Telling someone with ADHD to slow down is like telling the sun not to shine and the tide not to rise. The love of speed is built into our DNA. If our bodies are not moving a mile a minute, our minds are, ideas popping up like popcorn at the movies.
ADHD and the Need For Speed
We get off on speed, and we abhor slowing down. I hate it when I’m in the checkout line at the supermarket, and I get stuck behind a person who wants to pay with a check. Oh, the agony. Producing identification, the cashier writing it down, the customer putting it away, all of which seems to take forever. I stand and stew. People with ADHD can be impatient, and to use such time imaginatively would require something we don’t have: patience.
We are always in a hurry, in love with speed, never so happy as when we hyperfocus on a task or click away on our laptop, unaware of the passage of time.
But we lose a lot by always going fast. You know the advice about smelling the roses — or is it smelling the coffee? To savor the best of life’s moments, we need to take time. Don’t you love that phrase, take time? Take it, while it’s ours to take! How much better it is to take time, rather than kill time or waste time.
The way to make the most of our time is not to outrun it, but to slow it down by doing what matters most.
How To Slow Down With ADHD
I think of our misunderstood, fascinating condition as having a race car for a brain, with bicycle brakes. The key lies in strengthening those brakes, so that we can slow down when we need to.
Here are some tips that will allow you or me or someone else who loves speed to slow down:
- Stop. Yes, that’s it. That simple. Whatever you are doing, stop doing it for a few moments. That will compel you to slow down.
- Listen. Try this one for more than a few seconds. No matter where you are, listen to whatever is around you for a few minutes. You will hear your surroundings and also the sounds in your mind.
- Look. I know, this is train-crossing advice — stop, look, listen. In doctor-speak, we call looking inspection. It is the first step in a physical exam, itself a dying science. You can learn by looking. But you can’t be going fast if you want to see clearly.
- Touch. If you touch a person, a dog, a piece of cloth, or anything at all, the slower you do it, the more you’ll savor the experience.
- Smell. The roses, the coffee, anything—the garbage, the perfume of your lover, or the smell of new wax in school corridors.
- Turn it off. If you want to slow down, turn off your devices for a while. Your external and internal world will slow down a lot.
- Meditate. You knew this would be on the list. Because it works. So do it. You’ll love it.
- Build down-time into your day. How? By cutting something out and not replacing it. Don’t say you can’t.
- Don’t over-commit. Instead of saying “yes,” learn to say, “I’ll get back to you on that” or “Let me ask my team about it” or “Let me ask my partner.” Don’t immediately commit to anything for a period of 30 days, which is a good drying-out period.
- Enjoy. As you walk down the street, say to yourself, “I enjoy my new skill of slowing down. I do not want or need to be a crazed maniac. My ideal me is not a jitterbug, buzzing around like some ad executive. I like the new, patient me. I take in life slowly, savoring it as I do.”
Dr. Ned Hallowell has ADHD himself and is a practicing psychiatrist and founder of the Hallowell Center for Cognitive and Emotional Health, outside Boston and in New York City. He is the author of 20 books, including Because I Come from a Crazy Family: The Making of a Psychiatrist.