I laughed out loud when I passed this sign near our house: I don’t speed behind the wheel, but put me in front of my computer and I push my limits mercilessly! If I’d been policing my personal work-zone speeds all these years, I’d have racked up enough fines to buy a Mercedes for every traffic cop in the city.

But it’s never too late to mend one’s rotten ways. And in my case that started with self honesty: specifically, noticing just how awful I feel when I push myself to operate at 80 miles an hour all day.

It hurts to speed

This noticing took courage, because I discovered that underneath the frazzled tension, I felt desperate. I was denying myself the spaciousness I personally need to feel human. By “human,” I mean “slowed down and present.” I knew very well what that felt like, and I thought I wanted to feel that way all the time. But I was chronically sped up, and it was maddening and profoundly discouraging to feel so out of control with it.

For a long time, when the desperation welled up, I’d swallow it back down and tell myself that my post-yoga bliss moment or post-meditation peace moments represented an unattainable standard of well-being. I’d remind myself to “suck it up and deal”, adding for good measure, “You’re neurotic…you’re too high-maintenance…life is just stressful, deal with it…WHAT?! you are stressed AGAIIN?! We just got you calmed down!” And so on.

If this sounds at all familiar, read on for specifics about “speeding,” and ways of counteracting this habit, which is unfortunately as common as it is destructive.

Why I speed

As a highly sensitive person, I am prone to speed up like this because I take in so much from my environment, process it deeply, and am highly conscientious in my responses to it all. Even my own creativity can be overstimulating: I see possibilities everywhere. I feel like Harry Potter when he breaks into the Lestrange family vault at Gringotts: every object I touch—or in this case, every thought I think—multiplies explosively.

I’m also prone to believe I should be able to operate at the same pace as “the other eighty percent”—the majority of people who are not highly sensitive. The fact is, sensitive people need more mental and physical rest time. Unless you grew up knowing that—and not many of us did— then you too may have learned to push yourself too hard. Over time, you accepted constant overstimulation as “normal.”

Make the commitment to slow down

I’ve worked with many sensitive people who are chronically anxious, overstimulated and overstressed, it has given me a healthy respect for the paramount importance of slowing down. This really is the mother of all self commitments you need to make if you want to live a happy life and fully access your creative and relational powers as a sensitive person.

The hardest part is deciding that feeling present, centered, and calm is a priority for you. If you don’t believe this is possible, or don’t think you deserve it, you won’t be able to commit to what it takes to make this happen.

Carrying out your new commitment might mean relatively simple tweaks in your schedule and habits. Or it might require serious soul-searching and significant change, especially if you work in an environment that requires inflexible hours and non-stop stimulation. No obstacle is insurmountable, however, if you are truly committed to your own well-being.

Know yourself

Once you’ve committed to slow down, you need self-knowledge to implement the right changes for you. This comes in two parts: knowing your sped-up behaviors, and knowing the beliefs that are driving them.

Speeding behaviors: my breath gets shallow. My stomach feels tight. I hunch over whatever I’m doing (the computer, my oboe, the chopped onions). I talk faster. I feel pressure behind my forehead. To determine your speeding behaviors, use your HSP strength of keen observation.

Speed-inducing beliefs: I get identified with something in me that feels like it is not, and never will be, good enough. It attempts to cope with this hopelessness by striving ceaselessly to do more and do it better. If you have a belief like this driving your speeding–and that is nearly always the case–you will not stop even though you know it feels awful. Self-awareness is the key skill you need to catch this kind of core belief.

Cultivate your “go-to” skills

I have six primary skills I use to get slowed down, to catch my speeding habits, and to notice and let go of limiting beliefs. I’ll write more in future about each of these, but here’s my list:

  1. Focusing: Focusing is the best way I know to uncover the deep beliefs that underlie painful habits like chronic pushing and speeding. Without this clarity, my other efforts are futile.
  2. Mindfulness: mindful self-awareness is my internal “speed trap.” It is the meta-skill without which the rest of the skills on this list are no use because they’ll never get employed.
  3. Meditation: Sitting in the morning increases my likelihood of maintaining self-awareness through the day, in addition to offering my mind the “reflective rest” it desperately needs.
  4. Breathing: We each breathe about 20,000 times a day. There’s nothing like the breath to bring me back to self awareness. I observe the quality of my breath all day.
  5. Restorative yoga: Restorative yoga is done with supportive props so you can completely relax. I go into a deep rest very quickly and twenty to thirty minutes gives me a “full system reset.” This gives me the rest benefits of a long nap, but without any grogginess, and it doesn’t affect my ability to go to sleep at bedtime.
  6. Energy work: I learned this from my friend Katherine Kehoe (contact her at katherinem_kehoe@hotmail.com to learn more) who taught me how to manage my own energy, including the release of other people’s energy I may have absorbed, and how to be more choiceful about what energy I take in in the first place.

If you know you want to commit to slow down, yet are inconsistent about following through with the needed skills and actions, please get the support you need. That’s what I’m here for!