The Danger of a Slow Start

Last night we had a guest to whom we gave the master bedroom, which meant that we slept in the front bedroom and endured the constant parade of cars driving in and out of the driveway, people walking past, a cavalcade of wailing sirens, and the rattling coming and going of our neighbor’s shopping cart early this morning. (The first time I saw her, I thought there was a homeless woman in our driveway. I’ve since realized that she does live there, but her contribution to the family’s income seems to be collecting bottles and cans for recycling.) Needless to say, I did not sleep as well as I would have liked.

On such days, waking tired and grumpy, I am tempted to start the day slowly. Have a leisurely breakfast and a few cups of tea or – the sign of a truly desperate morning – coffee; read whatever book I’m working on at the moment; catch up on emails and Facebook and articles; and just generally work up to the strains of the day.

This is false interpretation of the lessons to be learned from Days That Seem Like They’re Going To Be Impossible To Get Through, But End Up Not Being So Bad.

These are the days that begin exactly as today did, but which don’t have the option of a slow start. There’s a meeting first thing in the morning, or there’s a big project to work on, or an appointment before your usual quitting time that means you need to start early. You suck it up and slog through and maybe have an extra dose of your caffeine of choice, and somewhere in mid-afternoon you suddenly realize you feel just fine. You’ve been focusing, your body has compensated, you’ve been productive. Sweet!

The lesson here is obviously: get on with it. Do what needs to be done, and everything will sort itself out.

What I usually hear is: I’ll feel better later. I just need to distract myself from how bad I feel until I get to that place.

And almost inevitably, the Slow Start continues to a Slow Middle and then, more often than I care to think about, to a Slow End.

I was pretty pleased that I woke up/got up just slightly before 8.  Less so when half an hour passed before I could be bothered to get a bowl of cereal. Kind of horrified when it was fully 11 and the nice cool fog had burned off before we even got ourselves out the door for a walk. Now it’s 1:30 and yes, I’m writing a blog post and that’s great, but none of the important and urgent things I intended and needed to do today are one jot further along than they were yesterday. Oops.

I’ve been reading a book about brain plasticity that spends a lot of time talking about how we often wire very bad habits into our brain by simply trying to avoid feeling bad. “I’m tired, so I’ll put off working,” is a perfect example. Pretty soon you’re convinced you can’t work when you feel that degree of tiredness. Then, of course, you feel still worse because some part of you realizes you’re not doing what you need to and could do and you feel bad about it. Because you now feel worse, you feel even less capable of doing whatever it is you’re avoiding – and before you know it you’re stuck in a negative, frustrating spiral.

Yes indeed, the slow start is an insidious and dangerous idea. Much better, when I hit these days, to throw myself in the shower first thing and race through the morning. After all, tired me can’t keep up with that kind of pace and soon falls completely out of the picture.

One thought on “The Danger of a Slow Start

  1. You are so right–the more you give in because you “feel bad (lazy, sleepy, tired, out-of-sorts, etc.)”, the less you accomplish, and the worse you feel. Nothing will ever feel as good as meaningful accomplishment. And the more difficult the goal, the more meaningful the accomplishment.

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