Slow it down, amigo

Posted by Allen Rucker in Life After Paralysis on March 09, 2018 # Health, Mobility

When the good people at Reeve World Headquarters asked me for some tips about growing old with paralysis, my very first thought was “Slow down.” It came so quickly, I think, because it’s become my mantra for preventing many of the bodily pains and discomforts of aging in a chair. I can’t think of a physical thing that I do – transferring, toddling around on the street, grabbing a glass from a high shelf, even stretching -- that isn’t safer by doing more slowly and more mindfully.

I was coming to the “Slow Down” party a little late, I realize. Many figured this out long ago. The Los Angeles Times recently reported in its Science section that people who rush their eating are 47% more likely than slow eaters to contract diabetes II or other ghastly disorders. If you are mindful of transferring in and out of a car and in and out of a restaurant, then you should slow down and taste what you are eating. What a concept!

Then my admirably informed wife pointed out a podcast of a TED Radio Hour made up of six separate TED Talks from some of the brightest people on the planet about the virtues of slowing down. The first was from a Norwegian TV maker who invented “Slow TV” -- really, really slow TV, like a live broadcast of a 20-hour train ride in real time. It’s a form of meditation, I guess. In two minutes, Americans would be headed for the bar car. The ratings in Norway were through the roof.

The talk that really struck home was from Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at the Warton School at Penn and co-author of Shery Sandberg book about life after trauma, “Option B.” Adam is the very opposite of a slow mover. He finished his PhD thesis four months ahead of time and became the youngest tenured professor in the history of the Wharton School at age 28. He labels himself a “pre-crastinator,” i.e., someone who gets to the dentist an hour early for fear he’ll be late for his appointment.

Now Professor Grant sings a different tune. When he looked into this matter of slowing down, his research told him that most creative people in an organization are not the go-getters, the ones who get to the office at five am and leave at midnight. No, they are the seeming dawdlers, the guys or gals throwing pencils in the ceiling at two in the afternoon. They don’t get their expense accounts in on time, but because they give their brains free space, they have many more original ideas.

Grant quotes the uber-screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (“Moneyball,” “Steve Jobs”) on how he gets some much work done. “You call it procrastinating – I call it thinking.”

What does this have to do with living with paralysis? Everything. When you are in a chair and someone tells you to slow down, it feels like telling you to check out, stay indoors, and “save your energy.” Don’t do that. That would be stupid. Slowing down in this context means shifting modes, not giving up. The message is to stop trying to keep up with the White Rabbits of the world and allow your mind to wander into new areas of thought and action. For one thing, it reduces stress. You have enough stress just rolling around in a damn wheelchair your whole life.

Crazy as it sounds, being in a chair and the mind-set it demands can actually encourage you to shift gears. For instance: I now spend much more time writing and much less time going to pitch meetings and power breakfasts because I weighed the advantages in time and energy and practicing the craft of writing won. This is in part the chair talking. The same can apply to someone not big on sitting in front of a LCD screen all day. Like a gun pointed to your head, life in a wheelchair, I have found, focuses the mind. Focusing = slowing down = being healthier and in the end, more productive. Or something like that.

Adam Grant ends his talk by saying “It is not our actions that do us in; it’s our inactions.” Being in a chair, ironically, doesn’t mean inaction. It means, perhaps, a much more thoughtful and rewarding kind of action. Slow down and think about it.