In praise of the slow processors

Several years ago, I was invited to be part of a committee to plan an event that would happen in six months' time. I went to the first meeting, listened to the conversations, engaged as I could, and went home to consider the next steps I thought would be best.

But before I had a chance to process some of the conversations that took place during our initial meeting, it seemed as if the organizers were five steps ahead. While they asked for input, it seemed like they already knew the direction they wanted to take things. Once they heard from a few quick responders, they were off and running.

I felt as though my opinion didn't matter. But in that moment, instead of considering perhaps they were moving too fast, I turned the blame on myself: if only I were a faster processor, then my contribution would be valuable and my voice could be heard.

To make matters worse, during that time I had started to notice a pattern. I was taking even longer than usual to process events and experiences, requiring broader margins and more white space to consider their impact and my desire. While I wanted to start moving more quickly in my decisions and processing times, it seemed to me I was moving in the wrong direction.

Still, I am a hard worker who meets deadlines and can usually finish tasks when they need finishing. But I am also a slow processor who has to allow conversations, ideas, and other influences to marinate before I can grab hold of them.

These two true statements fight.

What is good for my inner health is often frustrating for my work.

I have tried to discipline the slow out of me. I've read blog posts and books on how to be productive, how to write even faster, and how to do other things I'm not naturally great at.

I have learned to do more in less amount of time, to focus in less than ideal situations, to finish, ship, and deliver. But it doesn't come naturally for me. I find myself envious of those who seem to consistently organize, produce, and share. They make it look so easy!

Productivity skills have helped me meet important deadlines and release unnecessary perfectionism, and for that I'm thankful.

The problems come, though, when I foolishly try to apply these same skills to my inner life. This planning committee I mentioned required me to think and consider on a soul level. But the soul and the schedule don't follow the same rules. My opinions were never heard simply because I couldn't form them quickly enough.

Since then, I've learned the truth: my slowness is not a fault, but fighting it might be.

emily-p-freeman_textPhoto by Emily Freeman

I tend to think my limitations are my burdens, but perhaps they are actually my gifts if I'm willing to see them that way. Because once I finally grab hold, I will take the conversation, the idea, and the influence all the way in, allow it all to move and shape my thoughts and my actions.

These slow-cooked thoughts will influence how I love, how I think, how I write. They will fill up holes of misunderstanding, smoothing some of the rounded question marks into straight-up exclamation points.

As much as I sometimes wish I could post a bulletin to this fast-moving world, announcing a celestial time-out, I know that isn't the answer. Many people are in a season of speed, a time of movement, of action, and go. We need quick-thinkers and fast-responders to be sure. But that is not where I usually am.

I cannot wait for the world to stop in order for me to embrace permission for slow.

If you're a slow processor too, I raise my glass in your direction: here's to you, my fellow slow processors. Let's take the long way home. Let's embrace the silence to consider. Let's give ourselves permission to think, to listen, to be sure.

Here's to waiting before we move, pausing before we speak, and trusting that our natural hesitations may be our greatest gifts, rather than our liabilities. Here's to believing we have something to offer – but that doesn't mean we have to offer it in the ways the world tells us we must.

Here's to listening to our questions, sitting in the darkness, and letting our experiences do their deep work within us.

Here's to a long, deep breath.

A note from Tsh: Emily has written a fantastic book that celebrates the small and the slow, and it's my favorite of hers yet. Simply Tuesday speaks to my soul—because as she says, the soul and the schedule don't speak the same language. You don't want to miss this one.

Reading Time:

3 minutes

 

 

 

23 Comments

  1. Tammy Whitney

    Yes.This. I have been practicing the discipline of slowing for the past year or so and have found that I am really a slow processor but I work in a setting that requires rapid decisions and high productivity (I am a pastor and a non-profit director. People need things NOW!) Committees kill me because in reality people expect me to come with a plan and then just tell them what they are supposed to do. I left a meeting yesterday and said to someone, “Do you ever get tired of hearing yourself talk? I am so there right now!” I would love to hear more ideas, have time to process them, and then time to seek God’s voice and to discern….but alas we live in a culture of NOW! So I embrace the slow wherever I can…

    Thank you so much for this post!

  2. Guest

    This is a very thoughtful article and I appreciate that you aren’t criticizing those who are fast processors as you think through this. I am a fast processor. I have been for as long as i can remember. I’m also an extrovert so I process by talking which naturally involves people in my processing. My husband (and several other family members!) are slow processors and introverts so they are slower to formulate their opinions and also do this processing inside their own heads. There is absolutely a place for all of us and there are strengths in all of these traits. A point of progress would be if people were self-aware about how they personally work best and were able to communicate that (as you are!). I often remind my husband, “You have to acknowledge when I’ve asked something.” Otherwise, I, as an extrovert and fast processor, feel like he doesn’t care about what’s being discussed and/or isn’t paying attention. Then he’ll say two weeks later “You just went off and did it without my input.” Letting me know “That’s something that’s important to me and I need some time to get my thoughts together on this. Let’s discuss again on XYZ.” would give him some time and me the clear message that he does have something he wants to share (sometimes he genuinely doesn’t care). A therapist friend of mine has also said that out of respect the person who needs the time must provide a date when they will revisit so it doesn’t linger indefinitely or give all the control to the person who needs more time. The needs of the fast processor should be respected also.

    • emily p. freeman

      Yes! What would we do without each other?! We must have both without discounting the importance of each.

  3. Tammy

    So beautiful! I am a slow processor and have often felt like my voice isn’t heard or doesn’t matter, and have felt frustrated that I couldn’t move my thoughts faster! Thank you for this lovely post!

  4. Rachel

    Thank you for this.

  5. Bethann Johnson

    Emily, I am so grateful for your slow processing because it produces such thoughtful written words. Thank you for this post and a reminder that small and slow is good too!

  6. Dana

    I so appreciate this post, as well as the commenter who gave some good tips for slow processors and faster processors to work together. I also am a slow processor. I am a firm believer that it takes us all, and that each type has value and purpose. Thanks for putting this to words…

  7. Alysa Bajenaru

    Amen. I call myself a “crockpot” and have come to appreciate my slow speed. When I try to fight it, I usually end up in trouble.

  8. Rebecca

    I love this post post and completely relate. Thanks for sharing.

  9. JayEssJay

    Oh how I get this! As a part of a previous job, I used to organize brainstorming sessions about new product ideas… I consider creative problem-solving one of my strengths, but I would always get so frustrated with myself that I couldn’t think of any good ideas during those fast-paced sessions. Instead I learned that I simply have to let things churn and marinate for a while. It seems that you speak my language… reading this post makes me even more excited about getting my hands on your new book.

  10. Connie

    I’m so glad you said this. We live in a society that is ever faster and those of who operate a little more slowly are not only left behind, but often times belittled for our slow-going ways. I not only process slowly, but move slowly as well. I function better in an environment where I can live at a slower, more thoughtful and intentional pace. Boy, is that counter-intuitive to our culture, but that’s the way it is for me. I have decided to embrace this about myself even if it isn’t terribly popular.

  11. Jessica

    Yes! This really resonates with me! I remember specifically in high school when I was dating someone and they shared something with me and wondered why I wasn’t responding immediately. I didn’t then have the words or awareness to explain that that was how I was – I needed the time to process. Since then it had taken me a while to realize that is just how I am wired. Not everyone gets it.

    It seems like the more important the issue the longer it takes me. I try not to overthink, because that is certainly a risk, rather to let things ripen just to the perfect point – before they spoil 😉

  12. Melody

    Great post. I used to be a fast processor, but find that processing is slowing with age. Has anyone else noticed this?

  13. Susan

    I don’t know if anyone can relate to this, but this post reminds me of a scene in Pride and Prejudice (Colin Firth)…it’s when Elizabeth Bennett first receives Mr. Darcy’s letter of explanation. She walks and reads it, she goes home and re-reads it, she processes it for weeks, she talks about it with her sister, she almost meditates on it day and night. Through that whole process, she forms an opinion. In that age, people had many days or maybe months to mull over events or decisions because communication was so slow. I don’t know if it’s my age or the fact that I have seen that movie probably 50 times so it’s influenced my thinking, but I appreciate a chance to think things over and then respond.

    Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.
    James 1:19

  14. young

    You’ve hit upon one of my pet peeves! I’m an internal processor, and my first language is not English, so I take more care to form my words, so I totally relate to your article.

  15. Dorothy

    Dearest Emily, you are one of the first bloggers I started following faithfully, and your words have always been a God-send to me. This morning I had been asking God for a word about the many ideas that I’ve had over the last few years, but haven’t followed up on. I guess the ideas have to percolate a bit with me. I opened my phone, and up pops this post about slow processing! Thank you for sharing the words God gives you. It is a blessing to me!

  16. Linda Stoll

    I’m processing your words here as I usually do when I sit with one of your posts, Emily. Slowly savoring the nuances, the depth, the wisdom, the insight.

    Anybody can get an idea and run with it. It takes patience and grace to sit still for what may be awhile to others. But we know this time is essential for ourselves to truly consider what’s been placed in front of us.

    And then maybe when we open our mouths or pick up our pens, something of substance and worth will come out that will be worth the wait …

  17. Sarah Koontz {Grounded & Surrounded}

    Thank you for this, Emily. I am a turbo processor (also has it’s own sets of challenges) who is married to a slow processor. He is the most wise person I know and his thoughts are worth the wait. But I have had to learn now to NOT bulldoze over him. This is so well put and a very important subject to write on. As a past leader of a committee, I definitely could have done things differently to accommodate people who don’t think on their toes the same as me. Food for thought. My husband always tells me it takes him 90 seconds to form a reply to a question. I am learning to wait patiently 😉

  18. jsm9

    How refreshing is this!!!

  19. Kathy

    Thank you for posting this. I’m the bulldozer and need to hear more from those like yourself. I think one of the hardest things for the extroverted fast processors is that silence makes us talk more and go faster. We need to be forced to pause. Please push back. Your thoughts are valuable. Fight for your space to share them!!! You do make things better. Better decisions. Better solutions. Better better better!!

  20. Kathleen

    Just came across this as I struggle to fit the way I think into an org where I’ve been working for almost a year and where most people are very fast processors. I’ve been criticized for being quiet during meetings, and it has stressed me out beyond belief. So two questions: Does anyone here have ideas for how to help colleagues and superiors see that slow processors have a place at the table and aren’t deficient? And ideas for how to use my slow-processing tendencies to benefit the work we do?

  21. Jan Hassler

    Totally identify. Being a slow processor is at least part of the reason I grew up thinking I wasn’t all that “smart.” Feels that way sometimes when you get bulldozed all the time!

    Thank you for this.

Get the weekly email called 5 Quick Things,

where Tsh shares stuff she either created herself or loved from others. (It can be read in under a minute, pinky-swear.)

You’ll also get an excerpt from her latest book, At Home in the World, a memoir about the school year her family backpacked around the world.