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Navigating Urgency: How to Slow Down So You Can Spot and Avoid Red Flags

Photo Credit: Bernd Dittrich

If you want what you want when you want it, you’re not likely to be able to delay gratification. This often happens when you have a sense of urgency. This was particularly true for me when it came to relationships. When you have that feeling of urgency, you typically ignore the consequences of plowing forward.

This is how we miss red flags.

I suppose “miss” red flags isn’t really accurate. It’s more like we ignore or plow over red flags. When I look back at my behavior before recovery, I think of myself as having ignored festivals of red flags, not just one or two! Now, I try to look for green flags. I wasn’t even aware that green flags existed before recovery.

Most of us think of red flags as pertaining to dating partners. But red flags can pop up in all sorts of circumstances. And even if we’ve been in recovery for a while, we can still miss them. When we do, we can look at that as info, not ammo (information to learn from, not ammunition to beat yourself up with). That is, be curious about why you ignored that red flag. When you do that, you’re less likely to do that again when you analyze what that was about.

Here's a non-relationship red flag situation I missed. When I found a camper van to rent for my 6-week solo road trip, I was so excited about it that I ignored the cosmetic problems inside and outside the van, as well as the environment where the van was stored. It turned out the lack of maintenance of the cosmetic things was an indicator of the lack of overall maintenance of the van. I ended up breaking down and getting repeated repairs, then, ditching the van for another vehicle in Arizona because I ignored these red flags. That sense of urgency and excitement caused me to hurry. 

Just because you want something right now, doesn’t mean we can or should get it.

Here’s another example. I know a woman who moved to live near like-minded individuals she’d connected with. The town was over an hour drive from where she worked, and she knew she’d have that long drive very early in the morning through a horrific traffic corridor. She’d also have to drive home during rush hour with very heavy traffic. She also knew that she was often drained at the end of each work day, but she chose to make the move anyway. She ignored the nagging thought of how many hours of driving she’d need to do each day after being drained from work.

What happened was that she was often so drained that she wasn’t up to connecting with her friends. She had so little time and needed to rest and recuperate. The whole reason she moved to that community didn’t come to fruition. She’d spent more time with them when she lived farther from them but closer to work.

After a couple of years of being completely drained by the drive and the heavy traffic, she moved to a place that was much closer to work. She realized that the original decision to move closer to her community was made with a sense of urgency because she wanted what she wanted when she wanted it. She realizes now that if she has a sense of urgency about a decision, then it’s even more important to slow down and be mindful of the decision.

So how can we learn to delay gratification?

I think the most important thing you can do is to slow down. If you have a sense of urgency about something, unless it’s an actual emergency, that should be a red flag that this is not how to make thoughtful, rational decisions. 

We can’t be proactive in our lives if we’re constantly on the move, doing things quickly with a sense of urgency all the time. When you pause and catch your breath, you’re basically telling your body, “I am safe” so it will come out of fight or flight mode. We’re unable to think clearly in that mode, and that’s as it should be – you’re not supposed to think, you’re supposed to fight or flee in that mode! That mode cuts off access to your frontal lobe where your rational thinking is done.

If we want to make proactive decisions about our lives, we need to be able to access the frontal lobe. That’s why slowing down is so helpful. Pausing to take time to think about things means we’re much more likely to use our rational brain than our feelings to make decisions.

Another way to change this pattern of acting on your wants is get clear on your values and use them to steer your life. When we live in alignment with our values, we’re much more likely to make reasoned decisions proactively. That means, it’s easier to delay gratification because we’re looking at the big picture of our lives when we’ve focused on our values.

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