The Power of Playing with Pace – Slowing as Solution, Speed as Selection

If you had to describe the current pace of your life using one word what would it be? Frenzied? Peaceful? Panicked? Joyful? Never-ending? Mindful? Is pace something that is just happening to you? When is the last time you made a conscious choice about your pace? 

Fast, slow, sprint, sneak, are just a few of the ways that kid play. Exploring the world around them and the various paces of being they can implement. Our pace is a choice we make. But do you find yourself falling into the same pace without giving it much thought or consideration? I have found that noticing and playing with pace has been one of the most powerful remedies for my anxiety.

Childhood Exploration of Pace

When we were kids we played with pace all the time. It was part of exploring our own physical body within the environment around us. It was part of interacting with others in the spaces around us. Curiosity and possibility at the forefront of our young minds. But when did the playing stop and at what cost?

Growing up, I used to play this game with my siblings. When watching a TV show during the commercial breaks (this was before the time of Netflix and DVR) we would run to our bedrooms and try to clean up as many things as we could and then try to sneak back and arrive the closest to the end of the commercial break without going over (think Price is Right). We’d experience the contrast and rush from sitting and watching TV, running and picking things up, and then sneaking quietly down the stairs to the TV without being noticed, all the while having friendly competition with one another. This also provided a way for us to feeling like cleaning our rooms was fun…imagine that? And playing with contrasting speeds made this feel all the more exciting. 

Then we had the game “Red light, Green light” we would play with friends during recess. In this game a group of people stand in a line far away from one person, a caller, who is facing away. The caller exclaims “green light” and the group of people try to race forward and be the first person to tag the caller. At any moment, the caller can exclaim “red light” and then turn around to look at the group. The group then has to “freeze” in place, if the caller detect anyone still moving that person is out. The caller then turns around and says “green light” and the travel forward continues until they yell “red light” again and try to catch someone still moving. 

Though these may be games from childhood, they offer me some insight. The contrast in these games is what created the challenge. We had to wield control over the pace in which we were doing things. How can I both quicken and then immediately slow or stop? How can I take control of my own pace within my body, my environment, and the world? We learned that we were capable of doing so…and then we grew up.

Play Outsourced for Productivity

Work, life, home maintenance, social schedule, responsibilities, relationships, all started vying for our attention. Making their demands of our energy, our resources, our time, and we default. The pace of life began to snowball, collecting more and more speed as it raced down hill. Making its demands bigger, louder, and faster and faster until inevitable, we get sick, depressed, anxious, overworked, on auto-pilot, and are forced to slow down. Benjamin Franklin said “There will be plenty of time to sleep once you are dead”, but let me tell you Ben, your body is not a machine. It is not designed to perpetually work on overdrive, overworked, overwhelmed, and over-committed. We shouldn’t need a health crisis in order to grant ourselves permission to slow down. And we don’t have to live as a slave to the frenetic pace of life that the modern Western world touts as necessary to “keep up with the Jones”.

There is a lot of space in between sprinting and stopping? There is a lot of bandwidth available. Do you operate in more than one bandwidth? Do you exercise the option to choose your pace throughout the day

Anxiety and Speed

I often find that when I’m anxious, I begin moving at a faster pace, physically quickening the speed at which I’m performing my tasks. Sometimes I’m not even aware of my anxiety because I’m moving so quickly there isn’t time to acknowledge it. But the moment I stop to take an exhale, I can feel the rising panic: the dissonance, the dissatisfaction, the doubt, the fear. The fastness feels frantic. The frenzy leads to fury. And the fact that I’m “getting things done” doesn’t even matter because I feel so disconnected from myself and the world around me.

I believe we often move quickly because we feel overwhelmed with the amount that we believe we have to do each day. With a massive lists of tasks, chores, correspondence, responsibilities, we see speed as the only viable solution. Quickening as our only option. But what if I told you that slowing might be the solution? How would your day feel if you tried that?

Slowing as Solution

I like to use the physical act of slowing down to bring me back to myself. When my anxiety is high, my pace is typically fast. Just the act of noticing this and slowing down my body immediately makes me feel more at ease. Do I have to be moving that fast? Is hurry even helpful? 

Author Mark Buchanan in his book The Rest of God reflects “I cannot think of a single advantage I’ve ever gained from being in a hurry. But a thousand broken and missed things, tens of thousands, lie in the wake of all that rushing. Through all that haste, I thought I was making up time. It turns out I was throwing it away.” What lies in the wake of your rushing? What are you missing out on for the sake of getting that “just one more thing done”?

The physical act of slowing and yielding brings me into the present awareness of what I am doing. It makes sure that I’m not missing each moment of life that passes by. My life experience is more valuable than my output. Slowing my pace allows me to be an insider in my own life, versus an outsider looking in seeing my life pass before me as a line of outputs on a conveyor belt. Slowing helps me enjoy the moment and really notice the nuances and joy in even the most mundane and common tasks. I keeps me in the present and helps me to connect deeper to myself, my immediate environment, and the world around me.

Speed as Selection

Playing with speed and cadence of movement can be fun when we become aware of it. We are not a slave to the pace of life that we live. We have choice in how we move through the world. We can run, sprint, meander, crawl, leap, skip, or just be. We have more control over our physical experience than we often think. We are not fully slave to the feelings and sensations that we experience, and finding ways to manage them can be super empowering. Maybe pace is just one of the tools we can wield. 

When we are anxious, we do not have to move fast or quicken our pace. When we feel tired or lethargic, we do not have to move slowly. When we are bored, we do not have to sit and sulk. Each of these options are a choice. And in order to change our choice, we have to first become aware that we can choose! It all starts with noticing.

Never Too Old for Play 

Once we grow out of school aged, it seems our environment doesn’t build in as many opportunities to play. The memories of these games linger on as nostalgia, but we often do not recapture the essence of these games in our adult lives. 

When we open our eyes to see pace not as something happening to us, but as a conscious choice we can use it as a super power. A way to play with our experience in the world around us. And I believe all of our lives could use a little more play! 

Here are three games that I love to implement to explore pace in my adult life as choice:

1) A Snail’s Pace

I used to have a plastic molded early 1970s sign in my bedroom. I found it a local thrift shop, and it had a large cartoon graphic of a snail and in bubble letters the words “Slow is Beautiful.” A small visual reminder to slow, exhale, and see beauty. I started practicing A Snail’s Pace exercise when I caught myself becoming anxious from the pace I was demanding of myself. I also like to use it when I notice that I’m moving super quickly as a means to just “get something done”.

In “A Snail’s Pace”, make the conscious choice to move super-slow and see how your nervous system shifts. See how your awareness shifts. See how your presence in the moment shifts. Start by moving at 50% of the rate. Try that for about a minute. Then, see if you can again cut in half your pace, and decrease by another 50%. Sit with that pace for a while. How does that feel? What nuances do you become aware of? Can you decrease by another 50%? This may even feel like slow motion.

The slower we move, the more intentional we must become. Really sensing and feeling, how does my arm move? What are the micro-shifts happening in my body to maintain balance while I’m moving more slowly? This is a great one to implement when doing the dishes or folding laundry. It’s helps to bring interest to the often mundane. How does this fabric feel? What sound does the sponge make? Where is my body in space at this exact moment?

This exercise I often find myself performing out of need. When I catch myself in the pattern of moving too quickly, getting stressed and overwhelmed, or completely not feeling present in the activity I’m doing. I do this exercise as a personal prescription. It’s time for Snail’s Pace…exercise ensue.

2) Race the Clock

If you’re anything like me, tidying up the house is not a favorite past time of mine. But I find play, games, and friendly-competition (even if it’s with myself) super enjoyable. So, take a look at your time window. You have 15 minutes until you have to be out the door…set a timer for 10 minutes, and Race the Clock. How much can you tidy up and put away before the timer goes off? I love this exercise because it physically gets me moving faster with awareness. And after all, variety is the spice of life! We need movement variety and variance to keep us on our toes, and since I’m making the conscious choice about my pace and speed, it’s enjoyable to race around and chase the clock. 

You will find yourself bending, jogging, reaching, lifting, ducking, and speeding around from space to space. Who knew you could accomplish so much in such a small time window by just challenging yourself with a timer. Maybe, you’ll even break a small sweat! And don’t worry, it will still leave you with 5 minutes before you have to be out the door and on to what’s next. When you’re done racing the clock, upon stopping, the world around you will feel slower paced. The richness of the contrast will stick with you for hours to come. And when you’re done being out and about, you’ll be able to come home to a more inviting space with less visual clutter and mess. Happy mind, happy body.

3) Interval Training

You’re likely familiar with the phrase interval training ever since H.I.I.T. (High Intensity Interval Training) became popular within the last decade. But intervals don’t have to just be for high intensity. The magic of interval training lies in the contrast between one state and another. For H.I.I.T. it’s the high intensity exercises and then the period of complete rest. How could intervals be implemented into your daily life? Many runners do this through Fartlek running. The Swedish word “Fartlek”, which literally translates to “speed play”, describes this exact process of running at a quick pace for a period of time and then switching to a slower pace, and then repeating this pattern, quick to slow. But pace is not the only think that Fartlek running varies, it also emphasizes varying terrain. Changing our speed and terrain are both ways to add more interest to our work and our environment. 

Next time you are taking a walk with your dog, with your stroller, with a friend, try and incorporate some interval training to bring more interest. Power walk for a few blocks, then meander for a few blocks. Take a new route to change your terrain. Walk on the grass in the median instead of the concrete sidewalk. Hike through a nature preserve on mulch instead of on the paved walking path.

Kids love this too as a means to make walking more interesting. Racing to the light post, romping through the grass, slow motion as you step over the sidewalk cracks, the variety is as expansive as your creative mind.

Power over Pace

Pace can be overpowering, or pace can be play. We must become aware of when we are hurried, worried, racing. Without this awareness we are unable to harness pace for its power. We can use pace as a choice, instead of allowing it to be a dictator. May you invite pace into your life as a playful partner to your day. Slowing and quickening with conscious choice. 

I wrote this short poem below after walking alone along the Atlantic ocean shores in Myrtle Beach South Carolina last November. Taking notice of my relationship with speed, pace, urgency, and slowing. It’s a conscious practice, and maybe someday it will take me less conscious effort. But for now, I’m happy that I can acknowledge and note within myself when I’m physically quickening as a response to my mind’s racing. And with this simply acknowledgement I can then make a conscious choice to quiet the anxieties within me, and rest on the helm of slowing.

Calming Urgency
I catch myself walking fast. 
I slow.
There is no sense of urgency
My mind moves faster than my body,
It quickens me.
I again have to slow.
No urgency.
Thinking takes over mindfulness.
Plotting. Planning. I quicken,
Pause,
Again
Slow.
Slowing to notice. Engage. Be.
Though this is not easy.
Sensing.
Urgency is a strong sense. 
Overpowering,
but not overtaken when we consciously slow.
I slow. soften. yield.
This is how it feels.
When will it not longer be a phase of constantly having to choose slowing?
When slowness just is?
And slowness is enough.
The grand pause.
The contentment…waiting. Awaiting me.
The performance over.
The grand reverence.
To body
mind
spirit.
Where being is enough.
Warm sun. Cold ocean water.
I need contrast.
I need nothing.
The distinction of one against the other.
One can only exist with the other.
The quickness, and the s l o w i n g.

-Courtney Anne Holcomb (CaH)
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, November 2021

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