now.

    It’s funny you mention those 10 minutes in bed at the end of the day because they have been making a huge difference. Working on toning down the multi-tasking now.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Jamie! It does take some getting used to, especially if you’re a person who naturally moves faster (like I was). I’m definitely not that kind of person any more, though!

  25. Jef says:

    Man love the authority in this post of your Steve! You’ve got you’re kick-butt pants on 😉 and I like it
    100% agree that often times the thing we want the most is right in front of us

    Do you meditate as a bit of a random question? I find that really assists with this sort of thing!

  26. Live slowly and live intentionally
    Thanks for shooting this message out to everyone Steve. More people need to realize the more they rush the more of their life that will be a blur and gone forever. I always enjoy these type of posts.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Chris! I agree, more of us need to slow down a bit and really focus on how the decisions in our life actually affect us. It’s an important step to self improvement. 🙂

  27. Wow. Really well put, Steve. I know I don’t stop and reflect enough and the days and weeks sometimes just fly by.

  28. John Wedding says:

    Great post.

    I’ve gotten a bit better about things like this over the years but sometimes I’m too slow, and then I crunch up against deadlines. It does seem to be possible to slow things too much.

    • Steve says:

      I think there is a happy medium that we all need to find that’s perfect for our lives. I agree – just like there is too fast, there is also too slow. We need the Momma Bear approach…”just right”. 🙂

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